The Legacy of Indian Removal (Essay‪)‬

Journal of Southern History 2012, Feb, 78, 1

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REMOVAL IS WHERE MOST HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS OF SOUTHERN INDIANS end, but that is where this story begins. Intended to rid the South of Indian nations with communal lands and sovereign powers, the removal policy of the 1830s fell short. Not only did individual Indians remain, but native communities also struggled over the next century and a half to carve out a place for themselves in the South. (1) For much of that time, U.S. officials schemed to transport remnants of removed nations to Indian Territory, and in a variety of scenarios, both states and individuals sought to dispossess other Indians and dislocate their communities. The ongoing efforts to expel Indian people from the South and/or obliterate their status as Indians met with little of the highly publicized opposition that the removal of the 1830s provoked. Instead, white southerners used the expulsion of Indians in the Jacksonian era to obscure the continuing presence of native people in the South, to fuse their own lost cause to that of the Indians, and to fortify Jim Crow against the challenges that diversity among nonwhites presented. As for Indians, poverty, isolation, disenfranchisement, intimidation, and racism compounded their terror and threatened to render them powerless, but in a struggle that coincided with the civil rights movement, some southern Indians forced a reckoning. As historians, we have incorporated Indians into narratives of colonization, slavery, and the expansion of the cotton kingdom, but after the Jacksonian period, we puzzle over what to do about scattered, historically disconnected Indian communities. One way of linking those communities to each other and to the broader history of the South is to recognize that removal served to solidify a biracial South and reinforce white power long after the Trail of Tears ended. Furthermore, native resistance to dispossession and segregation helped loosen the hold of Jim Crow on the region. Most southern historians are aware that the United States government removed the so-called five civilized tribes, a term Indian historians no longer use, and some scholars know that remnants of four of the tribes remained in the South. A private reservation granted under the 1814 treaty that ended the Creek War provided land in Alabama on which a community coalesced, one that the United States recognized in 1984 as the Poarch Band of Creeks. (2) Cherokees in North Carolina who had received private reservations under an 1819 treaty and subsequently lived outside the Cherokee Nation formed the nucleus of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, recognized by Congress in 1868. (3) Thousands of Choctaws who unsuccessfully sought reservations under their removal treaty remained in Mississippi, landless and impoverished until the United States stepped in after World War I and then, in 1945, accepted the tribal constitution that formally established them as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. (4) And in southern Florida, Indians who avoided capture in the Seminole Wars struggled to survive in the swamps and marshes. In 1957 and 1961 they constituted Seminole and Miccosukee tribes under the Indian Reorganization Act. (5) As the dates of their formal organizations indicate, the United States, in the aftermath of removal, did not officially acknowledge any of these remnants as tribes, and before World War II, only the Cherokees had a government-to-government relationship with Washington, D.C.

February 1
Southern Historical Association
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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