Book Reviews

Book Review: The Color of the Land


The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832-1929, by David Chang

David Chang’s book examines land use and ownership in the Creek Nation in Oklahoma. His book details events from before the Trail of Tears in 1830 through the passage of the Dawes Act of 1887, the Curtis Act of 1898, Oklahoma statehood in 1907, and into the early decades of the twentieth century. Chang contends that this history of the issues of slavery, land, dispossession, race relations, nationalism, class conflict and profit in Oklahoma are a microcosm of events in the United States generally. Chang further argues that racial identity is indistinguishable from national identity for many Americans, and that understanding how class conflict informs this idea requires one to look backwards, and see how ideas of race and nation influence class consciousness.

The book initially examines Creek concepts of property and ownership in the period before the Civil War, when Creek towns traditionally held land in common. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, and forced the entire Creek Nation, along with almost all other Native Americans in the South, to emigrate to the new “Indian Territory,” in present-day Oklahoma. Those that survived began to adopt different practices in land-use in Oklahoma, eventually being forced to adopt individual land ownership practices, after the passage of the Curtis Act. Chang argues convincingly that one cannot separate national identity from race identity, and that true understanding requires familiarity with the specifics of class struggle. The author provides important details of the struggle of the Creeks to come to terms with enormous changes, and with the complexities of race and class struggle in Oklahoma. Chang’s study of Creek and Native American viewpoints helps to unpack the complex story of early Oklahoma, and shines a light on a dark corner of American history.

You can find collectible books and ephemera relating to Native American history in the Rare Book Room.

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