The Obituary of Nations: Ethnic Cleansing, Memory, and Origins of the Old South” by James Taylor Carson and “Croatan Indians in Jim Crow Georgia, 1890-1920” by Malinda Maynor
Carson’s “The Obituary of Nations” uses a theme of a death notice to dramatically impress upon readers how drastic the removal of Southeastern tribes was. He notes that this removal for agrarian peoples’ connected to the land was like a death, because they were forced from their homeland which they had a strong connection with, both spiritually and economically. The word “obituary” also reminds us that obituaries both mourn for the deceased but also list survivors and extended family members. Thus, “obituary” ironically reminds us that while a way of life was lost with removal, the descendants continued to survive in Oklahoma.
Carson explains motivations for removal. States were a primary force behind the federal policy, because they wanted access to Indian lands for settlement and taxation. Also as more whites and black slaves moved into Southern states, there was little room left for Indians. Even though many Southeastern Natives became Christian, dressed in Euro-American clothes, spoke English and farmed the land, their Indianness set them apart. Because Indians were not participating in the state economic system, white Southerners wanted them out of the state territory. Therefore, removal was motivated by race (because Indians had adopted many Euro-American cultural ways of life) and politics (because Indians were separate from the US States).
This article nicely ties into Maynor Lowry’s discussion of Croatan identity outside of Robeson County, NC. In her article, Maynor Lowry argues that a connection with land, specifically Robeson County, ensured that Croatans maintained their own identity even when they were apart from Robeson County. She describes how a group of Croatans migrated to Bulloch County, GA from 1890-1920. These people were motivated by the turpentine industry, a job that many blacks also participated in as well. However, Croatans successfully maintained a separate identity distinct from both the Georgia whites and blacks they encountered and the blacks who they worked alongside of in the turpentine industry.
Land ownership factored into Croatan identity, because Indians usually rented land in Georgia and continued to invest in land ownership in Robeson County. Croatans made this economic choice, because they did not intend to permanently live in Bulloch County. Croatans notably kept many kinship ties with extended family and friends in Robeson County. Maynor Lowry uses primary source materials such as letters to support her argument that Croatans kept in continual contact with family members in Robeson County. In one letter, a family member asks a brother to return to Robeson County because their mother is sick. Family members not only updated each other on the news in their local area, but they also made sure that family members return if necessary to fulfill kinship obligations such as taking care of a sick family member.
Other factors ensured a separate Croatan identity. Records indicate that Croatans were more likely to be married compared to both blacks and whites in GA, and they married other Indians. This regimented marriage system made sure that Croatans remained separate. Croatan women had different roles than black or white women, which further distanced them from others in Bulloch County. Also, Croatans created their own Indian social institutions, including churches, schools and cemeteries. She notes that they neither tried to “pass” as white or black, but instead existed in an ambiguous Indian space in a biracial Georgian society.
These articles relate to healing practices, because it is likely that Croatans also maintained specific ways of healing in GA. Because Croatans married one another, they probably continued to rely on the only healing methods they knew, the ones they learned in Robeson County. One main question that came to mind is whether all the Croatans actually returned to Robeson County. A quick Google search provided two interesting questions that require more research.
First, I found a webpage arguing that a very small group of Croatans/Lumbees as well as Catawbas migrated with the turpentine lumber industry to the Woods community in Liberty County, Florida. This connection would be interesting to research and see if indeed an Indian community with people from Robeson County existed, did they have any separate cultural ways or healing practices?
I also read that a man named John Oxendine is currently an Insurance Commissioner and a Republican frontrunner for Governor of Georgia. According to his Wikipedia entry, Oxendine is of Lumbee heritage. I wonder if his family is from Robeson County or is he descended from people in Bulloch County who did not return. I am interested in any other families who may have remained or intermarried with white or black communities, and whether these descendants have any family stories of an Indian in their family tree. This same question can apply to healing practices and whether families or communities have stories of Indian healing, which may even be distorted to “witchcraft” or “voodoo”.