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Transnational progressivism: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Universal Races Congress of 1911.

On February 27, 1916, Joseph E Gould, a white associate member of the Society of American Indians (SAI), sent a letter to W. E. B. Du Bois, suggesting that African Americans and Native Americans collaborate. "Certain of the Indian's problems are the same as those which beset the Negro, especially that of exploitation," he wrote, "and for that reason it seems to me that cooperation in some lines might be secured between the NAACP, and the Society of American Indians." (1) Why did Gould think that American Indians and African Americans should work together? He did not elaborate. His letter, however, illustrates the frequent intersections of Black and Native histories. The letter also suggests a similarity between these histories. But broad similarities are only the beginning. How might we explore such intersections? One place to begin is to connect these histories to African American and Native American responses to colonialism during the Progressive Era. More specifically, we can focus on African American and Native American involvement in the Universal Races Congress (URC) held at the University of London, July 26-29, 1911. (2)

This essay explores the link between African American and Native American intersecting histories and their responses to colonialism. While scholars have speculated why Blacks and Natives were not close allies, few have discussed the parallel opposition of Blacks and Natives to similar forms of oppression or their common stance against colonialism. I argue that Black Americans and Native Americans found common ground in responding to colonialism, at least in part, by traveling to London. (3)

The implications of this investigation are at least twofold. First, it illustrates that there was a relationship between African Americans and Native Americans in the early twentieth century, long after the familiar scenes of alliance and conflict in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is useful, then, to place Black and Native histories in conversation with each other by focusing on their engagements with major events of the early twentieth century where agitation against racial discrimination and colonialism was prominent, including the Universal Races Congress. And second, this investigation places Afro-Native history firmly upon the international stage, demonstrating that both groups understood themselves within a global context: as not simply national but significantly transnational progressives.

Charles Eastman and W. E. B. Du Bois attended the URC in order to respond to colonialism. They believed that a central component to fighting injustice was to advocate for full citizenship, for at this time both groups suffered a citizenship that was at best partial. Their relationships to the US nation-state were distinct in obvious ways. Though Black Americans were US citizens, their citizenship was impaired; they were disenfranchised from voting and excluded from all manner of equality in the public sphere. By 1911 most American Indians still did not possess US citizenship and lived impoverished lives on neglected reservations. Although manifested in different forms, partial citizenship affected both Black Americans and Native Americans.

Historian Frederick Hoxie argues that members of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Society of American Indians (SAI) believed that "securing US citizenship ... would empower their members to become forceful actors in the nation's democracy" (Indian Country 225). Hoxie stresses further that Indians, in particular, believed "this new legal status could enable them to live outside the control of the Indian office and battle against hostile assaults from white neighbors" (231). This does not mean that either group was simply assimilating, giving up Black or Native ways of life. Nor does it suggest that full citizenship would end all forms of oppression. But their attending the URC challenged, internationally, the very notion of who was to be excluded and included as US citizens, especially because of what both Blacks and Native peoples contributed to US society.


Although the Universal Races Congress receives little attention in Progressive Era history, it emerged out of the general spirit of Progressive Era moral and social reform. Its formation was rooted in the international peace movements and the International Union of Ethical Societies. Grounded in Christian and Judaic principles, the societies were meant to provide avenues for spiritual satisfaction and to promote children's education as well as moral and social reform (Martin). In July 1906 the leaders of the International Ethical Societies Conference met in Eisenach, Germany. July 3 marked the most significant day: Felix Adler, president of the Ethical Society of New York, proposed an international races conference. It was not until 1908, however, that the Union took active steps to make the conference a reality, and not until 1909 that they formally began to gather monies for the meeting of races (Spiller, Proceedings 4, 23).

