Being Indigenous in Jim Crow Virginia
Powhatan People and the Color Line
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
Like other Southeastern Native groups living under Jim Crow regimes, tidewater Native groups and individuals fortified their communities by founding tribal organizations, churches, and schools; they displayed their Indianness in public performances; and they enlisted whites, including well-known ethnographers, to help them argue for their Native distinctness. Describing an arduous campaign marked by ingenuity, conviction, and perseverance, Laura J. Feller shows how these tidewater Native people drew on their shared histories as descendants of Powhatan peoples, and how they strengthened their bonds through living and marrying within clusters of Native Virginians, both on and off reservation lands. She also finds that, by at times excluding African Americans from Indian organizations and Native families, Virginian Indians themselves reinforced racial segregation while they built their own communities.
Even as it paved the way to tribal recognition in Virginia, the tidewater Natives’ sustained efforts chronicled in this book demonstrate the fluidity, instability, and persistent destructive power of the construction of race in America.
“Drawing on both archival and published sources, Feller does an excellent job demonstrating the constructed nature of race in Virginia. She empathetically portrays Native Americans’ attempt to navigate these complex waters, which at times had them “playing Indian” to appeal to white nostalgia for the state’s earliest history, and at others had them rejecting past and present associations with Black Americans. Feller helps non-Indian readers understand the “fluidity, instability, and destructive power of the construction of race in America.”— The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography