Black Indians in the United States

Black Indians are people of mixed Native American and African American heritage, who have strong ties to and identify as Native Americans.[3] Many Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands, such as the Narragansett, Pequot, Wampanoag, and Shinnecock, as well as tribes historically from the Southeast, such as Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee, have a significant degree of African ancestry and sometimes European ancestry as well.

Historically, certain Native American tribes have had close relations with African Americans, especially in regions where slavery was prevalent, or where free people of color have historically resided. Members of the Five Civilized Tribes participated in holding enslaved African Americans in the Southeast, and some slaves migrated with them to the West on the Trail of Tears in 1830 and later during the period of Indian Removal. In peace treaties with the US after the American Civil War, the slaveholding tribes, which had sided with the Confederacy, were required to emancipate slaves and give them full citizenship rights in their nations. The Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole have created controversy in recent decades as they tightened rules for membership in their nations and excluded Freedmen who did not have at least one Native American ancestor on the early 20th-century Dawes Rolls. This exclusion was later appealed in the courts, both because of the treaty conditions and because of inaccuracies in the Dawes Rolls. The Chickasaw Nation never extended citizenship to Chickasaw Freedmen.[4]

Black Indians
Total population
True population unknown, 269,421 identified as ethnically African and Native American on 2010 census[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States (especially the Southern United States or in locations populated by Southern descendants), Oklahoma, New York, and Massachusetts).
American English, Louisiana Creole, Native American languages
(including Navajo, Dakota, Sioux, Western Apache, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Kiowa, Osage, Ojibwe[2])
Related ethnic groups


Until recently, historic relations between Native Americans and African Americans were relatively neglected in mainstream United States history studies.[5] At various times, Africans had varying degrees of contact with Native Americans, although they did not live together in as great number as with Europeans. African slaves brought to the United States and their descendants have had a history of cultural exchange and intermarriage with Native Americans, as well as with other enslaved people who possessed Native American and European ancestry. Most interaction took place in the Southern United States, where the largest number of people were enslaved.[6] A significant number of African Americans have some Native American ancestry, but most have not grown up within the cultures and do not have current social, cultural or linguistic ties to Native peoples.[7]

Relationships among different Native Americans, Africans, and African Americans have been varied and complex. Some groups were more accepting of Africans than others and welcomed them as full members of their respective cultures and communities. Native peoples often disagreed about the role of ethnic African people in their communities. Other Native Americans saw uses for slavery and did not oppose it for others. Some Native Americans and people of African descent fought alongside one another in armed struggles of resistance against U.S. expansion into Native territories, as in the Seminole Wars in Florida.

Buffalo soldiers1
Buffalo Soldiers, 1890. The nickname was given to the "Black Cavalry" by the Native American tribes they fought.

After the American Civil War, some African Americans became or continued as members of the US Army. They were assigned to fight against Native Americans, especially in the Western frontier states. Their military units became known as the Buffalo Soldiers, a nickname given by Native Americans. Black Seminole in particular were recruited from Indian Territory and worked as Native American scouts for the Army.


Colonial America

Records of contacts between Africans and Native Americans date to April 1502, when the first enslaved African arrived in Hispaniola. Some Africans escaped inland from the colony of Santo Domingo; those who survived and joined with the natives became the first circle of Black Indians.[8][9] In the lands which later became part of the United States of America, the first recorded example of an African slave escaping from European colonists and being absorbed by Native Americans dates to 1526. In June of that year, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón established a Spanish colony near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in present-day South Carolina. The Spanish settlement was named San Miguel de Guadalupe; its inhabitants included 100 enslaved Africans. In 1526 the first enslaved African fled the colony and took refuge with local Native Americans.[9]

In 1534 Pueblo peoples of the Southwest had contact with the Moroccan slave Esteban de Dorantes before any contact with the remainder of survivors of his Spanish expedition. As part of the Spanish Pánfilo de Narváez expedition, Esteban traveled from Florida in 1528 to what is now New Mexico in 1539, with a few other survivors. He is thought have been killed by Zuni.[10]

Intermarriage between enslaved Africans and Native Americans began in the early 17th century in Atlantic coastal settlements where the people met each other as workers, especially in the Upper South..[11] In 1622 Native Americans attempted to overrun the European colony of Jamestown. They killed the Europeans but brought the African slaves as captives back to their own communities, gradually assimilating them.[12] Interracial relationships occurred between African Americans and members of other tribes in the coastal states, especially as colonists had tried to enslave Native Americans, until giving that up in the early 18th century.[11] Several colonial advertisements for runaway slaves made direct reference to the connections which Africans had in Native American communities. "Reward notices in colonial newspapers now told of African slaves who 'ran off with his Indian wife' or 'had kin among the Indians' or is 'part-Indian and speaks their language good'."[13][14]

Colonists in South Carolina felt so concerned about the possible threat posed by the mixed African and Native American population (arising due to runaways) that they passed a law in 1725 prohibiting taking slaves to the frontier regions, and imposing a fine of 200 pounds if violated. In 1751 South Carolina passed a law against holding Africans in proximity to Native Americans, as the planters considered that detrimental to the security of the colony. Under Governor James Glen (in office 1743–1756), South Carolina promoted an official policy that aimed to create in Native Americans an "aversion" to African Americans in an attempt to thwart possible alliances between them.[15][16]