A major aim of Progressive Era reform was to bring about understanding through international meetings and education. Du Bois found the URC to be one of those international opportunities. "The chief outcome of the Congress will be human contact," he reasoned. And it was "not simply the physical meeting" but "the resultant spiritual contact which will run round the world." (4) In a meeting between the Global North and South, with discussions of the problems created by Western imperialism and exploitation, Du Bois reasoned that instead of northern whites discussing the "Indian problem" at Lake Mohonk, or southern whites discussing "Negro education, with barely any representation from those respective races and nationalities" Natives and Blacks would speak on their own behalf: "the voice of the oppressed alone can tell the real meaning of oppression and, though the voice be tremulous, excited and even incoherent, it must be listened to if the world would learn and know." (5)

The secretary and organizer of the URC, Gustav Spiller, wrote to Eastman, thanking him for sending in a paper on Native Americans. On January 27, 1911, six months before the URC, Eastman wrote to General Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in 1871. Although the majority of the letter is devoted to asking Pratt for assistance in securing money to write a book on his people, the Dakotas, Eastman could not help but briefly promote the URC. "The Secretary of the Universal Races Congress has just written thanking me for my 'very able paper' also asking my co-operation in several ways" he wrote. "He asks for a list of the best books on the Indian and especially on Indian Education." (6) It appears that Eastman did submit a pamphlet with information on the American Indian (Spiller, Proceedings 6).

Eastman likely participated in the URC for at least two reasons. On the one hand he needed a steady income to support his growing family, as well as to help combat the financial troubles that plagued him throughout his life (Wilson 151-53). By 1910 Eastman earned income primarily from lecturing and book sales. On the other hand he wanted to share with international communities and the white world the stories of American Indians, specifically his own people, the Dakotas, and to demonstrate how they could contribute something of value to white culture. Eastman, then, used what we might call enlightened self-interest. Although he hoped to cash in on his status as a prominent American Indian intellectual, he also hoped that his work would help in "preserving and presenting the truth about [his] people." (7) Furthermore, he likely attended in order to try to reconcile the incompatibilities of white and Indigenous worlds (Wilson 153). Yet Eastman understood himself beyond these goals. He wanted to share the American Indian experience with an international audience in order to declare the rights of Indigenous peoples as both Americans and Indians.

Eastman appears to have been invited to the URC because he was arguably the most well known Native American not only in the United States but perhaps the world. As one of Eastman's contemporaries asserted, "Dr. Eastman is the best known Indian in the country." (8) According to Eastman biographer Raymond Wilson, by the first decade of the twentieth century, Eastman's "national reputation was secure" and his "books, articles, and lecture engagements continued to bring him greater recognition, even beyond the United States" (150). Eastman was also conscious of his international reputation. "Like every one else who is more or less in the public eye, I have a large correspondence from unknown friends" he wrote, and, "among the most inspiring letters received have been those from foreign countries."' He also wrote that his books were translated into several European languages (Deep Woods 192-93).

Eastman saw his attendance at the URC as a political project as well, one that would promote both his own work and also the struggles of Native peoples in general. In a January 27, 1911, letter written to Yavapai Apache doctor Carlos Montezuma, Eastman discussed both his forthcoming book, The Soul of the Indian--a title resonant with Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk--and his upcoming attendance at the Universal Races Congress. Eastman stated that all of his efforts up to that point in his life were "to show that the Indian is capable of receiving a higher civilization much easier ... if properly and honestly dealt with" He also sought to show how the plight of Native peoples was caused by settler colonialism:

My chief object has been, not to entertain, but to present the American Indian in his true character before Americans. The barbarous and atrocious character commonly attributed to him [was] dated from the transition period, when the strong drink, powerful temptations, and commercialism of the white man led to deep demoralization. Really it was a campaign of education on the Indian and his true place in American history. (Deep Woods 187)

Here Eastman refers to his life's objective to show the virtues of American Indian people. But it was also something more. Eastman went to the Universal Races Congress in that humid July week to put forth--to the world--Native America's "true place in American history." So Eastman's transnational Indigeneity was both a critique and an embrace of the US nation-state, for the future of all American Indian peoples. In this respect, then, Eastman is on par with perhaps the most important African American intellectual of the twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois.

