Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cherokee Nation Expels Descendants of Tribe's Black Slaves

I received an emailed article from a colleague at work today that was very interesting. The article explained that recently the Cherokee Supreme Court (they are a sovereign people) ruled that only Cherokees of blood descent are allowed to be members of the tribe and thus benefit financially from the profits they earn from their casino businesses. That means that descendants of former Cherokee slaves who had long been considered official members of the tribe are now not.

Not too many people know that the Cherokees, among many other southern Indian tribes such as the Creeks, Chickasaws and Choctaws held African American slaves. Many of these tribes had become so-called "civilized" to white ways in the early 19th century and that included agricultural slaveholding. When most of these Indians were removed to west of the Mississippi River in the 1830s, they took their slaves with them.

I really want to know more about this topic and there appears to be several good books out there about it. One is pictured here: Ties that Bind: The Story of and Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, by Tiya Miles. Others include African Cherokees in Indian Territory: From Chattel to Citizens, by Celia E. Naylor, and The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story, by also by Tiya Miles.

To me the relationship between these two groups is fascinating. Here are two of the most oppressed peoples in American history and yet one group was willing to hold the other as slave. I guess it goes to show something that should not surprise any of us; that is that sometimes people are motivated more by economics than by common circumstances.

Here is a link to the article:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Time's 100 All-time Best Nonfiction Books

Jumping around a little bit ago on the internet I ran across a list of the 100 top nonfiction books printed in English since 1923 and chosen by Time magazine. Why it says "all-time" and only includes books since 1923 is unexplained. The books were not ranked in any order, but they were separated by different genres such as "War," "Social History," "Sports," etc.

I was pleased to see that there were a number of books that I have in my library or that I have read over the years. Black Boy by Richard Wright is a classic, although I prefer the fiction Native Son. Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown and Notes on a Native Son by James Baldwin made the list, as did Why We Can't Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I remember reading that for my American Studies class as a junior in high school. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley is also on the list. If you have never read that one, make plans to as soon as you can. You won't be disappointed. Another one that stands out is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. Bury My Heart should be required reading for every American.

I wasn't shocked to see a Civil War book listed, but I was a little surprised that it was Shelby Foote's trilogy, Civil War: A Narrative. I figured that if there was a Civil War book on the list it would be James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. Shelby Foote was an excellent writer...a narrative writer, so comparing him to the more scholarly McPherson is probably a little unfair. Both are good, just different.

If you are interested in checking out the list, here's the link:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

1850 Kentucky Bill of Rights

While doing some poking around online researching for a work project I found the Bill of Rights for the 1850 Kentucky Constitution.

Like other states, Kentucky has gone through its fair share of constitutions. The commonwealth's first one came in 1792, when the bluegrass state became the #15 state in the Union. It was rewritten in 1799, again in 1850 and then lastly in 1891.

Article 13 of the 1850 constitution is the document's Bill of Rights, of which there are 30 sections. But, it was the first four sections that really caught my attention.

The Bill of Rights begins: "That the general, great, and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established, WE DECLARE-" Nothing earth shattering there...sounds very American.

"1. That all freemen, when they form a social compact, are equal, and that no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive, separate public emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services." At least it says "freemen" are equal. I wonder what free men of color in Kentucky in the 1850s would have thought about that statement.

"2. That absolute, arbitrary power over the lives, liberty, and property of freemen exists nowhere in a Republic, not even in the largest majority." In other words. you can't take our property away from us, even if you are in the majority.

"3. The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction; and the right of an owner of a slave to such slave, and its increase, is the same, and as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatever." Property is preeminent! Is it clear when we say property that we mean slaves are our property?

"4. That all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority , and instituted for their peace, safety, happiness, security, and the protection of property. For the advancement of these ends, they have, at all times, and inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish their government, in such manner as they think proper." If that is not a statement of states rights I don't know what is. John C. Calhoun couldn't have made a stronger statement. However, Kentucky never thought it proper to alter, reform or abolish their government when their property was threatened fourteen years later, during the Civil War.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Civil Rights Bus Tour - Day 5, July 15, 2011

Our last day of touring was an amazing day in Memphis, Tennessee. Our first stop was another site that was not on our original itinerary, but I'm glad it was added. Mason Temple is the location of the Church of God in Christ's world headquarters and the location that Dr. King gave his last public speech on April 3, 1968.

It was here that Dr. King gave his "Mountaintop" speech. In the speech King seemingly prophesied his death. "I've been to the mountaintop...I've looked over and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you...." Absolutely haunting! The next day he was killed on the hotel balcony where he was staying.

A historic photo of King at Mason Temple on April 3, 1968.

One of my favorite stops was to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Stax recording studios was started in an old movie theater. Stax was named for a white brother and sister team, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, who began the studio. It would become the recording home of such musical stars as Issac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. and the MGs, and Sam and Dave.

The original music studio was torn down, but the museum and a youth music academy now keep the Stax story alive. Stax was an integrated label from the beginning and the music it produced almost magically seemed to break down racial barriers.

The Ike and Tina Turner exhibit.

The iconic Soul Train. The museum featured a huge screen that showed clips of the famed TV show with a dance floor in front that made you feel like you were a personal guest of show host Don Cornelius.

The Isaac Hayes exhibit. I was loving the gold platform shoes.

Isaac Hays's macked out Caddy.

Lunch was at Rendezvous, a Memphis landmark. The BBQ was excellent and the atmosphere even better.

Our last stop of the day was to the Lorraine Motel, which now serves as the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum has an impressive gallery that holistically covers the movement.

A wreath hangs on the balcony outside of Room 306 where Dr. King was killed.

The museum also owns the former boarding house across the street that was rented and used by convicted killer James Earl Ray.

Many people overlook why Dr. King was in Memphis when he was killed. He was there supporting the city's sanitation workers during a strike for better working conditions. On March 28, a demonstration had turned violent when looters broke windows of stores along the march route. Over 280 people were arrested and one man was killed.

One of the moving forces in Memphis that supported the sanitation workers was Rev. Samuel Kyles. In the picture above Rev. Kyles collects money in symbolic garbage cans at Mason Temple.

Dr. King was on the way to Rev. Kyles's home for supper when he was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Rev. Kyles was beside Dr. King when the bullet struck.

While at the museum we were fortunate to get to meet and hear Rev. Kyles (center) recount spending the last minutes of Dr. King's life by his side.