Race In R.I.: The Invisible Natives

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-10-26 18:30Z by Steven

Race In R.I.: The Invisible Natives

The Providence Journal
Providence, Rhode Island

G. Wayne Miller, Journal Staff Writer

Their ancestors were the state’s original settlers, but today’s Indians say whites ‘don’t even see us’

First of two parts

EXETER – On this fine autumn morning, Paulla Dove Jennings welcomes a visitor into her home at the edge of woods with a handshake and a smile. She pours tea, sits at her kitchen table, and begins relating some of her life’s story, which in its essential elements mirrors that of her relatives and ancestors, Rhode Island’s Narragansett and Niantic peoples.

A tribal elder now at 75, Jennings has been a waitress, chef, clerk, author, historian, educator, museum curator, state Indian Affairs Commissioner, Narragansett leader and more. Gifted with words and possessing a keen memory, she is a celebrated storyteller — a woman who laughs easily, and who also feels anger and pain at how some whites have treated her people since the Great Swamp Massacre of 1675 nearly obliterated them. The Narragansett and Niantic are among the state’s original inhabitants, here for 30,000 or more years.

“Oppression” is one word Jennings sometimes uses to describe that centuries-long treatment.

“Racism” is another.

“Rhode Island has close to the same racism as in Mississippi, and I’ve lived in both places,” says Jennings, a direct descendant of the great 17th-century Niantic sachem Ninigret

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“Of Portuguese Origin”: Litigating Identity and Citizenship among the “Little Races” in Nineteenth-Century America

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2009-11-01 23:48Z by Steven

“Of Portuguese Origin”: Litigating Identity and Citizenship among the “Little Races” in Nineteenth-Century America

Law and History Review
Volume 25, Number 3

Ariela J. Gross, John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History
University of Southern California

The history of race in the nineteenth-century United States is often told as a story of black and white in the South, and white and Indian in the West, with little attention to the intersection between black and Indian. This article explores the history of nineteenth-century America’s “little races”—racially ambiguous communities of African, Indian, and European origin up and down the eastern seaboard. These communities came under increasing pressure in the years leading up to the Civil War and in its aftermath to fall on one side or the other of a black-white color line. Drawing on trial records of cases litigating the racial identity of the Melungeons of Tennessee, the Croatans/Lumbee of North Carolina, and the Narragansett of Rhode Island, this article looks at the differing paths these three groups took in the face of Jim Crow: the Melungeons claiming whiteness; the Croatans/Lumbee asserting Indian identity and rejecting association with blacks; the Narragansett asserting Indian identity without rejecting their African origins. Members of these communities found that they could achieve full citizenship in the U.S. polity only to the extent that they abandoned their self-governance and distanced themselves from people of African descent.

Historians have only begun to tell the histories of “red and black” peoples in the United States, and much of their attention has focused on the “Black Indians” of the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeastern United States. Yet up and down the eastern seaboard, there were clusters of people who shared African, European, and Indian ancestry, many of whom lived as distinct and separate communities into the nineteenth and even the mid-twentieth centuries, some retaining or struggling to retain Indian identities, others becoming known as “free people of color,” and still others claiming whiteness.

These “little races,” as they were sometimes known, in many ways gave the lie to the binary statutory regimes of nineteenth-century America. They came under growing pressure from local officials and neighbors as communities became increasingly preoccupied with racial line drawing. But they followed very different paths. By studying these racially ambiguous communities, it is possible to learn more about the relationship among whiteness, blackness, and citizenship in the United States…

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