The late nineteenth century was a period of tremendous upheaval in American race relations. But while studies abound documenting the changes in relations between whites and African Americans in the northern and southern states during this time, few historians have tackled this topic in the lands of the frontier West or sought to understand how Native Americans figured into the nation’s complex racial mix. In Contested Territory, Murray R. Wickett offers the first complete history of the interaction among whites, Native Americans, and African Americans in the Indian and Oklahoma Territories from the end of the Civil War until Oklahoma statehood in 1907, addressing questions about the nature of American race relations, the answers to which far transcend the territorial boundaries of the region.
Since, by the late 1800s, the Indian and Oklahoma Territories were the only place where the three “founding” cultures of American society co-existed in significant numbers, the area provides an excellent case study in the contrasting racial policies aimed at separate ethnic groups. As Wickett shows, racial separation versus integration sparked a bitter debate that factionalized both blacks and Indians. While white government officials and humanitarian reformers sought–and often forced—the assimilation of Native peoples into Anglo-American society, they strove, at the same time, to secure the strict segregation of African Americans. As African Americans desperately fought a losing battle to maintain their civil rights, Native Americans, for the most part, rejected the benefits white society encouraged them to accept.
Wickett tells his fascinating and complex story with a mix of sources that includes poems, anecdotes, and particularly well-chosen pictures. Through government records, newspapers, diaries, and oral history interviews, he also allows those who experienced the temper of the times first hand to speak for themselves.
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