Felix Adler, professor of political and social ethics at Columbia University and founder of the Ethical Culture Society of New York in 1876, invited Du Bois to serve as a co-secretary of the US branch of the URC. This is hardly surprising. Du Bois was the first African American to graduate from Harvard University with a PhD in history, and he spent time studying abroad in Berlin, Germany. He also participated in the 1899 Paris World Exposition. His exhibit, showcasing the progress of Black Americans since slavery, won a gold medal (Lewis 247). Furthermore, by 1910, with the publication of Philadelphia Negro (1899), arguably the first urban sociological study conducted in the United States, and The Souls of Black Folk (1903), as well as having been a part of the First Pan-African Congress in 1900, Du Bois had solidified an international reputation. It appears that Du Bois noticed that Charles Eastman would be attending the uRc. Quoting an article published in the Gazette Times, as editor of the Crisis Du Bois wrote in his own publication, "The United States will be represented ... by Charles A. Eastman and W. E. B. Du Bois." (9)

Thus far Afro-Native studies scholars have not explored these early twentieth-century intersections in any depth. After the scenes of slavery and Removal, it is assumed that Black and American Indian histories and experiences rarely intersect. This is, of course, not true. When comparing these experiences, especially in the twentieth century, a generation of scholars has tended to view these comparisons through the lens of noted Native intellectual Vine Deloria Jr., based mostly on his important early work Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), in which he articulates the stark differences between Black Power and Indian Nationalism. But it is important to state that Deloria's manifesto was written during a period in which many oppressed groups were challenging US hegemony across the board. And for the most part Indian voices were ignored. Still, even Lucy Maddox's excellent study Citizen Indians (2005), in which she adequately documents how Black Americans during the Progressive Era typically held unsophisticated views Of the "Indian Problem," employs the lens of Deloria to argue that "the US government's attitudes toward blacks and Indians had been, historically, so different ... as to make collaboration between the two groups politically illogical" (74-75). Furthermore, Maddox argues that neither Du Bois nor Eastman took notice of the other man. Although Du Bois did not directly mention Eastman, he surely took notice of him, placing a picture of Eastman in the September 1911 issue of the Crisis. (10)

The Progressive Era is a period in American history that one might expect African Americans and Native Americans to be discussed in tandem. After all, both groups suffered discrimination. Blacks experienced Jim Crow segregation, and the majority of American Indians were denied citizenship until 1924. Both groups suffered economic hardship, and both were victims of violence that the public viewed with indifference. Although differing from white middle-class norms, both groups generally believed in moral, political, and social reform. There are more commonalities between African American and Native oppressions than most scholars have acknowledged. We must move beyond relying on binary assumptions about who had it worse, or how different their respective experiences were. There are moments in US imperial history when we can see similar patterns of oppression.


Du Bois and Eastman embody transnational Blackness and transnational Indigeneity. If we take tribal nations as just that, sovereign nations-with distinct forms of government, customs, religions, and geographic boundaries--then the spaces where they held meetings, the conversations between sovereign tribal peoples during the Progressive Era, were transnational, or perhaps what literary scholar Chadwick Allen has called "trans-Indigenous." Eastman was influenced by aspects of the US nation-state and the Dakota world, as well as his interactions with other tribal peoples. He attempted to navigate "two worlds" not simply in a metaphorical sense, but at a time when Indigenous peoples were trying to forge alliances with one another and with white sympathizers within the broader context of the global thrust of US empire.

Du Bois, too, embodies transnationalism. He was one of the key architects of modern transnational blackness--wresting it away from the historical vestiges of the transatlantic slave trade. His interest in the African diaspora marked him as distinctly transnational. As historian Manning Marable contended, Du Bois's "color line included not just the racially segregated Jim Crow South" but also "colonial domination in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Caribbean among indigenous populations" (Marable and Agard-Jones 4). And I would add US Indigenous peoples to his list of global concerns, especially since Du Bois became an associate member of the Society of American Indians. (11) This detail should not be overlooked, for there was no one more critical and calculated than Du Bois in joining any cause for racial or social justice.