Similarly, in 1726 the British governor of colonial New York exacted a promise from the Iroquois Confederacy to return all runaway slaves. He required the same from the Huron tribe in 1764 and from the Delaware tribe in 1765.[12] Despite their agreements, the tribes never returned any escaped slaves[12] - they continued to provide a safe refuge for escapees. In 1763, during Pontiac's War, a Detroit resident reported that Native Americans killed whites but were "saving and caressing all the Negroes they take". He worried lest this might "produce an insurrection". Chief Joseph Brant's Mohawk in New York welcomed runaway slaves and encouraged adoption of them into the tribe and intermarriage.[12] The Native American adoption systems knew no color line.[12] Carter G. Woodson's notion of an escape hatch from slavery proved correct: Native American villages welcomed fugitive slaves and some served as stations on the Underground Railroad.[12]

Diana Fletcher (b. 1838), Black Seminole), who was adopted into the Kiowa tribe[17]

Some Native Americans resented the presence of Africans.[18] In one account, the "Catawaba tribe in 1752 showed great anger and bitter resentment when an African American came among them as a trader."[18]

Europeans and European-Americans actively tried to divide Native Americans and African Americans against each other. Europeans considered both races inferior and made efforts to make Native Americans and Africans enemies by attempting to convince Native Americans that African worked against their best interests.[19][20] In the colonial period, Native Americans received rewards if they returned escaped slaves. In the latter 19th century, African Americans received rewards for fighting in Indian Wars in the West.[20][21][22]

European colonists told the Cherokee that the smallpox epidemic of 1739 was due to disease brought by African slaves, to create tension between the groups.[23] The British tried to restrict contact between Africans and Native Americans. They feared Native Americans taking enslaved Africans as spouses and tried to discourage trade between the groups. The British also passed laws prohibiting the carrying of slaves into the frontier of the Cherokee Nation's territory to restrict interactions between the two groups.[23] Some tribes encouraged marriage between the two groups, to create stronger children from the unions.[24]

European enslavement

European colonists created a new demand market for captives of raids when they created the Thirteen Colonies.[25][26][27] Especially in the southern colonies, initially developed for resource exploitation rather than settlement, colonists purchased or captured Native Americans to be used as forced labor in cultivating tobacco, and, by the eighteenth century, rice, and indigo.[25][26]

To acquire trade goods, Native Americans began selling war captives to whites rather than integrating them into their own societies.[25][28] Traded goods, such as axes, bronze kettles, Caribbean rum, European jewelry, needles, and scissors, varied among the tribes, but the most prized were rifles.[28] The English copied the Spanish and Portuguese: they saw the enslavement of Africans and Native Americans as a moral, legal, and socially acceptable institution; a rationale for enslavement was "just war" taking captives and using slavery as an alternative to a death sentence.[29] The escape of Native American slaves was frequent, because they had a better understanding of the land, which African slaves did not. Consequently, the Natives who were captured and sold into slavery were often sent to the West Indies, or far away from their home.[25]

The oldest known record of a permanent Native American slave was a native man from Massachusetts in 1636.[30] By 1661 slavery had become legal in all of the 13 colonies.[30] Virginia would later declare that "Indians, Mulattos, and Negros to be real estate", and in 1682 New York forbade African or Native American slaves from leaving their master's home or plantation without permission.[30] Europeans also viewed the enslavement of Native Americans differently than the enslavement of Africans in some cases; a belief that Africans were "brutish people" was dominant. While both Native Americans and Africans were considered savages, Native Americans were romanticized as noble people that could be elevated into Christian civilization.[29] It is estimated that Carolina traders operating out of Charles Town exported an estimated 30,000 to 51,000 Native American captives between 1670 and 1715 in a profitable slave trade with the Caribbean, Spanish Hispaniola, and Northern colonies.[26][31] It was more profitable to have Native American slaves because African slaves had to be shipped and purchased, while native slaves could be captured and immediately taken to plantations; whites in the Northern colonies sometimes preferred Native American slaves, especially Native women and children, to Africans because Native American women were agriculturalist and children could be trained more easily.[25] However, Carolinians had more of a preference for African slaves but also capitalized on the Indian slave trade combining both.[32] By the late 1700s records of slaves mixed with African and Native American heritage were recorded.[33] In the eastern colonies it became common practice to enslave Native American women and African men with a parallel growth of enslavement for both Africans and Native Americans.[32] This practice also lead to large number of unions between Africans and Native Americans.[34] This practice of combining African slave men and Native American women was especially common in South Carolina.[32]

