African Cherokees in Indian Territory

From Chattel to Citizens

By Celia E. Naylor

376 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 6 illus., 8 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5883-7
    Published: July 2008
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7754-8
    Published: September 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8076-5
    Published: September 2009

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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Forcibly removed from their homes in the late 1830s, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians brought their African-descended slaves with them along the Trail of Tears and resettled in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Celia E. Naylor vividly charts the experiences of enslaved and free African Cherokees from the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma's entry into the Union in 1907. Carefully extracting the voices of former slaves from interviews and mining a range of sources in Oklahoma, she creates an engaging narrative of the composite lives of African Cherokees. Naylor explores how slaves connected with Indian communities not only through Indian customs--language, clothing, and food--but also through bonds of kinship.

Examining this intricate and emotionally charged history, Naylor demonstrates that the "red over black" relationship was no more benign than "white over black." She presents new angles to traditional understandings of slave resistance and counters previous romanticized ideas of slavery in the Cherokee Nation. She also challenges contemporary racial and cultural conceptions of African-descended people in the United States. Naylor reveals how black Cherokee identities evolved reflecting complex notions about race, culture, "blood," kinship, and nationality. Indeed, Cherokee freedpeople's struggle for recognition and equal rights that began in the nineteenth century continues even today in Oklahoma.

About the Author

Celia E. Naylor is assistant professor of history at Dartmouth College.
For more information about Celia E. Naylor, visit the Author Page.


"A welcome contribution to one of the more important trends in the historiography of southeastern Indians: the recent expansion of scholarship on race, slavery, and the struggles of freedmen within the Five Tribes."--American Historical Review

"Will take its rightful place as a significant contribution to the topic of nineteenth-century African-Indian relationships."--H-Net Reviews

"A rich and textured glimpse of life, work, love and loss in Indian Territory."--West Virginia History

"Provocative and impressive . . . elucidate[s] a highly significant area of study within Indian slave-holding communities. . . . Highly recommend[ed]."--Georgia Historical Quarterly

"Offers a thorough and descriptive history of the people who were at the center of this controversy. . . . Naylor skillfully mines the Work Progress Administration collection of ex-slave narratives to recreate the lives of people of African descent in the nineteenth-century Cherokee Nation."--The Journal of Southern History

"An outstanding job of illustrating the intricate sociopolitical interactions between bondsmen and their Cherokee masters. . . . Helps illuminate the history of African Americans in the Cherokee Nation. . . . An excellent scholarly work to aid in researching African Cherokees from slavery through the turn of the twentieth century."--North Carolina Historical Review