Neither Du Bois nor Eastman considered himself bound to the US nation-state. In part this shared idea was based on each man's partial citizenship. Neither did either man define himself solely by his particular community. Each defined himself through his community and through those beyond the US nation-state, embracing, respectively, transnational Blackness and transnational Indigeneity. These positions were sites of struggle that gave Du Bois and Eastman the tools to critique settler colonialism and neocolonialism throughout the African and Indigenous (US) diasporas.

Transnational Blackness and transnational Indigeneity were certainly distinct. Indeed, it is more fruitful to juxtapose than to compare them. (12) But the concerns of Du Bois and Eastman were never static, focused solely on their own communities. They were shaped both by the (US) Progressive Eras transnational flows (i.e., imperialism as well as calls for international reforms) and by their own desires to connect their respective communities to diasporic Black and Indigenous worlds. Literary scholar Chadwick Allen's concept of the trans-Indigenous is useful here. Although referring to Indigenous-Indigenous interactions, his emphasis on juxtaposition might help us refine our approach to comparing Black and Native experiences with US colonialisms. "The point is to invite specific studies into different kinds of conversations" he writes, "and to acknowledge the mobility and multiple interactions of Indigenous [and African] peoples, cultures, histories, and texts" (xiv). Transnational Blackness and transnational Indigeneity, juxtaposed in parallel, not only tell us how distinct the experiences of Black and Native Americans were but, more importantly, how closely related they are--at particular moments and in particular locations.

Although the Progressive Era is generally considered a period of middle-class reform, increased urbanization, the fight for women's suffrage, and large-scale immigration, it was also a time of increased transnational border crossings of people and ideas. These interactions came in the form of global humanitarianism and economic trade, but also in the form of colonialism. Just as transnational progressives and ideas flowed across seaways, so too did US colonialism. The acquisition of colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific thrust American power into the global nonwhite world at an unprecedented level. The United States, hoping to assert its dominance in the Western Hemisphere through the colonization of land and labor, participated in the Philippine-American War and the Spanish American War in Cuba. (13) This replication of US colonialism abroad is a basis for Chickasaw theorist Jodi A. Byrd's argument in The Transit of Empire that "Indianness becomes a site through which US Empire orients and replicates itself by transforming those to be colonized into 'Indians' through continual reiterations of pioneer logics, whether in the Pacific, the Caribbean, or the Middle East" (xiii).

The enslavement of African peoples challenges the Indigenous-white settler colonial dichotomy. This is especially true in the US multiracial settler society. Theorist Patrick Wolfe argues, "different racial regimes encode and reproduce the unequal relationships into which Europeans coerced the populations concerned." He further contends that Blacks and Natives in the United States "have been racialized in opposing ways that reflect their antithetical roles in the formation of US society" (387). US settler colonialism was not simply about the expropriation of land from Indigenous people and then controlling them; it was also concerned with creating what Wolfe calls a "regime of difference" in order to create and maintain complete domination over both land and bodies. Thus, the particularities of Black and Native histories should not obscure the fact that both groups suffered under a settler colonial society predicated upon structuring a "regime of difference"

While Jim Crow policies strove to maintain Black second-class citizenship through terrorist violence and segregation, US reformers concerned with the so-called Indian problem sought to implement what Frederick Hoxie has called a "final promise" The reformers implemented this in two ways. They first tried to transform "Indians into 'civilized' citizens" The second phase took a different form: they attempted to dissolve Native peoples of their culture entirely (Final Promise xviii, 112). "Kill the Indian in him, and save the man" was the word of the day (Pratt 261). (14)

Two policies undergirded the final promise. The first was the passing of the Dawes Act (also known as the General Allotment Act) in 1887. Named for Massachusetts senator Henry Dawes, the act began the process of parceling out American Indian lands to whites, producing severe consequences. In 1887 tribal lands were at approximately 138 million acres; by 1934, they dwindled to a measly 52 million. In addition, historian David Chang has argued that by making lands private property, "allotment made it possible for Native individuals to lose them through direct sales, defaulted mortgages, tax forfeiture sales, and other means" (108). The second policy was the Supreme Court's 1903 decision in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock. The decision effectively gave Congress plenary power over American Indian land rights. (15)