During this time records also show that many Native American women bought African men but, unknown to the European sellers, the women freed and married the men into their tribe.[20] The Indian wars of the early 18th century, combined with the growing availability of African slaves, essentially ended the Indian Slave trade by 1750.[26] Numerous colonial slave traders had been killed in the fighting, and the remaining Native American groups banded together, more determined to face the Europeans from a position of strength rather than be enslaved.[26][25][32] Though the Indian Slave Trade ended the practice of enslaving Native Americans continued, records from June 28, 1771 show Native American children were kept as slaves in Long Island, New York.[33] Native Americans had also married while enslaved creating families both native and some of partial African descent.[30] Occasional mentioning of Native American slaves running away, being bought, or sold along with Africans in newspapers is found throughout the later colonial period.[32][33] There are also many accounts of former slaves mentioning having a parent or grandparent who was Native American or of partial descent.[34] Ads asked for the return of both African American and Native American slaves. Records and slave narratives obtained by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) clearly indicate that the enslavement of Native Americans continued in the 1800s mostly through kidnappings.[34] The abductions showed that even in the 1800s little distinction was still made between African Americans and Native Americans.[34] Both Native American and African-American slaves were at risk of sexual abuse by slaveholders and other white men of power.[35][36] During the transitional period of Africans' becoming the primary race enslaved, Native Americans had been sometimes enslaved at the same time. Africans and Native Americans worked together, lived together in communal quarters, along with white indentured servants, produced collective recipes for food, and shared herbal remedies, myths and legends.[30][37] Some intermarried and had mixed-race children.[30][37] The exact number of Native Americans who were enslaved is unknown because vital statistics and census reports were at best infrequent.[25][33] Andrés Reséndez estimates that between 147,000 and 340,000 Native Americans were enslaved in North America, excluding Mexico.[38]

Among the Cherokee, interracial marriages or unions increased as the number of slaves held by the tribe increased.[23] The Cherokee had a reputation for having slaves work side by side with their owners.[23] The Cherokee resistance to the Euro-American system of chattel slavery created tensions between them and European Americans.[23] The Cherokee tribe began to become divided; as intermarriage between white men and native women increased and there was increased adoption of European culture, so did racial discrimination against those of African-Cherokee blood and against African slaves.[23] Cultural assimilation among the tribes, particularly the Cherokee, created pressure to be accepted by European Americans.[23]

After Indian slavery was ended in the colonies, some African men chose Native American women as their partners because their children would be born free. From 1622 in Virginia, and followed by other colonies, they had established a law, known as partus sequitur ventrem, that said a child's status followed that of the mother. Separately, according to the matrilineal system among many Native American tribes, children were considered to be born to and to belong to the mother's people, so were raised as Native American. As European expansion increased in the Southeast, African and Native American marriages became more common.[20]

1800s through the Civil War

John Horse, Black Seminole
John Horse, a Black Seminole

In the early 19th century, the US government believed that some tribes had become extinct, especially on the East Coast, where there had been a longer period of European settlement, and where most Native Americans had lost their communal land. Few reservations had been established and they were considered landless.[39] At that time, the government did not have a separate census designation for Native Americans. Those who remained among the European-American communities were frequently listed as mulatto, a term applied to Native American-white, Native American-African, and African-white mixed-race people, as well as tri-racial people.[39]

The Seminole people of Florida formed in the 18th century, in what is called ethnogenesis, from Muscogee (Creek) and Florida tribes. They incorporated some Africans who had escaped from slavery. Other maroons formed separate communities near the Seminole, and were allied with them in military actions. Much intermarriage took place. African Americans living near the Seminole were called Black Seminole. Several hundred people of African descent traveled with the Seminole when they were removed to Indian Territory. Others stayed with the few hundred Seminole who remained in Florida, undefeated by the Americans.

By contrast, an 1835 census of the Cherokee showed that 10% were of African descent.[14] In those years, censuses of the tribes classified people of mixed Native American and African descent as "Native American".[40] But during the registration of tribal members for the Dawes Rolls, which preceded land allotment by individual heads of household of the tribes, generally Cherokee Freedmen were classified separately on a Freedmen roll. Registrars often worked quickly, judging by appearance, without asking if the freedmen had Cherokee ancestry, which would have qualified them as "Cherokee by blood" and listing on those rolls. This issue has caused problems for their descendants in the late 20th and 21st-century. The Nation passed legislation and a constitutional amendment to make membership more restrictive, open only to those with certificates of blood ancestry (CDIB), with proven descent from "Cherokee by blood" individuals on the Dawes Rolls. Western frontier artist George Catlin described "Negro and North American Indian, mixed, of equal blood" and stated they were "the finest built and most powerful men I have ever yet seen."[12] By 1922 John Swanton's survey of the Five Civilized Tribes noted that half the Cherokee Nation consisted of Freedmen and their descendants.

Former slaves and Native Americans intermarried in northern states as well. Massachusetts Vital Records prior to 1850 included notes of "Marriages of 'negroes' to Indians". By 1860 in some areas of the South, where race was considered binary of black (mostly enslaved) or white, white legislators thought the Native Americans no longer qualified as "Native American," as many were mixed and part black. They did not recognized that many mixed-race Native Americans identified as Indian by culture and family. Legislators wanted to revoke the Native American tax exemptions.[12]

Freed African Americans, Black Indians, and Native Americans fought in the American Civil War against the Confederate Army. During November 1861, the Muscogee Creek and Black Indians, led by Creek Chief Opothleyahola, fought three pitched battles against Confederate whites and allied Native Americans to reach Union lines in Kansas and offer their services.[12] Some Black Indians served in colored regiments with other African-American soldiers.[41]

Black Indians were documented in the following regiments: The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, the Kansas Colored at Honey Springs, the 79th US Colored Infantry, and the 83rd US Colored Infantry, along with other colored regiments that included men listed as Negro.[41] Some Civil War battles occurred in Indian Territory.[42] The first battle in Indian Territory took place July 1 and 2 in 1863, and Union forces included the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.[42] The first battle against the Confederacy outside Indian Territory occurred at Horse Head Creek, Arkansas on February 17, 1864. The 79th US Colored Infantry participated.[42]

