Alexander Posey (1873-1908) was a Muscogee-Creek Indian journalist and publisher in Indian Territory. He was also anti-Black and partly Black.Yes, all that and more.
Posey’s father was a White orphan, raised as Creek, and his mother was a “mulatto,” of the Wind Clan. His maternal grandmother was “so much mixed with negro blood as to appear very much like a full blood negress.”
Posey received a formal education at the Creek-run Baptist academy, Bacone College. He wrote columns in a newspaper he founded, the Eufaula Indian Journal, advocating for the Muscogee-Creek people to adopt more of the White man’s ways, including formal education, Christianity, and capitalism.
He also recorded traditional Creek stories with a flair that breathed life into them, and contemporary humorous anecdotes about people in the Creek nation. An admirable technique, to be sure.
Those Creek people also included Black people, who Posey describes as former slaves of the Creek nation. In Posey’s prose, the Creek and White characters speak in more standard English, but the Negro characters speak in broken English, with misspelled words, that is supposed to represent Black dialect.
His recurring Black character, Uncle Dick, represents a neighbor who owns a nearby farm. Posey’s father, a Confederate veteran, ran for office in the Creek nation and sometimes sought the support of his Black neighbors.
Uncle Dick speaks in this fabricated Negro dialect, common in the early 1900s in minstrel shows and literature of that era. He is illiterate and amusingly clueless about the outside world.
And Posey knows better. The Black population included folks who had lived among the Creeks before removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s. Most of them came to the Creeks already fluent in English and acted as interpreters. Other Blacks, which included Yamasee Indians and actual Africans, were adopted into Upper Creek clans like the clan Posey’s mother came from.
In Indian Territory, Black Creeks built churches and schools after the Anglo (“White”) model, raised cattle, and opened stores. Boley and Tulsa, Oklahoma were assimilationist towns founded by Black Creeks, dedicated to Christianity and Capitalism.
Blacks were also numerous among the so-called “full-bloods” or Traditional factions who opposed assimilation, and were allies of Chitto Harjo, the traditional Creek leader who led the Snake uprising in 1901.
Posey knows this, too. He interviewed Chitto Harjo in 1905, and reports a “negro school” in Brush Hill, a town that Chitto Harjo controls when he (Posey) goes there to enroll its citizens and allot their lands.
In 1905, Black people were found in all parts of the Creek nation, as traditional Indians and eager assimilationists. There were even “mulattos” who fought for pro-slavery Confederate faction a few decades earlier.
Posey is hiding something.
He is trying to distract us about the real mixed ancestry of the Creek nation, himself included.
Posey is misleading but he is sincere about his intentions. He really believes that breaking up the large matrilineal clan parcels into individual, male-owned parcels will speed up assimilation and thus create a place for Creek people in the euro-capitalist system.
In 1908, while going about enrolling Indians and selling their “surplus” land to speculators, Posey drowns while crossing a rain-swollen river. Traditionalists say forces from the spirit world were punishing Posey for betraying his people.
Yet he translated numerous oral Creek stories into English, preserving the culture as the Muskogee language declined in daily use.
Ironically again, the supposedly half-witted “negroes” who Posey describes build a thriving economy in increasingly White-dominated Oklahoma. Some Blacks, now labelled “Freedmen,” made millions from oil revenue and built thriving cities, such as Tulsa, which jealous Whites destroyed in 1921. Black Creeks proved the most adept at thriving by the White man’s rules.
And yet Posey’s work preserves much of traditional Creek culture, and demonstrates that Indian society could produce intellectuals in the Western tradition. Unfortunately, part of Western tradition was increasing anti-Black racism that Alexander Posey feared might be turned on himself and the Creek people as a whole.
To be fair to Posey, he lived during an intense period of anti-Indian and anti-Black racism. Perhaps in a different time, or even in some other parts of the US, he might have found a way to include the Black Creeks into the Muskogee Creek family.
Even if he had lived into his nineties, in the 1960s, he might have reflected differently on his own Black ancestry as the larger society changed around him.
We can only hope.
Self hate does you no good.
STOP THE HATE
Lost Creeks: the Collected Journals of Alexander Posey, by Alexander Posey, edited by Matthew Wynn Sivils, University of Nebraska Press, 2009.
Chinubbie and the Owl: Muscogee Creek Stories, Orations and Oral Traditions, by Alexander Posey, reprinted by University of Nebraska, 2005.
We Refuse to Forget: a true story of Black Creeks, American Identity and Power, by Caleb Gayle, Random House, 2022.
Craig Womack, Red on Red, and other works.