America’s Black Indians, a hidden heritage / New African Magazine — 13 June 2013

www.smithsonianmag.com_2017-01-21_13-18-37.pngAmerica’s Black Indians, a hidden heritage – Don Cheadle is a star of the films Ocean’s Eleven and Hotel Rwanda. He was stunned when it was revealed to him on American TV that several generations of his family had been the slaves of members of the Chickasaw Indian ethnic group (commemorated in the statue, right) in Oklahoma. At its height, more than 10,000 African-Americans were kept as slaves by Native Americans. “One of the longest unwritten chapters in the history of the United States is the treating of the relations of the Negroes and the Indians,” wrote the pioneering African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson, in 1920. The Cheadles were owned by Jackson Kemp, a wealthy and powerful Chickasaw leader who was said to be so brutal that one in three of his slaves, fearful for their lives, fled at the very first opportunity. “It’s crazy,” Cheadle told Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard University professor who unearthed the actor’s Chickasaw slave history for a TV programme on African-American genealogy. Cheadle had played slaves in movies and played former slaves on television, but had no idea he had a unique link to slavery. “You feel like the two biggest blights on the way this country started (are) slavery and the genocide of Native Americans,” he says. For Cheadle, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a Hutu who saves Tutsis from genocide in the film Hotel Rwanda, it beggars belief that Indians who suffered so much at the hands of whites would participate in a system which caused Africans so much suffering. After all, Indians faced near genocide at the hands of whites and some, among them the Chickasaw, were forcibly removed from their fertile homeland in the American South and sent west to semi-arid Oklahoma by the US government to make room for white settlers.

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