Many Black Indians returned to Indian Territory after the Civil War had been won by the Union.[41] When the Confederacy and its Native American allies were defeated, the US required new peace treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes, requiring them to emancipate slaves and make those who chose to stay with the tribes full citizens of their nations, with equal rights in annuities and land allotments. The former slaves were called "Freedmen," as in Cherokee Freedmen, Chickasaw Freedmen, Choctaw Freedmen, Creek Freedmen and Seminole Freedmen. The pro-Union branch of the Cherokee government had freed their slaves in 1863, before the end of the war, but the pro-Confederacy Cherokee held their slaves until forced to emancipate them.[12][43]

Native American slave ownership

Slavery had existed among Native Americans, as a way to make use of war captives, before it was introduced by the Europeans. It was not the same as the European style of chattel slavery, in which slaves were counted as the personal property of a master. In Cherokee oral tradition, they enslaved war captives and it was a temporary status pending adoption into a family and clan, or release.[44]

As the United States Constitution and the laws of several states permitted slavery after the American Revolution (while northern states prohibited it), Native Americans were legally allowed to own slaves, including those brought from Africa by Europeans. In the 1790s, Benjamin Hawkins was the federal agent assigned to the southeastern tribes. Promoting assimilation to European-American mores, he advised the tribes to take up slaveholding so that they could undertake farming and plantations as did other Americans.[23] The Cherokee tribe had the most members who held black slaves, more than any other Native American nation.[45]

Records from the slavery period show several cases of brutal Native American treatment of black slaves. However, most Native American masters rejected the worst features of Southern practices.[12] Federal Agent Hawkins considered the form of slavery as practiced by the Southern tribes to be inefficient because the majority didn't practice chattel slavery.[23] Travelers reported enslaved Africans "in as good circumstances as their masters". A white Indian Agent, Douglas Cooper, upset by the Native American failure to practice more severe rules, insisted that Native Americans invite white men to live in their villages and "control matters".[12] Though less than 3% of Native Americans owned slaves, the fact of a racial caste system and bondage, and pressure from European-American culture, created destructive cleavages in their villages. Some already had a class hierarchy based on "white blood", in part because Native Americans of mixed race sometimes had stronger networks with traders for goods they wanted.[12] Among some bands, Native Americans of mixed white blood stood at the top, pure Native Americans next, and people of African descent were at the bottom.[12] Some of the status of partial white descent may have been related to the economic and social capital passed on by white relations.

Members of Native groups held numerous African-American slaves through the Civil War. Some of these slaves later recounted their lives for a WPA oral history project during the Great Depression in the 1930s.[46]

Native American Freedmen

Creeks in Oklahoma
Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in Oklahoma around 1877. Note mixed European, African and Native American ancestry. L to R, Lochar Harjo, principal chief; unidentified man, John McGilvry, and Silas Jefferson or Hotulko micco (Chief of the Whirlwind). The latter two were interpreters and negotiators.[47]

After the Civil War, in 1866 the United States government required new treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes, who each had major factions allied with the Confederacy. They were required to emancipate their slaves and grant them citizenship and membership in the respective tribes, as the United States freed slaves and granted them citizenship by amendments to the US Constitution. These people were known as "Freedmen," for instance, Muscogee or Cherokee Freedmen. Similarly, the Cherokee were required to reinstate membership for the Delaware, who had earlier been given land on their reservation, but fought for the Union during the war.[48] Many of the Freedmen played active political roles in their tribal nations over the ensuing decades, including roles as interpreters and negotiators with the federal government. African Muscogee men, such as Harry Island and Silas Jefferson, helped secure land for their people when the government decided to make individual allotments to tribal members under the Dawes Act.

Some Maroon communities allied with the Seminole in Florida and intermarried. The Black Seminole included those with and without Native American ancestry.

When the Cherokee Nation drafted its constitution in 1975, enrollment was limited to descendents of people listed on the Dawes "Cherokee By Blood" rolls. On the Dawes Rolls, US government agents had classified people as Cherokee by blood, intermarried whites, and Cherokee Freedmen, regardless of whether the latter had Cherokee ancestry qualifying them as Cherokee by blood. The Shawnee and Delaware gained their own federal recognition as the Delaware Tribe of Indians and the Shawnee Tribe. A political struggle over this issue has ensued since the 1970s. Cherokee Freedmen have taken cases to the Cherokee Supreme Court. The Cherokee later reinstated the rights of Delaware to be considered members of the Cherokee, but opposed their bid for independent federal recognition.[48]

The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled on March 2006 that Cherokee Freedmen were eligible for tribal enrollment. In 2007, leaders of the Cherokee Nation held a special election to amend their constitution to restrict requirements for citizenship in the tribe. The referendum established direct Cherokee ancestry as a requirement. The measure passed in March 2007, thereby forcing out Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants unless they also had documented, direct "Cherokee by blood" ancestry. This has caused much controversy.[49] The tribe has determined to limit membership only to those who can demonstrate Native American descent based on listing on the Dawes Rolls.[50]

Similarly, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma moved to exclude Seminole Freedmen from membership. In 1990 it received $56 million from the US government as reparations for lands taken in Florida. Because the judgment trust was based on tribal membership as of 1823, it excluded Seminole Freedmen, as well as Black Seminoles who held land next to Seminole communities. In 2000 the Seminole chief moved to formally exclude Black Seminoles unless they could prove descent from a Native American ancestor on the Dawes Rolls. 2,000 Black Seminoles were excluded from the nation.[51] Descendants of Freedmen and Black Seminoles are working to secure their rights.

