Malcolm X once said of his black people that they are not Americans, they are Africans and should relocate to Africa. “We must be separated from the American white man, returned to our own land where we can live among our own people. This is the only true solution.”
Of course, that never happened, couldn’t have worked, wasn’t popular and was the downfall of the Nation of Islam movement in the U.S. (1950s to 1985).
But we forget that a similar idea was successfully implemented in the early 19th Century to solve what white Americans of the time called “the Indian problem.” In order to clear the way for white settlement, we passed a law in Congress that permitted the “relocation” of Indian tribes from our southeast and midwest to barren places in the Far West that whites considered to be the “Indian homeland.”
The justification was: “they can live peacefully among their own people.” That was President Andrew Jackson speaking as he signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830.
So today, Indian families still live in poverty with high incidences of alcoholism in many western “reservations.” I’ve been through them. It breaks your heart. It reminds me that we’ve moved on to Black Lives Matter without dealing with the lives of Native Americans, who not only were here before blacks but — and this is little known and hardly ever spoken of — owned black slaves themselves!
So, do we erase any statues or paintings of Indians? Do we put Indian Lives Matter ahead of Black Lives Matter? Do we deal with something from 1830 before we tackle something that caused a Civil War 35 years later?
Nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina — land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, very few natives remained anywhere in the southeastern United States.
In 1838, Cherokees were forcibly moved from their homelands in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia and relocated to Oklahoma. They took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that they were a sovereign nation. President Jackson ignored the decision and had the military enforce the Indian Removal Act.
As an Army general, Jackson had spent years leading campaigns against the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama and the Seminoles in Florida – which resulted in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres of land from Indians to white farmers.
In Illinois and Wisconsin, the Act opened to white settlement millions of acres of land that had belonged to the Sauk, Fox and other native tribes.
Then came President Martin Van Buren, who sent General Winfield Scott and 7,000 soldiers to expedite the removal process. They forced the Cherokee into stockades at bayonet point while whites looted their homes and belongings. Then they marched the Indians more than 1,200 miles west. Whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera and starvation were epidemic along the way, and historians estimate that more than 5,000 Cherokees died on the journey.
In the winter of 1831, the Choctaw became the first tribe to be 100% expelled from its land in Mississippi. They made the journey west to Indian Territory on foot — some bound in chains and marched double file — and without any food, supplies or other help from the government. Thousands died.
By 1840, many tens of thousands of Native Americans had been driven off of their land and forced to move across the Mississippi River to Indian Territory. The federal government promised that their new land would remain unmolested forever, but as white settlement pushed westward, “Indian Country” shrank. In 1907, Oklahoma became a state and all Indian Territory there was gone for good. There would only be formal “reservations” — really concentration camps farther northwest.
That’s where many live today, in shacks with dried-up yards and many cars without tires up on cement blocks. Most are welfare clients.
We’ve moved on to Black Lives Matter.
Indian Lives Matter is yesterday’s news.
And we protect that statue of Jackson in Lafayette Park across from the White House.
I thought for a moment I might have a solution for this “Statuegate.” Put a plaque on each one that is historically correct, the person’s good and bad traits. A sort of condensed history lesson. Then reality struck. Have you ever read how much hassle goes into the making of a high school history textbook? Some states refuse to use the popular ones from the Texas Schoolbook Depository. You’d never get the local population and politicians to agree on the wording on the plaque.
Maybe that’s why the statue in Richmond, Virginia, only had “Lee” on it.