cover image We Refuse to Forget: A True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity, and Power

We Refuse to Forget: A True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity, and Power

Caleb Gayle. Riverhead, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-32958-0

Gayle, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, debuts with an illuminating look at racial dynamics within Creek Nation. In the decades before the Creeks were forcibly relocated from the southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, “Blacks could become formally adopted and identified as fully Creeks... when they put down roots in the Creek Nation.” In 1866, a Black Creek leader named Cow Tom negotiated a treaty with the U.S. government that “gave certain Black people citizenship rights within the Nation.” But the 1887 Dawes Act, which instituted a policy of determining Native American identity based on “a highly dubious measurement of how much ‘Indian blood’ one has,” posed a significant challenge to Black Creeks, and the Nation’s 1979 constitution disenfranchised them. Gayle brilliantly untangles the interwoven threads of colonialism, racism, and capitalism by documenting the lives of Cow Tom’s descendants, including businessman and civil rights activist Jake Simmons Jr. and attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who is currently waging a legal battle to reinstate tribal citizenship for Black Creeks. Sharp character sketches, incisive history lessons, and Gayle’s autobiographical reflections as a Jamaican American transplant to Oklahoma make this a powerful portrait of how “white supremacy divides marginalized groups and pits them against each other.” (June)