Campus News

Book examines America’s racial hierarchy

Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family
By Claudio Saunt
Oxford University Press

Deceit, compromise and betrayal were the painful costs of becoming American for many families of the 18th-century Native American South, according to Claudio Saunt, UGA associate professor of history and author of Black, White and Indian.

For people of Indian, African and European descent, the most personal and emotional choices were often guided by the harsh economic realities imposed by the country’s racial hierarchy. Few families embody this struggle to survive the pervasive onslaught of racism more than the Graysons. Like many other residents of the time, during which black-Indian relations bore little social stigma, Katy Grayson and her brother William-both Creek Indians-had children with partners of African descent. Traveling separate paths, the Graysons survived the invasion of the Creek Nation by U.S. troops in 1813 and again in 1836 and endured the Trail of Tears, only to confront each other on the battlefield during the Civil War. Afterwards, they refused to recognize each other’s existence.

Saunt tracks a full five generations of the Grayson family. Basing his account in part on unprecedented access to the 44-volume diary of G. W. Grayson, the one-time principal chief of the Creek Nation, Saunt tells not only of America’s past, but of its present, shedding light on one of the most contentious issues in Indian politics, the role of “blood” in the construction of identity.