Although the transnational white supremacy of the Progressive Era proved to be tragic for the colonized both in the United States and abroad, the country had long linked the oppressions of African Americans and Native Americans. This is an example of what legal scholar Cheryl Harris calls "whiteness as property." She argues that whiteness became fortified through the dispossession of Native peoples--land and property--and the enslavement of African peoples--as property (1714). In a seamless continuation of this pattern during the Progressive Era, Black Americans and American Indians became the subjects through whom US colonialism forged its ideas about nationhood and how to subjugate others. It is important to point out that, historically, the US treatment of African Americans and Native Americans differed. Therefore, their particular colonialisms produced distinctive outcomes. However, Blacks and American Indians were never passive, and organizing became one of their most effective strategies. Thus came the NAACP in 1909 and the SAI in 1911. Du Bois and Eastman were instrumental in the formation of these activist organizations.

Historians have long argued that there were similarities between Black and Native reform organizations during the Progressive Era. (16) While we should be careful not to wrest away the agency of Native peoples in forming the SAt, we should also acknowledge the Society's antecedents. Fayette McKenzie, a white sympathizer with both American Indian and African American causes, taught at the Wind River Government Indian School in Wyoming while earning his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1915, after leaving his faculty position at Ohio State, he became president of Fisk University, a Black institution, for which Du Bois sent a letter of congratulations. (17)

As a white reformer, McKenzie sent a letter to Du Bois, seeking his thoughts on forming an all-Native reform organization, led by the "talented-tenth" A concept put forth by Du Bois, the so-called talented-tenth were to be the college educated of the race who would go on to raise up the less fortunate members of their community (Du Bois, Talented Tenth 31-76). On January 9, 1904, McKenzie wrote to Du Bois, believing that if he "could persuade 50 or 100 or 200 Indians to combine for the good of their race into an association which stood for the unity and solidarity, the intelligence and progress" those American Indian intellectuals would "guide the whole race to a higher civilization." It is not known whether Du Bois took active steps to assist McKenzie; seven days after receiving McKenzie's letter, however, he did send a brief response. "Dear Sir: I think your plan most excellent" he wrote, and "[I] would be glad to aid it in any way." Committed to a belief in the talented-tenth, Du Bois stressed further, "The uplift must always come from the top and the training and unification of leaders is the great thing." (18)

On the surface the lives of Du Bois and Eastman were quite distinct. Eastman was born in 1858 on the Plains among his people, the Dakotas, during a time of systematic US genocide against Indigenous nations. Du Bois, on the other hand, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868, three years after Black emancipation. At the same time Blacks were set free from the chains of slavery, American Indians were being pushed off their lands onto prison-like reservations. At the age of fifteen, Eastman, who did not grow up in the white world, was encouraged by his father, Jacob Eastman, who had converted to Christianity, to also convert and adopt white ways. Du Bois, in contrast, lived among whites from birth, rifle men's lives seemed to be going in two different directions. Yet the parallels between these men are striking.

Both men believed education was a way to combat white racism. Both received support for their own educations through white philanthropy. Eastman earned a medical degree from Boston University in 1890. Du Bois earned a PhD in history from Harvard University in 1895. Both men also dealt with the dilemma of living in two worlds. A part of their life's work was devoted to easing the tension of living in these parallel but distinct worlds. Still, they fundamentally believed that education provided a way to challenge colonialism and racism. ]his belief provoked both men to write extensively on these tensions. Du Bois would go on to write about what he called "double-consciousness" (Souls); Eastman would write about the movement from the "deep woods" of Indian life to white "civilization" (Deep Woods).

Du Bois and Eastman were well aware of international movements, and they were eager to present their causes to the world. Scholars such as Daniel Rodgers have astutely argued that transnational progressives "fought across a hundred fronts," and "in their defeats as well as their victories," they "tried to forge with progressive ideas and movements elsewhere and the battles those efforts precipitated" (4). But the creative, combined efforts of Blacks and Natives to challenge US colonialism have been relegated to the periphery of US history. Du Bois's and Eastman's goals were in line with the mission of the URC.

