Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 3, Summer 2009, pp. 242-243
Estelvste, or "black people," in the Creek Indian language, are the subjects of this well-written, absorbing story of the people of African descent whose lot in life cast them with the Creek Indians of present-day Georgia and Alabama and, after Indian Removal, present- day Oklahoma. Gary Zellar refers to them as African Creeks, distinguishing this particular population from both African Americans, Euro-American Creeks, and Indian Creeks. Such distinctions are necessary to the history of the Creek Indians because, after European contact, Creek lives became irreversibly and forever blended with those of the immigrant populations, yet the Creeks themselves adhered in varying degrees to the distinctions. Zellar's work is one in a growing body of literature that explores the merger of African and Indian life over the past four centuries. As this body of work shows, the relationships between Africans and Indians in the American South, although not always replicating the race-based slave system of the American South, were built in dialogue with the Southern slave system.
Although spanning almost four hundred years, Zellar's real focus is on the post-Removal history of African Creeks. Africans came into Creek society in many ways-as runaway slaves, as freed people, and as Creek-owned slaves. In pre-Removal times, as Zellar argues, the relations between Africans and Creeks, even African slaves and Creeks, were fluid and flexible, not rigid and strict as in EuroAmerican society. After Removal and the Civil War, and once in Oklahoma territory, according to Zellar, this fluidity translated into equal political, economic, and social rights as African Creeks took their place alongside Creeks in Creek legislative bodies, established African Creek towns, churches, and schools, and generally participated as part of the body politic of the Creek Nation.