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James Taylor Carson, “The Obituary of Nations’’: Ethnic Cleansing, Memory, and the Origins of the Old South

In James Carson’s essay, The Obituary of Nations, he describes the atrocities Indians experienced as a result of government policies as an ethnic cleansing. Carson also addresses the omission of Native Americans in the history of the south. Carson describes the actions taken to remove Native American tribes from the South as an attempt to increase the prosperity of southern states. To support these claims, various scholars and their work are cited throughout the essay.

Carson cites Richard H. Wilde as an example of how the south justified expulsion of First Peoples as a way for the south to progress. The concept of the “politics of oblivion” proposed by George B. Handley, explains how leaving First Peoples out of history shapes what is written.  Carson’ speaks of the Native American’s of the south as the first southerners. Tribes such as the Lumbee and Cherokee have remained along with others. The firs removal of Native’s after the invention of the cotton gin, showed an increase in whites and blacks in the south after their removal according to the post-Removal censuses. Carson credits the expansion of slavery and defense of the freedom of slaveholders as the progression that expulsion offered non-Indian Southerners.  Also, state-building projects included the expulsion of First Peoples as evident from the governor of Mississippi, Thomas Holmes. Such projects called for the removal of Indians so that the states revenue would increase due to taxable land. The social class of Indians bothered the governor of Georgia lead to their removal under the Adams administration. President Jackson cited the risk of extinction due to being “surrounded by whites,” as justification for the removal of Indian tribes and passed a law to do so on May 29, 1830. Of the tribes removed, the Cherokee were removed via the Trail of Tears. No record was kept of the expulsions to accurately account for the lives that were lost during the expulsion. For some states, the expulsions served as confirmation that freedom and slavery were based on race.

Scholars such as William Gilmore Simms thought that the “triumph” over Indians was confirmation that progress was in the heart of American civilization. On the other hand author Joseph Glover Baldwin felt sorry for the “helplessness” of the First Peoples in a world where deception and inhumanity. The Bureau of American Ethnology undertook a program to counterpoint assimilation and allotment.  Ethnographers, John R. Swanton and James Mooney worked to rebuild knowledge of the Native cultures that were believed to be disappearing. Others like Angie Debo seen the settlers as savage and wondered how the expulsion affected them. Some like Abernathy viewed the removal to the west as a way for a new type of person or culture to be formed. From the beginning Indians, whites, and slaves lived along side each other thus, conflicting with the social construct of race and civilization that were present with the Age of Jackson.  Carson views removal as an ethnic cleansing in which expulsions were perpetrate against southerns “as much as they were against Indians.”

Malinda Maynor, “People and Place”

The migration of Croatan (present day Lumbee) Indians from Robeson County, North Carolina, to Bulloch County, Georgia raises questions about the matinance of an Indian identity under the pressure to assume a white or black identity. Malinda Maynor addresses this issue in her essay.

The ability to vote prior to 1835 provides proof that Lumbees were identified as Indian despite their 1790 label as “free persons, not white.” Maynor states that the 1835 constitution may have lead whites to discriminate against Indians. Many scholars have chosen to characterize Lumbees as mixed-bloods with no real Indian identity based on the political status of the Lumbee and the definition that relates Indians to blood, land, and community. When identity is looked upon without manipulations, it is evident that it can be constantly renegotiated based on distinguishing a group from outsiders. This constant renegotiation is exemplified in the Lumbee.

Race has been made a factor in the identity of Lumbee people by political acts such as Jim Crow, Reconstruction, and 1835 constitution. Maynor cites Brewton Berry and Guy B. Johnson in support of the claim by scholars that Indians want to identify as white instead of black. However, these scholars did not acknowledge that race and culture are not the same. Indians distinguished themselves as Indians in a biracial society. In addition, the migration to Georgia and maintenance of Indian identity instead of assuming a white identity is evidence that Indians did not wish to be white. There Indian identity is evident in there establishment of Indian institutions. Ancestors of the Lumbee based their identity on kinship instead of racial constructs used today. Late in the 1900’s Lumbee identity also became interwoven in connection to Robeson County by kinship or land ownership.

The Croatans of Georgia points out other markers of Indian identity including kinship, control of labor, and construction of social institutions independent of place. While in Georgia the Croatan Indians married within their kinship ties to maintain their communities. Maynor relies on personal stories of Croatans in Bulloch County to demonstrate the role that connection to place and kinship had in maintaining Indian identity.  Racial identity changed according to economic and social status as evident by the example of E.J. Emanuel.

The economic transition of Bulloch County as exemplified by the Foy & Williams Company provides the Croatans a way to use their racial ambiguity to their economic advantage and establish a distinctive Indian community. The roles of Croatan women were also different from the white and black women. Croatan women fulfilled more domestic roles while their husband’s occupations changed with the economy. Indians invested in Robeson County instead of Bulloch County when it came to land. However, they did establish education and religious institutions in Bulloch County. Establishing separate schools and churches demonstrates the Croatans uptake of segregationist ideology in an attempt to protect their identity.

The Croatans in Bulloch County did eventually return to Robeson County and Maynor cites an incident of discrimination at a barber shop as a catalyst for this movement. The incident involving Warren Dial challenged segregation and the negotiated identity the Croatans had in Bulloch County.


The idea that the 1835 constitution would have given whites a reason to discriminate against Indians. I would like to know what type of discrimination Indians may have been subject to? Were they discriminated against in other ways besides voting, what are some examples of the discriminations they experienced?


Statesboro News, 24 May 1901

Violence report at Foy & Williams in 1901

Did the Croatan Indians in Bulloch County experience any opposition to establishing a separate school system like the Lumbees did in Robeson County?


Robesonian, 3 October 1910, 17 April 1913, 4 May1914, 15 June 1911

Bulloch Times, 16 April 1914

Pierce et. al., The Lumbee Petition 1:140

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