"There's never been any stigma about intermarriage", says Stu Phillips, editor of The Seminole Producer, a local newspaper in central Oklahoma. "You've got Indians marrying whites, Indians marrying blacks. It was never a problem until they got some money."


An advocacy group representing descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes claims that members are entitled to be citizens in both the Seminole and Cherokee Nations, as many are indeed part Native American by blood, with records to prove it. Because of racial discrimination, their ancestors were classified and listed incorrectly, under only the category of Freedmen, at the time of the Dawes Rolls. In addition, the group notes that post-Civil War treaties of these tribes with the US government required they give African Americans full citizenship upon emancipation, regardless of blood quantum. In many cases, Native American descent has been difficult for people to trace from historical records.[52] Over 25,000 Freedmen descendants of the Five Civilized Tribes may be affected by the legal controversies.[51]

The Dawes Commission enrollment records, intended to establish rolls of tribal members for land allocation purposes, were done under rushed conditions by a variety of recorders. Many tended to exclude Freedmen from Cherokee rolls and enter them separately, even when they claimed Cherokee descent, had records of it, and had Cherokee physical features. Descendants of Freedmen see the tribe's contemporary reliance on the Dawes Rolls as a racially based way to exclude them from citizenship.[53][54]

Before the Dawes Commission was established,

"(t)he majority of the people with African blood living in the Cherokee nation prior to the Civil war lived there as slaves of Cherokee citizens or as free black non-citizens, usually the descendants of Cherokee men and women with African blood ... In 1863, the Cherokee government outlawed slavery through acts of the tribal council. In 1866, a treaty was signed with the US government in which the Cherokee government agreed to give citizenship to those people with African blood living in the Cherokee nations who were not already citizens. African Cherokee people participated as full citizens of that nation, holding office, voting, running businesses, etc."[55]

After the Dawes Commission established tribal rolls, in some cases Freedmen of the Cherokee and the other Five Civilized Tribes were treated more harshly. Degrees of continued acceptance into tribal structures were low during the ensuing decades. Some tribes restricted membership to those with a documented Native ancestor on the Dawes Commission listings, and many restricted officeholders to those of direct Native American ancestry. In the later 20th century, it was difficult for Black Native Americans to establish official ties with Native groups to which they genetically belonged. Many Freedmen descendants believe that their exclusion from tribal membership, and the resistance to their efforts to gain recognition, are racially motivated and based on the tribe's wanting to preserve the new gambling revenues for fewer people.[48][56]

Genealogy and genetics

George Bonga
George Bonga (1802–1880), "African American and Ojibwe fur trader
Two Black Indians
L to R: Mrs. Amos Chapman, her daughter, sister (all Southern Cheyenne, and an unidentified girl of African American descent. 1886[57]

Tracing the genealogy of African Americans and Native Americans is a difficult process. Enslaved Africans were renamed by slaveholders and surnames were infrequently used until after the war. Historical records, such as censuses, did not record the names of enslaved blacks before the American Civil War. Some major slaveholders kept extensive records which historians and genealogists have used to create family trees, but generally researchers find it difficult to trace families before the Civil War. Slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write. A majority of Native Americans did not speak English, let alone read or write it.[5]

In some cases elder family members may withhold information about Native American heritage.[5] However, knowing the family's geographic origins is a key factor in helping individuals unravel Native American ancestry.[5] Many modern African Americans have taken an interest in genealogy and are learning about Native American heritage within their individual families. Some African Americans may work from oral history of the family and try to confirm stories of Native ancestry through genealogical research and DNA testing. Because of such findings, some have petitioned to be registered as members of Native American tribes. Each tribe establishes its own criteria for membership. Most do not accept DNA tests as proof, especially since these cannot distinguish among the tribes.

DNA testing and research has provided more facts about the extent of Native American ancestry among African Americans, which varies in the general population. Based on the work of geneticists, a PBS series on African Americans explained that while most African Americans are racially mixed, it is relatively rare that they have Native American ancestry.[58][59] According to the PBS series, the most common "non-black" mix is English and Scots-Irish.[58][59] (Some critics thought the PBS series did not sufficiently explain the limitations of DNA testing for assessment of heritage.)[60]

Another study suggested that relatively few Native Americans have African-American heritage.[61] A study reported in The American Journal of Human Genetics stated, "We analyzed the European genetic contribution to 10 populations of African descent in the United States (Maywood, Illinois; Detroit; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina; New Orleans; and Houston) ... mtDNA haplogroups analysis shows no evidence of a significant maternal Amerindian contribution to any of the 10 populations."[62] Despite this, a some historians insist that most African Americans have some Native American heritage.[63]

As Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote in 2009,

"Here are the facts: Only 5 percent of all black Americans have at least 12.5 percent Native American ancestry, the equivalent of at least one great-grandparent. Those 'high cheek bones' and 'straight black hair' your relatives brag about at every family reunion and holiday meal since you were 2 years old? Where did they come from? To paraphrase a well-known French saying, 'Seek the white man.'
African Americans, just like our first lady, are a racially mixed or mulatto people—deeply and overwhelmingly so. Fact: Fully 58 percent of African American people, according to geneticist Mark Shriver at Morehouse College, possess at least 12.5 percent European ancestry (again, the equivalent of that one great-grandparent).

