SINS OF OMISSION Roger D. McGrath
Getting Real About Reparations
The call for slavery reparations
is reverberating throughout the land once
again. It will be entertaining to watch the
Democratic presidential candidates for
2020 position themselves on this topic.
They must know the very idea is irrational
and entirely impractical, but at the same
time they will worry that one candidate or
another will endorse the idea and leave
During the antebellum decade, slavery reached its peak among the Five Civilized Tribes. The Cherokee, numbering only about 20,000 themselves, owned nearly 5,000 black slaves; the Choctaw 2,500; the Creeks 2,000; and the Chickasaw and Seminole about a thousand each. To protect their slave property, the Five Civilized Tribes, except for a few dissident factions, sided with the Confederacy when the Civil War erupted. “The war now raging,” declared the Cherokee, “is a war of Northern cupidity and fanaticism against the institution of African servitude; against the commercial freedom of the South, and against the political freedom of the States.”Larry Elder Website
Nearly 20,000 Indians from the Five Civilized Tribes served in more than a dozen Indian units in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The more prominent of the units included the Cherokee Mounted Rifles, the Thomas’ Legion of Eastern Cherokee, the Cherokee Cavalry, the Chickasaw Cavalry, the Chickasaw Infantry, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, the Choctaw Cavalry, the Creek Mounted Volunteers, and the Seminole Mounted Volunteers. In 1864 the Indian Cavalry Brigade was organized and commanded by Cherokee Nation leader Brig. Gen. Stand Watie. Watie did not surrender his brigade until June 1865, making him the last Confederate general to surrender.
American Indians not only served in the Confederate Army but also in the Confederate Congress. One of several to serve in both was Elias Cornelius Boudinot. He was a lieutenant colonel in the army, fighting in the battles of Pea Ridge, Locust Grove, and Prairie Grove, as well as the Cherokee delegate to Congress.
The 13th Amendment, ratified during the fall of 1865, abolished slavery in the U.S. as a whole but not among the Five Civilized Tribes. Although the Indians were “under the protection of the United States,” it was unclear how the Constitution applied to them. As a consequence, blacks remained as slaves in Indian Territory until July and August 1866 after the U.S. government had negotiated new treaties with the individual tribes that included specific clauses prohibiting slavery. Even then, some slaveholders among the Five Civilized Tribes didn’t comply until 1867.
Unfortunately, these complexities and uncomfortable facts of slavery in the United States are unknown to the majority of Americans today. I suspect those now talking about reparations are among them.