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Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage

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The author explores the little-told story of black Indians, defined here as people with dual African and Native American ancestry or African Americans who lived primarily with Native Americans. Using fascinating biographies and detailed research, Katz creates a chronology of this hidden heritage during the settlement of the American West. Illustrations. Young Adult.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1986

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William Loren Katz

70 books32 followers

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5 stars
311 (41%)
4 stars
259 (34%)
3 stars
143 (19%)
2 stars
25 (3%)
1 star
9 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 114 reviews
Profile Image for B. P. Rinehart.
747 reviews254 followers
January 17, 2013
This book is a very good introduction to a history often whispered and gossiped about by African-Americans in the USA (including in my family) but never until this book comprehensively talked about and researched for a wide public.

This book does a very good job at dissecting the history of the relationship between Blacks and "Reds" from the earliest days of Slavery until the turn of the 20th century.

The two things that surprised me the most about the Black-Amreican American-Indian relations was the involvement of the tribes in the slave trade which was often by compulsion, but sometimes very much voluntary.

Then there are the Seminoles. I was very fascinated by the relationship and the long-lasting impact that Africans had on this Florida tribe, fundamentally changing it for good. Unlike every other American Indian tribe the Seminole so fully integrated themselves with Africans-slave and free-that they became difficult to tell apart and it made them very early participators in the Abolitionist movement. The group would eventually fight two wars Against the US government before being resettled but they were resisters until the end and remain an in my mind a very fascinating group that stands out for me.

There was a lot more that I learned, a lot more that I discovered, but I think the best case is to read this book and learn about a history that will definitely not be talked about any time soon in your United States history textbooks.
Profile Image for Theophilus (Theo).
290 reviews24 followers
March 14, 2011
Back in the 50s it was fashionable to claim Native American blood rather than admit our slave ancestors may have been violated by their European masters or others of the dominant class. In the 60s it became a sign of solidarity to deny any other blood than black African ancestry. With the current popularity of family history research, Katz's book is as relevant as ever. Though first published in 1986 the information has not lost its value, nor has the relatively untold story of relations between the black and red peoples of America become less intriguing. An easy read, it whetted my appetite for more information on this subject. Not just for blacks or Native people, this is an informative read for anyone who is even remotely interested in their fellow Americans and the history of this country.
Profile Image for Richard.
607 reviews9 followers
July 2, 2020
In his introduction to Black Indians the author noted two things.  First, that he wrote it primarily with young people in mind.  Second, that he did not intend for it to be an academic piece of work. 

Thus, it is not surprising that the prose was in a more casual at times rambling, if not occasionally dramatic narrative style with numerous interesting stories about various Black Indians, the role they played in American history, etc.   The book also included many copies of paintings/engravings and/or photos of the many people he wrote about.  The two chapters on the history of the so called Black Seminoles were both better organized and even more informative. 

As it is a non-academic book Katz did not provide footnotes.  Thus, there is no way to verify if the facts and opinions he expressed were accurate.  In fact, there were at least two inaccuracies that I noted.  First, he claimed that Native Americans treated escaped Southern African American slaves with kindness because they ‘hated slavery.’  It was not true that NA's hated slavery because many tribes had slaves themselves.  Theda Perdue’s book is a useful elucidation of that:  Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society. Another good book is Slavery in Indian Country by Christina Snyder.

Second, the author opined that the Chickasaw were the harshest of slave masters.  But Tiya Miles wrote a book some years later about one Cherokee plantation owner who was extremely cruel and violent:  The House on Diamond Hill. 

Some other good books related to this one might be Race and the Cherokee Nation by Fay Yarbrough, African Americans and Native Americans in the Creek and Cherokee Nations, 1830-s to 1920's by Katja May, or Ties that Bind by Tiya Miles.

For those who wish to read an interesting piece of historical fiction about one African American man who went from being a slave to becoming a chief of the Creek Nation I would suggest Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy.