[64] In contradiction to Gates statement The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB) notes that:

"Native American markers" are not found solely among Native Americans. While they occur more frequently among Native Americans they are also found in people in other parts of the world.[65]

Geneticists also state:

not all Native Americans have been tested especially with the large number of deaths due to disease such as small pox, it is unlikely that Native Americans only have the genetic markers they have identified, even when their maternal or paternal bloodline does not include a non-Native American.[66][67]

The two common types of tests used are Y-chromosome and mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) testing. The tests processes for direct-line male and female ancestors. Each follows only one line among many ancestors and thus can fail to identify others. Some critics thought the PBS series did not sufficiently explain the limitations of DNA testing for assessment of heritage.[66][67][67] In addition, while full testing may tell an individual if he or she has some Native American ancestry, it cannot distinguish among separate Native American tribes.[68]

Though DNA testing for ancestry is limited more recent genetic testing research of 2015, have found that varied ancestries show different tendencies by region and sex of ancestors. These studies found that on average, people who identified as African American have 73.2-82.1% West African, 16.7%-29% European, and 0.8–2% Native American genetic ancestry, with large variation between individuals.[69][70][71][72]

Autosomal DNA testing survey DNA that has been inherited from parents of an individual.[73] Autosomal tests focus on SNPs, which might of course be found in Africans, Asians, and people from every other part of the world.[73] DNA testing will not determine an individual's full ancestry with absolute certitude.[73]


Black Indians: An American Story (as seen on ABC) brings to light a forgotten part of Americans past – the cultural and racial fusion of Native and African Americans. Narrated by James Earl Jones, Black Indians: An American Story explores what brought the two groups together, what drove them apart and the challenges they face today.[74]

Notable "Black" Indians

Ras k dee pomo
Ras K-Dee, Dry Creek Pomo-African singer, youth advocate, and editor of SNAG Magazine



See also


  1. ^ "Table 4. Two or More Races Population by Number of Races and Selected Combinations for the United States" (PDF). Census 2010 Quicktables. US Census Bureau. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  2. ^ Siebens, J & T Julian. Native North American Languages Spoken at Home in the United States and Puerto Rico: 2006–2010. United States Census Bureau. December 2011.
  3. ^ Katz, Black Indians, 3.
  4. ^ Reese, Linda. "Freedmen." Oklahoma History Center's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Mary A. Dempsey (1996). "The Indian Connection". American Visions.
  6. ^ Angela Y. Walton-Raji (2008). "Researching Black Indian Genealogy of the Five Civilized Tribes". Heritage Books. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
  7. ^ G. Reginald Daniel (2008). More Than Black?: Multiracial. Temple University Press. ISBN 9781439904831. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  8. ^ Katz, Black Indians, 28.
  9. ^ a b Muslims in American History: A Forgotten Legacy by Dr. Jerald F. Dirks. ISBN 1-59008-044-0 Page 204.
  10. ^ Flint, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint. "Dorantes, Esteban de". Archived 2012-03-24 at the Wayback Machine New Mexico Office of the State Historian. 10 Aug 2013.
  11. ^ a b Angela Y. Walton-Raji (2008). "Tri-Racials: Black Native Americans of the Upper South". Design © 1997. Archived from the original on November 12, 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n William Loren Katz (2008). "Africans and Indians: Only in America". William Loren Katz. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
  13. ^ Black NDNs. Archived 2013-12-24 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 10 Aug 2013.
  14. ^ a b Katz, Black Indians, p. 103.
  15. ^ Patrick Minges (2003), Slavery in the Cherokee Nation: The Keetoowah Society and the Defining of a People, 1855-1867, Psychology Press, p. 27, ISBN 978-0-415-94586-8
  16. ^ Kimberley Tolley (2007), Transformations in Schooling: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Macmillan, p. 228, ISBN 978-1-4039-7404-4
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Further reading

  • Bonnett, A. "Shades of Difference: African Native Americans", History Today, 58, 12, December 2008, pp. 40–42
  • Sylviane A. Diouf (1998), Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. ISBN 0-8147-1905-8
  • Allan D. Austin (1997), African Muslims in Antebellum America. ISBN 0-415-91270-9
  • Tiya Miles (2006), Ties that Bind: the Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom. ISBN 0-520-24132-0
  • J. Leitch Wright (1999), The Only Land They Knew: American Indians in the Old South. ISBN 0-8032-9805-6
  • Patrick Minges (2004), Black Indians Slave Narratives. ISBN 0-89587-298-6
  • Jack D. Forbes (1993), Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples. ISBN 0-252-06321-X
  • James F. Brooks (2002), Confounding the Color Line: The (American) Indian–Black Experience in North America. ISBN 0-8032-6194-2
  • Claudio Saunt (2005), Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family. ISBN 0-19-531310-0
  • Valena Broussard Dismukes (2007), The Red-Black Connection: Contemporary Urban African-Native Americans and their Stories of Dual Identity. ISBN 978-0-9797153-0-3