The objective of the URC was to "discuss, in the light of the science and the modern conscience, the general relations subsisting between the peoples of the West and those of the East, between so-called white and so-called coloured peoples, with a view to encouraging between them a fuller understanding, the most friendly feelings, and a heartier co-operation" (Spiller, Papers v). Secretariats, representing at least thirty countries, advertised the URC. In addition, some twenty governments were officially represented there, along with some fifty-three nationalities (Spiller, Proceedings 3).

Du Bois, as co-secretary, actively promoted the URC in the Crisis, the official organ of the NAACP. "We Doubt," he wrote, "if the Twentieth Century will bring forth a better idea than the First Universal Races Congress held in London, in the summer of 1911." (19) Eastman also did his share of promoting. Although he held no formal positions within the URC organizational structure, he was apparently asked by Gustav Spiller to provide a few photographs of prominent American Indian intellectuals. (20) He sent a letter to Carlos Montezuma asking him to submit a photograph of himself. He also asked Montezuma to send him the address of Reverend Sherman Coolidge, an Arapaho Episcopal minister, who would be elected the first president of the Society of American Indians. (21)

The URC solicited papers a month in advance so that members could contribute to a large volume that would be precirculated. (22) The papers were to be translated into several languages. Eastman likely submitted his essay as early as January 1911. (23) Precirculation appears to have had two purposes. The first objective was to use the papers as propaganda to spread the word about the first URC and also to build momentum for the proposed second conference, which was to be held in Hawai'i (although World War I prevented it from happening) (Spiller, Proceedings 3). The second intention was to use the papers to spark discussion before members came to London. Because of this, sessions were well attended and conversations were robust. While there were no specific requirements for paper content or format, authors were urged "to make practical suggestions in their contributions" (Spiller, Proceedings 5).

The conference was divided into eight sessions. Du Bois and Eastman participated in the sixth session, "The Modern Conscience (The Negro, the American Indian, etc.)" held Friday afternoon, July 28, 1911. It was here that Du Bois and Eastman brought the problems of African Americans and American Indians to light on an international stage. From all accounts the sixth session appears to have been lively. Papers ranged in subject and objective, but they shared many commonalities, including discussions of interracial marriage, characteristics of the Black and American Indian races, social law and custom, and brief histories, illustrating how the "lower" races came into their situations of poverty and "backwardness."

Du Bois's paper, "The Negro Race in the United States of America," and Eastman's paper, "The North American Indian," read as broad--perhaps even unexciting--histories of Blacks and Native Americans. Yet beneath the surface of these works lie subtle critiques of US colonialism. During a time of racial discrimination and constant assaults against Black and Native humanity, it was necessary to adopt a less-than-inspiring prose style. Still, as scientific racism was a part of public and intellectual discourses, the two men found it imperative to explain how Black Americans and American Indians were products of transnational white supremacy and not simply "less able" races. The papers sought to critique the logic of white civilization and to assert how Black Americans and American Indians could help usher in a truly democratic, anticolonial future.

Du Bois's paper offered a broad social history of Black Americans. Beginning with the movement of Africans to the Americas, he plainly stated, "the African slave trade to America arose from the desire of the Spanish and other nations to exploit rapidly the resources of the New World." In starting this way, Du Bois placed blame for the current condition of Black Americans squarely on the shoulders of European nation-states. Perhaps uncritically, Du Bois reasoned that Europeans were unable to exploit American Indian labor because of "the weaknesses and comparative scarcity of the Indians" (Spiller, Papers 348). After explaining the population growth of enslaved Blacks, Du Bois attempted to show the resilient spirit within the African diaspora through a brief discussion of slave rebellions. "Only two of these [revolts] were large and successful," he wrote, "[that] of the Maroons in Jamaica in the seventeenth century, and of Touissant L'Ouverture in Hayti in the eighteenth century" (351).

