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Our Undying Past

Red, Black, and Sometimes White

This new group taps into many African Americans' newfound interest in their native roots.

New Year’s Day brought a fascinating article out of Atlanta about black Native Americans. It should be no surprise that the two groups mixed over the centuries. Both were marginalized and persecuted by Europeans, with many American Indians being enslaved along with Africans in the early decades of contact, and with blacks sometimes being enslaved by Native Americans.

In the 1970s I delved into this complicated phenomenon when researching a story about an organization called United American Indians of the Delaware Valley. The coalition, now defunct, was dominated by a North Carolina group known as the Haliwas. Many of its members were triracial – black, white and red. Haliwa is an invented name that refers to the two rural counties, Halifax and Warren, where the group was concentrated. For generations, the Haliwas were what anthropologists term “triracial isolates” – subsisting on a toehold of isolated land, until many of them departed on the Great Migration north after World War I in search of better jobs.

Another triracial isolate group was known as the Jackson Whites. They lived in the remote mountains of northwestern New Jersey as far back as the American Revolution, and were the objects of fear and loathing. As the website Weird N.J. says, the Jackson Whites were “alleged to be comprised of a mongrel hybrid of renegade Indians, escaped slaves, Hessian mercenary deserters, and West Indian prostitutes.”

Most tribes today “have some degree or another of African intermixture,” says J. Cedric Woods, director of the Institute for New England Native American Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. “It may be a single family line. It may be multiple lines. It may be most of the lines in the tribe. It can run the entire spectrum.”

Woods was quoted in the New Year’s Day article in the Atlanta Black Star. The article reported a surge of interest among black people in their native roots, noting that over 400 people attended the inaugural meeting last year of a new group called the National Congress of Black American Indians.

The Black Star article can be found at http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/01/01/black-native-americans-starting-embrace-roots-cultural-identity/
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