The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935

Article excerpt

The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935 by Kim Carey Warren. Charlotte: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010, 223 pp., $26.95, paperback.

Reviewed by Erica Neeganagwedgin, Athabasca University.

Kim Carey Warren's study examines the notion and meaning of what it is to be an American citizen from the perspectives of African American and Native American peoples in Kansas against the backdrop of a broader colonial American history where White reformers sought to place their own definition on both groups. Whether they were missionaries, the government or teachers, Carey Warren reveals that White reformers of the late-19th and early-20th centuries perceived Native Americans and African Americans as "the other."

The Quest for Citizenship has two stories to tell, but really only one message. Warren poignantly tells the story of how Indigenous peoples came to be seen as outsiders in their own ancestral territories and ironically deemed inferior and foreign by newcomers to their ancestral lands. For Warren, African Americans, too, carry the brand of being considered outsiders by the dominant White group of newcomers. The dominant group, including the liberal reformers among them, took it upon themselves to solve what they defined as the Negro problem and the Indian problem.

As the author explains, "Native Americans and African Americans, at different times in American history, have been considered property, wards of the state and enemies of the U.S. army (p. 36). Warren provides the reader with an in-depth analysis of the Jim Crow era, during which African Americans were denied their rights as citizens and systematically marginalized through the imposition of colonial laws that rendered them inferior vis-à-vis White Americans. Also during this era, Native Americans were subjected to an assimilation project and the destruction of their lands.

For Native Americans, and African Americans alike, the assimilation project and the destruction of family and community were at the core of the colonial project.

Warren's work shows how race impacted the formal education received by both Native Americans and African Americans, citing Hervey Peairs, a White reformer teacher, who noted that Whites defined citizenship as a "complete assimilation and erasure of the traditional cultures of Indigenous peoples (31 ). Therefore, at the time, citizenship was analogous with assimilation into the dominant culture and education was restructured by reformers to promote a particular kind of citizenship, one which took on both African Americans and Native Americans as peoples in need of salvation. Reformers sought to do this by taking over the education of African American and Native American youth. Carey Warren believes most reformers felt that the youth held the greatest potential for citizenship roles and therefore a proper education as defined by reformers were at the core of these races' salvation (p. …