Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage

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“If you know that I have a history, you will respect me.”~Black Indian Student

In the vast tapestry of American history, the intricate relationships between Indigenous peoples, Europeans, and African Americans have been extensively studied. However, one fascinating aspect often overlooked is the bond between Native Americans and African Americans, a chapter that historian Carter G. Woodson once deemed one of the longest unwritten chapters in U.S. history. In his groundbreaking book, “Black Indians,” author William Katz seeks to shine a light on this forgotten heritage, challenging the prevailing notion of invincibility often associated with the history of both African Americans and Native Americans.

Defining Black Indians

So, who exactly are Black Indians? They are individuals with dual ancestry, often referring to black people who lived alongside Native Americans. Katz’s work seeks to redefine this historical narrative, bringing attention to a community whose stories have been overshadowed by more mainstream historical accounts.

Notable Black Indians with Dual Ancestry

Katz introduces us to several notable figures with dual African and Indigenous heritage. Crispus Attucks, a sailor of remarkable bravery, played a pivotal role in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Paul Cuffee, a Dartmouth Indian with African lineage, emerged as a successful merchant and ship owner, advocating not only for his own interests but also for the protection of African Americans from discrimination. Langston Hughes, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, traced his family tree back to Pocahontas, revealing the intricate connections between Black Indians and historical luminaries. The Forging of a Relationship

“Black Indians” explores the forging of a unique relationship between Native Americans and Africans. I challenge the Eurocentric perspective that introduces the relationship between native Americans and blacks at the beginning of when European ships arrived.  Before European contact there is evidence of native Americans and Africans trading goods in ancient America.

One compelling historical episode highlighted in the book  is the establishment of the first U.S. foreign colony near the Pee Dee River in South Carolina in 1526. Captain Francisco Gordillo, despite initial orders, engaged in the enslavement of seventy Native Americans. Lucas Vasquez Ayllon did not approve of enslavement of Indians, but he did see fit in enslaving 100 Africans transporting them on his vessel to build a new settlement.  This led to a complex narrative of rebellion, collaboration, and the emergence of a mixed settlement after Lucas Vasquez passing and resources were depleted. The Black Indians of the Pee Dee River became pioneers in practicing the belief that all people, regardless of background, are equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 Embracing a Diverse Legacy

As we explore this hidden heritage, it becomes clear that the history of Black Indians is more than a footnote; it is a testament to the interconnectedness of different cultures. Katz’s work challenges us to reconsider the assumptions about history and humanity. The legacy of a people strengthens a country and its people, and denying a people’s heritage questions their legitimacy. As we delve into the rich tapestry of Black Indian history, we are encouraged to recognize and appreciate the diversity that has shaped the nation. In the words of Katz, “Those who assume that a people have no history worth mentioning are likely to believe they have no humanity worth defending.” Let us continue to explore and celebrate the rich and diverse history that connects us all.

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