“In her elegant book, Alaina E. Roberts powerfully illuminates themes of freedom, ownership, belonging, citizenship, opportunity, land, and colonialism in the crucible of mid-nineteenth-century Indian Territory.”
Kathleen DuVal, author of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution
Presented with the University of Pittsburgh History Department
Perhaps no other symbol has more resonance in African American history than that of “40 acres and a mule”—the lost promise of Black reparations for slavery after the Civil War. In I’ve Been Here All the While, we meet the Black people who actually received this mythic 40 acres, the American settlers who coveted this land, and the Native Americans whose holdings it originated from.
In nineteenth-century Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), a story unfolds that ties African American and Native American history tightly together, revealing a western theatre of Civil War and Reconstruction, in which Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians, their Black slaves, and African Americans and whites from the eastern United States fought military and rhetorical battles to lay claim to land that had been taken from others.
Through chapters that chart cycles of dispossession, land seizure, and settlement in Indian Territory, Alaina E. Roberts draws on archival research and family history to upend the traditional story of Reconstruction. She connects debates about Black freedom and Native American citizenship to westward expansion onto Native land. As Black, white, and Native people constructed ideas of race, belonging, and national identity, this part of the West became, for a short time, the last place where Black people could escape Jim Crow, finding land and exercising political rights, until Oklahoma statehood in 1907.
Alaina E. Roberts teaches history at the University of Pittsburgh.
Copies of I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land will be available on April 9, 2021 from White Whale Bookstore.