Friday, September 24, 2010

"Of Portuguese Origin"

"Of Portuguese Origin": Litigating Identity and Citizenship
Among the "Little Races" in Nineteenth-Century America

Law and History Review, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall 2007)

By Ariela Gross


The history of race in the nineteenth-century United States is often told as a story of black and white in the South, and white and Indian in the West, with little attention to the intersection between black and Indian. This article explores the history of nineteenth-century America's "little races"—racially ambiguous communities of African, Indian, and European origin up and down the eastern seaboard. These communities came under increasing pressure in the years leading up to the Civil War and in its aftermath to fall on one side or the other of a black-white color line. Drawing on trial records of cases litigating the racial identity of the Melungeons of Tennessee, the Croatans/Lumbee of North Carolina, and the Narragansett of Rhode Island, this article looks at the differing paths these three groups took in the face of Jim Crow: the Melungeons claiming whiteness; the Croatans/Lumbee asserting Indian identity and rejecting association with blacks; the Narragansett asserting Indian identity without rejecting their African origins. Members of these communities found that they could achieve full citizenship in the U.S. polity only to the extent that they abandoned their self-governance and distanced themselves from people of African descent.

Highly recommended: This paper focuses on Melungeons, with an extensive discussion of several important court cases involving Melungeon racial and ethnic identity.

To read the paper in its entirety: Click Here.

See also:

Note: The two persistent claims by the Melungeons themselves as to their origins were Indian and Portuguese, with Portuguese usually being asserted when going to court to claim their constitutional rights in the time of de jure racism.

No comments:

Post a Comment