Dr. Jack D. Forbes: Sovereignty, and Black Indians

By William Loren Katz

Dr. Jack D. Forbes of Powhatan-Renape, Lenape and Cherokee ancestry started the first Native American Studies Department in the country in 1969 at UC Davis. He went on to win awards for his probing studies of Native American History; taught in England and Holland and lectured widely from Canada to Japan, and Europe to the United States; and he wrote brilliantly on the relations between Native Americans and African Americans.

A few years before his death in 2011 at 77 we met on the airwaves during a lengthy Native American Radio broadcast discussing Black Indians in Native American history.

The program host brought up the legal efforts of leaders of the Seminole Nation and the Cherokee Nation to expel their African American members under the right of sovereignty. Dr. Forbes spoke forcefully and to the point. African Americans “are our brothers and sisters,” he insisted. As members they also helped build and defend Indigenous Nations, and were staunch allies in war.

Dr. Forbes addressed the sovereignty issu by first affirming its critical importance in dealing with the United States. He then added: “Sovereignty does not trump justice, history or simple fairness.”  “It does not allow New Jersey, New Mexico or any other state to legally discriminate against its citizens because of their race, color, religion or anything else.” That said it all.

I included his clear summary of the issue in last chapter (P. 236) of the 2012 revised edition of my Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage .
                                                                                              William Loren Katz