Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Estelusti Marginality: A Qualitative Examination of the Black Seminole

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Estelusti Marginality: A Qualitative Examination of the Black Seminole

Article excerpt


African Americans have always maintained a marginal status position in the United States and across the Diaspora. In many studies of Black status, the focus has been in the areas of socioeconomic status and residential segregation (e.g., Massey and Denton, 1993; Oliver and Shapiro, 2006; and Shapiro, 2004). On the other hand, a substantial number of studies have devoted attention to the racial status of blacks vis-a-vis other groups, particularly whites (Anderson, 2001; Diop, 1974; and Karenga, 2002).

The present study examined the marginality, i.e., state of "double ambivalence", experienced by the Estelusti or Black Seminoles within the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma (Robertson, 2006, p. 33). Weisberger's (1992) construct of marginality was employed in this re-examination of Black Seminole ethnic group "double ambivalence" as used in Robertson's (2006) original work on Black Seminole marginality. Finally, the Black Seminoles or Estelusti, who are comprised of individuals of both mixed Seminole and African American, i.e., Black, ancestry (and those people of African ancestry who came to live among them) that today are scattered throughout Oklahoma and Florida (Robertson, 2002). They became official members of the Seminole ethnic group upon the signing of the U.S.-Seminole treaty of 1866 (Mulroy, 1993; Robertson, 2002, 2006; and Twyman, 1999).

Review of Literature

The review of literature examined antecedents to the marginal status of the Black Seminoles. Through a socio-historical investigation of the plight of Blacks with some traceable ancestry in the Seminole ethnic group, the following events were selected in this study of Black Seminole marginality: allotment, Jim Crow, enslavement, money, and ethnic group expulsion and reintegration.

Allotment Period

Senator Henry Dawes created the Dawes Commission via the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 (Bateman, 1991; Foreman, 1942). The commission mandated the allotment of lands in severalty to Indians on various reservations and to extend the protection of the laws of the United States to the Indian territories (Perdue and Green, 2001). The Seminoles commenced their enrollment process on December 16, 1897 and closed their rolls on December 31, 1899 (Mulroy, 2007). The final rolls included "1,890 Seminoles by blood, 248 Newborn Seminoles, 857 freedmen, 129 Newborn freedmen, for a grand total of 3,124 citizens" (Mulroy, 2007, p. 299).

The commission gave each Seminole and Black Seminole 120 acres, with forty acres designated as nontaxable (Mulroy, 2007). Notwithstanding the fact that the commission did not initially call for separate rolls, Mulroy (2007, p. 296) states "the commissioners soon found it expedient to create two Seminole rolls, one for Indians by blood: and one for freedmen."

The Dawes Commission was the first official governmental mechanism/agency that provided legal designations as to who "was" and who "was not" an Indian. Therefore, it laid the foundation for the determination of eligibility for Bureau of Indian Affairs programs and for social definitions of racial heritage among the Seminoles and the Black Seminoles/Seminole Freedmen that would become more salient among future generations (Bateman, 1991). Perdue and Green (2001, p. 118) argue that the ethnic group rolls created by the commission "reflected the racial thinking of the turn-of-the-century Americans. The ethnic group rolls carefully categorized the racial composition of each citizen." Along with this, it can be seen as at least partly responsible for the development of a "social pretext" wherein the Seminoles could view themselves as separate from the Freedmen through its creation of separate rolls for each group (Saito, 2000).

The Dawes Commission in 1896 began conducting an ethnic group census in preparation for allotments (Saito, 2000). The commission was responsible for negotiation with the "five civilized tribes" and establishing census rolls to ensure efficient allotment of reservation lands (Mulroy, 1993; Saito, 2000). …

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