External links

African Americans

African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans) are an ethnic group of Americans with total or partial ancestry from any of the black racial groups of Africa. The term typically refers to descendants of enslaved black people who are from the United States.Black and African Americans constitute the third largest racial and ethnic group in the United States (after White Americans and Hispanic and Latino Americans). Most African Americans are descendants of enslaved peoples within the boundaries of the present United States. On average, African Americans are of West/Central African and European descent, and some also have Native American ancestry. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, African immigrants generally do not self-identify as African American. The overwhelming majority of African immigrants identify instead with their own respective ethnicities (≈95%). Immigrants from some Caribbean, Central American and South American nations and their descendants may or may not also self-identify with the term.African-American history starts in the 16th century, with peoples from West Africa forcibly taken as slaves to Spanish America, and in the 17th century with West African slaves taken to English colonies in North America. After the founding of the United States, black people continued to be enslaved, and the last four million black slaves were only liberated after the Civil War in 1865. Due to notions of white supremacy, they were treated as second-class citizens. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites only, and only white men of property could vote. These circumstances were changed by Reconstruction, development of the black community, participation in the great military conflicts of the United States, the elimination of racial segregation, and the civil rights movement which sought political and social freedom. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected President of the United States.

Black Seminoles

The Black Seminoles are black Indians associated with the Seminole people in Florida and Oklahoma. They are mostly blood descendants of the Seminole tribe, free blacks and of escaped slaves (called maroons) who allied with Seminole groups in Spanish Florida. Many have Seminole lineage, but due to the stigma of having dark skin, they all have been categorized as slaves or freedmen. Historically, the Black Seminoles lived mostly in distinct bands near the Native American Seminole. Some were held as so-called slaves of particular Seminole leaders; but they had more freedom than did slaves held by whites in the South and by other Native American tribes, including the right to bear arms.

Today, Black Seminole descendants live primarily in rural communities around the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Its two Freedmen's bands, the Caesar Bruner Band and the Dosar Barkus Band, are represented on the General Council of the Nation. Other centers are in Florida, Texas, the Bahamas, and northern Mexico.

Since the 1930s, the Seminole Freedmen have struggled with cycles of exclusion from the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma. In 1990, the tribe received the majority of a $46 million judgement trust by the United States, for seizure of lands in Florida in 1823, and the Freedmen have worked to gain a share of it. In 2004 the US Supreme Court ruled the Seminole Freedmen could not bring suit without the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, which refused to join it on the claim issue. In 2000 the Seminole Nation voted to restrict membership to those who could prove descent from a Seminole on the Dawes Rolls of the early 20th century, which excluded about 1,200 Freedmen who were previously included as members. They argue that the Dawes Rolls were inaccurate and often classified persons with both Seminole and African ancestry as only Freedmen.


The Cherokee (; Cherokee: ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ, translit. Aniyvwiyaʔi or Cherokee: ᏣᎳᎩ, translit. Tsalagi) are one of the indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands of the United States. Prior to the 18th century, they were concentrated in what is now southwestern North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee, and the tips of western South Carolina and northeastern Georgia.The Cherokee language is part of the Iroquoian language group. In the 19th century, James Mooney, an American ethnographer, recorded one oral tradition that told of the tribe having migrated south in ancient times from the Great Lakes region, where other Iroquoian-speaking peoples lived; however, anthropologist Thomas R. Whyte writes that the origin of the proto-Iroquoian language was likely the Appalachian region and the split between Northern and Southern Iroquoian languages began 4,000 years ago.Today there are three federally recognized Cherokee tribes: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) in Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation (CN) in Oklahoma.By the 19th century, European settlers in the United States classified the Cherokee of the Southeast as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes", because they were agrarian and lived in permanent villages and began to adopt some cultural and technological practices of the European American settlers. The Cherokee were one of the first, if not the first, major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens. Article 8 in the 1817 treaty with the Cherokee stated that Cherokees may wish to become citizens of the United States.The Cherokee Nation has more than 300,000 tribal members, making it the largest of the 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States. In addition, numerous groups claim Cherokee lineage, and some of these are state-recognized. A total of more than 819,000 people are estimated to claim having Cherokee ancestry on the US census, which includes persons who are not enrolled members of any tribe.Of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, the Cherokee Nation and the UKB have headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The UKB are mostly descendants of "Old Settlers", Cherokee who migrated to Arkansas and Oklahoma about 1817 prior to Indian Removal. They are related to the Cherokee who were later forcibly relocated there in the 1830s under the Indian Removal Act. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is on the Qualla Boundary in western North Carolina; their ancestors resisted or avoided relocation, remaining in the area.

Cherokee history

Cherokee history is the written and oral lore, traditions, and historical record maintained by the living Cherokee people and their ancestors. The Cherokee people are those currently enrolled in one of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes: The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, The Cherokee Nation, and The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, who live predominantly in North Carolina and Oklahoma. The Cherokee people have extensive written records, including detailed genealogical records, preserved in the Cherokee language, the Cherokee syllabary, and in the English language.

History of slavery in Louisiana

Following Robert Cavelier de La Salle establishing the French claim to the territory and the introduction of the name Louisiana, the first settlements in the southernmost portion of Louisiana (New France) were developed at present-day Biloxi (1699), Mobile (1702), Natchitoches (1714), and New Orleans (1718). Slavery was then established by European colonists.

The institution was maintained by the Spanish (1763–1800) when the area was part of New Spain, by the French when they briefly reacquired the colony (1800-03), and by the United States following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Due to its complex history, Louisiana had a very different pattern of slavery compared to the rest of the United States.

