Electronic Thesis/Dissertation


Constructing and Contesting Color Lines: Tidewater Native Peoples and Indianness in Jim Crow Virginia Open Access

Constructing and Contesting Color Lines: Tidewater Native Peoples and Indianness in Jim Crow Virginia Indian peoples in the United States have faced many challenges to their group and individual identities as Native Americans over centuries of cultural exchange, demographic change, violence, and dispossession. For Native Americans in the South those challenges have arisen in the context of the idea of "race" as a two-part black-white social, cultural, and political system. This dissertation explores how groups and individuals in tidewater Virginia created, re-created, claimed, re-claimed, retained and maintained identities as Indians after the Civil War and into the 1950s, weathering decades of the ever-stranger career of Jim Crow. They did this in the face of varied pressures from white Virginians who devoted enormous political and social effort to the construction of race as a simple binary division between black and white people. In the era after the Civil War, tidewater Indians coped by creating new tribal organizations, churches, and schools, presenting theatrical productions that used pan-Indian symbols, and maintaining separations from their African American neighbors. To some extent, they acquiesced in whites' notions about the "inferior" racialized status of African Americans. In late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century tidewater Virginia, while contending with, and sometimes adapting, popular ideas about "race" and "blood purity," organized tidewater Virginia Indians also drew from a sense of their shared histories as descendants of the Algonquian Powhatan groups, and from pan-Indian imagery. This project explores how popular ideas about "race" shaped their world and their efforts to position themselves as red rather than black or white, while whites worked to construct "race" along a black-white "color line."

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