​Black Indian Slave Narratives

by Fannie May Green
from the School of Theatre & Dance of The University of South Florida in Tampa, FL
Volume V. July-August 2012

As director of Marcus Gardley’s play, the road weeps, the well runs dry, I am intrigued with the theme of migration’. As we prepare here for the upcoming production next year, I think of my own family’s migration story. I have never heard the stories of how we migrated from Trinidad to Georgia to Jacksonville to central Florida. I began to think about the reasons one migrates and the very act of migrating. I wondered how a person, a family, a community decides to or is forced to make the decision to pack up all of one’s belongings and journey to another location to begin one’s life anew. Questions seized my mind: “Where are the stories of migration for black Indians? What are the stories of migration?” I wondered, are the stories being told? The search reaped a fascinating book titled “Black Indian Slave Narratives” by Patrick Minges. The twenty-seven narratives in the book come from the many first-person, ex-slave narratives collrcted in the mid- 1930’s by Federal Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration. The narratives used in the book serve to help explore “this intricate history from the viewpoints of persons both enslaved as Native Americans and by Native Americans”. (page xx; Introduction) USF chronicler, Matt Cowley wrote and received permission from Mr. Minges to write or record excerpts from the book for our bulletin. I hope you find these excerpts intriguing as I do.

-Cora Gillam
Interviewed in Little Rock, Arkansas by W.P.A. field worker Beulah Sherwood Hagg.
Source: W.P.A. Slave Narrative Project, Arkansas Narratives, Volume 2, Part 3.

“I have never been entirely sure of my age. I have kept it since I was married, and they called it fifteen. That was in ’66 or ’67. Anyhow I’m about 86, and what difference does one year make, one way or another? I lived with Master and Mistress in Greenville, Mississippi. No ma’am, oh no indeedy, my father was not a slave. Can’t you tell by me that he was white?…My father was Mr. McCarroll from Ohio. He came to Mississippi to be overseer on the plantation of the Warren family where my mother lived. My grandmother on my mother’s side was full-bloodied Cherokee. She came from North Carolina. In early days, my mother, and her brothers, and sisters were , stolen from their home in North Carolina, and taken to Mississippi, and sold for slaves.

…My mother was only part Negro; so was my brother, my Uncle Tom. He seemed all Indian. …I want to tell you first why I didn’t get educated up North like my white brother and sister. Just about time for me to be born, my papa went to see how they (brother and sister) were getting along in school (up north). He left my education money with Mama. He sure did want all his children educated. I never saw my father. He died that trip. After awhile, Mama married a colored man named Lee. He took my school money and put me in the cotton patch. It was still during war time when my white folks moved to Arkansas.”

[excerpt from Black Save Narratives; Edited by Patrick Minges; John F. Blair Publisher, Copyright 2004; pg 19-21.]

Eliza Whitmire
Interviewed in Estella, Oklahoma, by W.P.A. field worker James Carseloway in February 1938.
Source: Oklahoma Historical Society, Indian Pioneers History, Vol. 97

“…I live on a farm near Estella, where I settled after the Civil War, and where I have lived ever since. I was born in slavery in the state of Georgia, my parents having belonged to a Cherokee Indian of the name of George Sanders, who owned a large plantation in the old Cherokee Nation, in Georgia. I do not know the exact date of my birth, although my mother told me. I was about five years old when President Andrew Jackson ordered General Scott to proceed to the Cherokee country, in Georgia, with two thousand troops and remove the Cherokees by force to the Indian Territory. The weeks that followed General Scot’s order to remove the Cherokee’s were filled with horror and suffering for the unfortunate Cherokees and their slaves…The Cherokees, after being driven from their homes were divided into detachments of nearly equal size, and late October 1838, the first detachment started, the others following one by one…When we arrived from Georgia, my parents settled with their master, George Sanders, near Tahlequah, or near the place where Tahlequah now is located.…Immediately before the Civil War broke out between the states, George Sanders moved to Lawrence, Kansas, taking all of his slaves with him, and remained there until the War was over and the slaves were set free. After the war was over, my father built the first bridge across the Kansas River, near the city of Lawrence. After he completed the bridge, he moved back to the Indian Territory, and settled on the place where I am now living.”

[excerpt from Black Slave Narratives; Edited by Patrick Minges; John F. Blair
Publisher, Copyright 2004; pg 33-34.]

Playwright Marcus presents an incredible journey exploring family and immigration for audiences to experience. Reading these narratives has made me want start asking questions of my older aunts and uncles on my mother’s side of the family. I’ve only one remaining aunt on my Father’s side. What’s the question? ‘Do you know how our family came to live in—Florida? Will you share the stories, I really want to know?

These now become the same questions you must go and ask in your family.

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