List of people of African-American and Native American ancestry

This is a list of notable people that are a mixture of African-American and Native American. No claim is made that any of these individuals are enrolled members of Native American tribes, unless their entry explicitly makes that statement.

List of topics related to the African diaspora

This is a list of topics related to the African diaspora.

Mohawk people

The Mohawk people (Kanienʼkéha: Kanienʼkehá꞉ka) are the most easterly tribe of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy. They are an Iroquoian-speaking indigenous people of North America, with communities in northern New York State and southeastern Canada, primarily around Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River. As one of the five original members of the Iroquois League, the Mohawk are known as the Keepers of the Eastern Door - the traditional guardians of the Iroquois Confederation against invasions from the east.

Historically, the Mohawk people were originally based in the valley of the Mohawk River in present-day upstate New York, west of the Hudson River. Their territory ranged north to the St. Lawrence River, southern Quebec and eastern Ontario; south to greater New Jersey and into Pennsylvania; eastward to the Green Mountains of Vermont; and westward to the border with the Iroquoian Oneida Nation's traditional homeland territory.


Multiracial is defined as made up of or relating to people of many races. Many terms exist for people of various multiracial backgrounds. Preferred terms include mixed race (or simply mixed), multiracial, biracial, multiethnic, polyethnic, half, half-and-half, Mixed blood, Métis, Creole, Dougla, mestizo, mulatto, Melungeon, Criollo, quadroon, zambo, Eurasian, hapa, hāfu, garifuna and pardo. Some of the terms are considered insulting and offensive.

Individuals of multiracial backgrounds make up a significant portion of the population in many parts of the world. In North America, studies have found that the multiracial population is continuing to grow. In many countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, people with multiracial backgrounds make up the majority of the population. Other countries where multiracial people make up a sizable portion of the population are the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Singapore, Germany, Spain, Hong Kong, South Africa, Botswana, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, Philippines and Fiji.

Métis in the United States

The Métis in the United States are people descended from joint Native Americans and white parents. The term originally had no ethnic designation (and was not capitalized in English). It grew to become an ethnicity in the nineteenth century. Those identifying as Métis in the U.S. are fewer in number than the neighboring Métis in Canada, who have developed further as an ethnic group than in the U.S.

The Métis have developed as an ethnic group from the descendants of indigenous women who married French (and later Scottish) fur trappers and traders during the 18th and 19th centuries at the height of the fur trade. At the time, the border did not exist between Canada and the British colonies as much of the area was undeveloped. Traders and trappers easily moved back and forth through the area.

Métis live in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.In the broadest sense, the term "métis" was applied to people of mixed indigenous and French ancestry in French colonies; it means mixture. In this article it is also used to discuss mixed-race people who descend from the united culture created by the intermarriage of various French and British fur traders; being bilingual, they would trade European goods, such as muskets, for the furs and hides at a trading post. These métis were found from the Atlantic Coast, especially in the Southeast, through the Great Lakes area and to the Rocky Mountains. The women were of various Algonquian, Muscogee, and other Native American peoples during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. This use excludes mixed-race people born of unions in other settings or more recently than about 1870.

Piscataway people

The Piscataway or Piscatawa , also referred to as the Piscataway Indian Nation, are Native Americans, once constituting the most populous and powerful Native polities of the Chesapeake Bay region. They spoke Algonquian Piscataway, a dialect of Nanticoke. One of their neighboring tribes, with whom they merged after a massive decline of population following two centuries of interactions with European settlers, called them Conoy.

Two major groups representing Piscataway descendants received state recognition as Native American tribes in 2012: the Piscataway Indian Nation and Tayac Territory and the Piscataway Conoy Tribe of Maryland. Within the latter group was included the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Sub-Tribes and the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians. All these groups are located in Southern Maryland. None is federally recognized.


We-Sorts (also Wesorts) is a name (regarded as derogatory and a pejorative by some) and rarely used by the current younger generation for a group of Native Americans in Maryland who are from the Piscataway tribe. The Piscataway were powerful at the time of European encounter. Many individuals with the surnames Proctor, Newman, Savoy, Queen, Butler, Thompson, Swann, Gray, and Harley claim that Native heritage. Many are notably of a mixed race between black, white and Native American. "Some members of the Piscataway Indian groups now consider the name Wesort derogatory." Historian Frank Sweet lists "Wesorts" as among a group of "derogatory epithets given by mainstream society, not self-labels". However, "Wesort" is listed as a self-identified "Other race" on the 2000 United States Census.In the early 1930s, weekend-farmer Alice Ferguson noticed that people were finding small artifacts in her fields and decided to do some digging around, according to newspaper reports. Between 1935 and 1939, she uncovered at least five mass-burial pits containing the 300-year-old remains of about 500 Piscataway Indians. Over the years, she gave most of the remains, the bones from about 467 individuals, to the Smithsonian Institution. She called the trust to come pick up what was left—the very partial remains of 36 individuals—said Hughes. The trust has determined that the remains are of Piscataway Indians. Alice and Henry Ferguson wrote and the Alice Ferguson Foundation published The Piscataway Indians of Southern Maryland in 1960. State officials say that most of the about 25,000 American Indians who live in Maryland are Piscataway.

William Loren Katz

William Loren Katz is an American educator, historian, and author of forty books on African-American history, including a number of titles for young adult readers. He is particularly noted for his research and writing on the 500-year history of relations between African Americans and Native Americans in the New World. His books include Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage and 40 other books on African American history

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