INDIANAPOLIS– A groundbreaking exhibition exploring the shared history between African and Native Americans will open at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art on Feb. 12, 2011. “Red/Black: Related Through History” includes an object-based exhibition on the subject, created by the Eiteljorg Museum, and the Smithsonian’s traveling panel show, Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas.
Since the first arrival of African slaves in North America, the interactions between people of African and Native American heritage has been a combined story of conflict, cooperation, cultural growth, destruction and survival. Since 2001, the Eiteljorg Museum has pioneered research on this subject and has drawn together important art and artifacts that demonstrate shared traditions found in history, genealogy, food, dress, music and occupation. Some American Indians held black slaves and others helped them escape. Sometimes there was intermarriage and a blending of traditions.
The exhibition will explore the stories of individuals and groups that highlight the allied and adversarial relationship between blacks and American Indians. One such story talks about the life of Lucinda Davis. She was interviewed by historians in the 1930s. Davis had been born a slave around 1848 and was owned by a Creek Indian family. She spent her life in what is now Oklahoma. She spoke the Creek language, and after gaining her emancipation following the Civil War, had difficulty adapting to freedom. There were many who, like Davis, were owned by Native Americans and who struggled with emancipation.
Also found in the exhibit is the story of Charlie Grant. In 1901, Baltimore Orioles manager John J. McGraw tested the color line in professional baseball by trying to pass off Grant, a Negro League second baseman, who had high cheekbones and straight hair, as Charlie Tokohama, a Native American, which was more palatable to baseball fans.
Red/Black also explores issues of race and personal identity and the question: “Who am I and who gets to say so?” The exhibit will illustrate the complexity of racial identity and why judgments about race can so easily be misguided.
“Red/Black: Related Through History” includes dynamic programming and runs through Aug. 9.