Despite these inaccuracies IMHO BI would be a good introductory text for readers unfamiliar with Native American history and culture.  For someone like me who has done quite a bit of reading about the NA people already this book has the drawbacks noted above.  Thus, I would give it 3 stars.
Profile Image for Theshiney.
93 reviews3 followers
September 27, 2008
this is a much more cohesive, and overall more enjoyable book than katz' black west. tho both have some of the same historiclal figures and stories i feel they cannot be repeated enough inorder to subvert the dominant paradigm of the west and the frontier... the one thing that got me in this book was the authors assumption that "mixed-breed" (in this case, white/red) indians were bigoted and "pure-bloods" were more accepting of blacks. this 'natural' inclination just based on one's race shows a bias in his writing that might hinder his assertions for some people. i am not deterred. what is gained in this book is a history vastly different than the one presented in school or media. and instead of collecting bits and pieces and putting them together seemingly hodge-podge, as in the black west, this reads more as a fluid account and seemed, in general, more thoughtful and thorough on his bits and pieces.
Profile Image for Cortney.
278 reviews40 followers
January 14, 2020
Some interesting and little known facts about a people often left out of history books.
Profile Image for Alison Hart.
Author 2 books14 followers
September 9, 2021
I wish I had read this book 30 years ago. My ancestors were mixed Black and Native, they fought in the American Revolution to gain their freedom and the Civil War. This is American history! We are more connected than we know. Grateful to read it though it triggered anger: if I had been taught this history in school I would have felt more connected to this land called America.
Profile Image for Teresa Kemp.
Author 5 books9 followers
November 10, 2014
There was not a lot written about this topic and I was trying to find more information and sources when this book was recommended to me. I was not disappointed.

I not only read this, I like it so much I carried this book in my museum gift shop in the UGRR Secret Quilt Code Museum Exhibit 2005-2007. It was a great seller and I received many positive comments from those who purchased the book also.
Profile Image for Mindy Burroughs.
56 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2021
A must read. Tons of information and insight densely packed into a 200ish page book of indispensable knowledge. Very well written and accessible.
11 reviews1 follower
April 20, 2008
Since my grandmother was a Seminole Indian, I did know a little about the Seminole wars prior to reading"Black Indians". However, this book is full of information and photos of people I knew nothing about. For example, it traces the arrival of the first enslaved Africans brought into South Carolina near the PeeDee River by the Spainards in the 15th century. They escaped to the Indians in the woods. Also, there are accounts of Indians and Blacks who excaped slavery throughout the Americas intermingling and fighting the slave catchers and the U.S. army. Later, some Black Indians fought with the U.S. Army. This is a history lesson that you will not get in your classroom.
Profile Image for Ruth.
Author 15 books185 followers
January 4, 2022
What an amazing read. I knew just a bit about the Black Seminoles, but most everything else in this book was a revelation. I love how Katz offers broad strokes of history before zooming in to detail the lives of individual people. Lively and readable. Recommended.
Profile Image for Candida.
1,050 reviews36 followers
October 14, 2021
The author did such a great job of researching and writing this book. He points out right at the beginning the backlash that he faced when he started writing this and I was pretty surprised to hear that. I really thought everyone knew about the comfortable relationship that African slaves and indigenous peoples have historically had in many parts of the Americas. This book reads like a novel and I can appreciate how hard it must have been to use inoffensive terms when speaking about this subject. It was a very enjoyable book and one that will explain about a lot of people's genealogy.
Profile Image for Thomas .
115 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2023
This book, aimed at documenting an ignored/actively suppressed part of American history, is interesting but too scattershot for me to strongly recommend. About half its length is digressions into particular persons of black and Native American heritage without any narrative through line besides the fact that they’ve been left out of American history and pop culture.

The epilogue, which establishes the limitations his publisher put on him (apparently it was to be aimed at a young adult audience) helps make sense of why the book isn’t as detailed as it could be. On the other hand, it makes even less sense why the book wouldn’t have a clear organizing principle to guide an inexperienced reader of history.

I’m glad I read it, but I also hope I find something more scholarly addressing any or all of the half dozen most interesting elements.
9 reviews2 followers
October 18, 2017
Most of these black Indians do not live in forests or broad plans for the stereotype that they are. Most live in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Cleveland, and Denver. They’be occupied much of the lands. They’ve made a long march from farms, words, and ranches, to skyscrapers, subways, and ghettos. The main goals for these African American Indians what’s to build a model for the future generations and to be a leading voice like their ancestors. The conflicts at these black Indians had was The racial discrimination of their racial differences And ethnicities. This book asked the question why are black African Americans only mentioned in the history books and why there was very little in the history books about the black Indians and struggles from the enslavement. This one of the best books I've read about these hidden heritages.

Profile Image for Bryan Anderson.
19 reviews
July 18, 2020
A valuable look at the history between two groups of people and their shared mistreatment by colonization and expansion of the United States. I enjoyed the many beautiful examples of how Black and Indigenous have been intertwined, both positively and negatively, for the last 400-plus years.
Profile Image for Sara.
298 reviews3 followers
November 17, 2020
Good intro to the subject, but I think I would have preferred a more in depth cultural history than the bio vignettes.
Profile Image for Taylor Gibson.
85 reviews
November 3, 2021
Well researched account of an often ignored group of people who helped shaped the West. Does not skip over how terrible the US government and military were and isn't pro-nationalist.
Profile Image for Jessi.
199 reviews1 follower
June 4, 2022
So much interesting and important information—a great resource
Profile Image for Madeline.
29 reviews
November 15, 2022
Great info on yet another group not discussed in high school history class!
Profile Image for Roger DeBlanck.
Author 6 books121 followers
December 28, 2016
Katz’s research does the important job of recognizing the largely forgotten and oftentimes ignored history of Black Indians throughout the development of America. In doing so, he illustrates their significant contributions, honors their sacrifices, and bears witness to their struggles for equality. The history Katz sets forth begins with the earliest American settlements. He tells how in 1526 the Spaniards fled the colony of San Miguel de Gualdape in South Carolina and left their slaves behind. These abandoned Blacks joined with Natives and established a thriving North American colony, which was governed under democratic principles of equality.

When the Europeans economized enslavement in America, Katz makes clear how the Natives embraced runaways and united with them to confront the Spaniards. The greatest fear of the Europeans was the relations between the Blacks and Indians. They created communities that Whites viewed as dangerous and labeled as “maroon.” In fact, the alliance between the Blacks and the Seminoles proved one of the biggest threats to the stability of the South’s institution of slavery.

Katz also brings much needed clarity to the exploration and development of the West. History has refused to mention such facts as the founders of Los Angeles in 1781 were mostly Africans and a mixed race of Blacks and Indians. Additionally, the Europeans relied heavily on Africans to negotiate with Indians during expeditions. Even when Whites forced the Indian nations to carry out slavery, whites despised the Natives’ lenient approach to handling slaves and considered it too mild.

Confederate defeat had many Blacks leaving White society for Indian nations where they had significantly more opportunities to succeed than they ever would have under Whites. By the time of the Oklahoma land rush, Katz explains how Black Indians dreamed of a free state for people of color, but racism and White greed thwarted their efforts. Before and after the Civil War, it was white oppression that drove Natives and Africans to further unite due to their common birthrights, families, communities, and spiritual beliefs.

Katz shows how on the frontier Natives shared much of what they had with Africans, and it was thousands of African Americans who labored as cowboys to help establish the Texas plains. The South merely replaced slavery with segregation and sharecropping, while in the West the Natives faced an unrelenting loss of their land. The Dawes Act of 1887 essentially stated that “savage” Natives needed to submit to white ways, and the act transferred property to whites from the Indians, who the government deemed incapable of taking care of the land. Even when the government used Black troops, known as “buffalo soldiers,” to defeat the Natives, history shows that the Blacks detested persecution of the Indians.

Throughout the history of America, relations and alliances between Indians and Blacks have helped forge the cause of development and the call for equality. Black Indians may not be a comprehensive study, but it is an important book in giving a voice to an entire group of Americans who have been marginalized for too long. The record Katz sets forth corrects many of the misunderstandings of the past and fills in gaps that have been neglected.
Profile Image for Danica Page.
1,649 reviews52 followers
January 22, 2022
This wasn’t my favorite book. Can’t really peg it. Especially since I was so excited to read it.

Perhaps because it was so centered in frontier life.

We do need a lot more books on this subject though.

It was just a bit dry.
Profile Image for Jaclyn Hillis.
910 reviews44 followers
April 28, 2021
Black Indians by William Loren Katz details how two heritages united in their struggle to gain freedom and equality in America. The children of Native- and African-American marriages helped shape the early days of this country, yet get no mention in (most) history books.

I grew up sandwiched between two Indian reservations in King William county VA. I was literally walking distance from one of their churches and schools, and where they held pow wows. Yet I’m embarrassed to say I know very little about them and their culture.

This book even mentioned my hometown, and that’s something I thought I’d never read in a book.

One thing that I learned from this book that will stick with me is the story of York. Ever heard of him? He was an enslaved man that went on the Lewis and Clark expedition. York handled firearms, killed game, and helped to navigate trails and waterways. They probably wouldn’t have survived without him. And I had no idea!

Profile Image for Michael Philliber.
Author 6 books52 followers
August 18, 2016
An interesting review of American history from the perspective of African-American and Native-American. Mostly concerned with telling the story about the two befriending and often mixing together. But also told with a "noble savage" idealism that paints a skewed picture in many places.

Written for young readers, it can be picked up and easily consumed by adults. Not written from a scholarly angle, even by the author's own admission. Therefore not much back-up for the story he relates. It was an okay book, but if you want to make sure you're reading factual history, rather than fanciful semi-history, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Profile Image for Ebony Jones-Kuye.
Author 2 books9 followers
August 30, 2015
I love this book because it gave a real outline of African-Americans and Indians relationship in regards to marriage, slavery, and doing business with each other. It really laid out the Seminoles Indians who happen to be African-American and Indian and discuss how they arrived in Mexico and still live there today. This is a good read that offers a great history lesson in understanding Black Indians.
Profile Image for Nancy.
26 reviews5 followers
February 27, 2009
A unique look at African Americans, Native Americans and "White Americans" and how they interacted from the time our country began through the settling of the West. History that you do not easily find in our current history books or classes. New paperback edition by Simon Pulse publishers out in December 2005.
Profile Image for Eudora .
1 review8 followers
November 14, 2015
This book helps me understand that the Black Indians and Africans have one history, and at the same time very sad to know how much black people have struggled to survive. The construction of the world is not based on the creation of the world; anyone who is not white is treated immorally. When I look around me, I don’t see color people; I see only people who are human.
Profile Image for Mike Thomas.
212 reviews8 followers
June 13, 2021
A very readable book about an essential part of North American history.
Profile Image for Jenny Shank.
Author 4 books68 followers
November 28, 2021

I have a great book to recommend for you to read while eating lots of Thanksgiving pie: Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage by William Loren Katz. I read this book with my son, who chose it from a list of books recommended by his seventh grade teacher, but it’s appropriate for adults too.

I learned so much from this book. Did you know that Frederick Douglas, Langston Hughes, LL Cool J, and Michelle Obama all have Native as well as Black ancestors? (I didn’t.) Katz writes about how as soon as Europeans began bringing enslaved Africans to North and South America, significant numbers of them escaped and were welcomed by Native people.

In fact, the first successful colony sustained in North America was not the one established by Sir Walter Raleigh on Roanoke Island in 1584—no, the European settlers there ruined their chances of survival by attacking a nearby Indian village that might have helped them endure. Captain John Smith’s Jamestown colony established in 1607 similarly failed, as the European aristocrats who inhabited it proved too lazy to farm. Katz writes, “No wonder some scholars decided that US history did not begin until the arrival of the hard-working Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Leaping over events can avoid some unpleasant conclusions about early European motives, character, and success.” But there was another relatively enduring settlement started by people from overseas before this, established in 1520 in South Carolina, among African people who fled the Spanish captors who’d enslaved them, and the local natives. In this and many other examples, Katz demonstrates how Black and Indian people collaborated to form societies that actually lived up to the ideals of freedom expressed in the U.S. Constitution well before the rest of us got around to trying to do that.

This is just one of the fascinating stories in this book. You’ll also find the story of some Western outlaws who inspired the new Netflix series The Harder They Fall. Also, on a related subject, be on the lookout for Caleb Gayle’s nonfiction book that will be out in July 2022: We Refuse to Forget: A True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity, and Power.

Profile Image for Hilbermg.
97 reviews1 follower
December 30, 2021
I read BI after finishing Treuer’s Heartbeat of Wounded Knee & Erdrich’s The Sentence. (Both are incredible contemporary works of hard truths & hope). As I worked my way thru BI, I learned a lot! But also it was increasingly clear that the author doesn’t belonged to any First Nations nor is he Black. Some bits are cringey & use colonizer language that should have been corrected by Native & Black editors (who I am not sure were invited) for revisions in 2019. Example, this white author uses words like slaves & masters or holders, and just seems to sort of accept Manifest Destiny without critique. And he LITERALLY says in the last chapter that “Our Black Indian tale” ends with the last of 5 stories, Bill Pickett (a Black Cherokee) who dies in 1932 - he “brings our story of Black Indians to a close.” He inadvertently reinforces that “pastness” stereotype of indigenous people which doesn’t get healed in the rushed list of contemporary folks on the last few pages. I noticed the author also lacked a contemporary Black & Indigenous radical abolitionist lens too. For example, the author goes on comparing slavery here and there without citations or acknowledging slavery is still legal in the US (see DuVernay’s 13th or read Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? if you have doubts). He seems to assert that the absence of Black jails necessitates Freedom Seekers were more satisfied with their conditions. A adequate introductory text perhaps, but we have access now to so many Black & Brown authors, I’m not sure white folks should start with this. I appreciate it’s his passion project, and in 1986 or even in 1996 this would have been a game changer in my government funded education. I see that he received a lot of praise & honorariums from Black & Native groups. However, white learners & allies would do better in supporting Native folx to share their own stories IMO. Example, I’m going to go call my library and make sure they get Vine Deloria Jr’s Custer Died for Your Sins (which Katz quotes in his conclusion) on our Libby App ASAP.
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