After identifying the social discourses that justified slavery, Du Bois illustrated the agency of Black Americans during Reconstruction. Once they learned of the US political system, "the Negroes secured a better class of white and Negro leaders." With these new leaders, reasoned Du Bois, came "a more democratic form of government," "free public schools," and "the beginnings of a new social legislation" (Spiller, Papers 353). These relative successes were short lived. Beginning in 1890 the neocolonialism against Black Americans took full hold. Virtually all Blacks were excluded from voting, as well as from other dominant social formations. "With this legislation have gone various restrictive laws to curtail the social, civil, and economic freedom of all persons of Negro descent," wrote Du Bois. The legitimacy of Black exclusion from social, economic, and political arenas, Du Bois reasoned, constituted "the Negro problem" (354). Of course, Du Bois told his large, international audience, the "Negro problem" was actually an American problem rooted in white supremacy. The "Negro problem" was neocolonialism.

Eastman's paper offered a similarly broad history of American Indians. His intention, however, like his life's focus, was to bridge the white and American Indian worlds, to show the former the virtues of a "simple" life and what a civilization that purported to promote democracy could learn from Indians. Eastman began with a general geographic and physical description of the American Indian. He then described the virtues of American Indian political philosophy and institutions. After explaining the structure of tribes and clans and the roles of chiefs, he switched gears, telling the world that "American historians have constantly fallen into error by reason of their ignorance of our democratic system." Because of their belief in a superior white civilization, Eastman reasoned, historians failed to learn from a true "government of the people, one of personal liberty," one that gave "equal rights to all its members" (Spiller, Papers 368). For Eastman, a true democracy did not exist only in political terms, but also in terms of economics. Eastman began the "Economic" section of his paper by pointing out the contradictions of the settler nation-state: "it appears that not freedom or democracy or spiritual development, but material progress alone, is the evidence of 'civilization.'" However, the "American Indian failed to meet this test," Eastman wrote, "being convinced that accumulation of property breeds dishonesty and greed." The American Indian "was unwilling to pay the price of civilization" (369).

Similar to their life paths, at first glance Du Bois's and Eastman's essays appear to have little in common. Du Bois's subject experienced slavery and exclusion through social and political law. Eastman's subject suffered from dispossession of resources and culture because of warfare and white greed for land. Beneath the explicit content of their essays, however, lies an important, previously unnoted link: their similar belief in the virtues of "the souls of Black folk" and "the soul of the Indian." In spite of slavery and colonialism, they believed their people could usher in a new, democratic society, one based upon social, political, and economic inclusion, not white supremacy.

Du Bois located the roots of Black disenfranchisement not with the passing of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Rather, he began in 1890--the year of the US cavalry's slaughter of Dakotas, mostly women and children, at Wounded Knee. If 1890 marked the beginning processes of Jim Crow segregation, for American Indians it marked an end to using war as a means for securing sovereignty. It also required a new generation of Native women and men to assert their right to citizenship claims and sovereignty within a new US political domain that claimed social and political reform but continued to subjugate people of color the world over. Du Bois and Eastman understood these changing times, as well as the connection between the exploitation of land and labor, both at home and abroad. Eastman called the reservation system a "miserable prison existence" (Spiller, Papers 374). Du Bois argued that, following slavery, those former masters who wanted cheap labor turned to criminalizing Blacks: "Crime and long sentences for petty offences have long been used as methods of securing cheap negro labor" (360).

Eastman believed that a future free of colonialism would begin not only with education but also as soon as the "huge, unwieldy system that has grown up both at Washington and [on reservations]" ended (Spiller, Papers 376). He referred, of course, to the Office of Indian Affairs. Du Bois believed that only through the equal treatment of Black Americans could a truly democratic US society emerge. White society would not be able to bring in civilization. Instead, Du Bois argued, "the destinies of this world will rest ultimately in the hands of darker nations" ("Souls of White" 49).

For Du Bois, the Universal Races Congress was significant because "it marked the first time in the history of mankind when a world congress dared openly and explicitly to take its stand on the platform of human equality." (24) "What impressed me most," said Eastman, "was the perfect equality of the races." He also said that it was a great privilege to see fifty-three nationalities "come together to mutually acquaint themselves with one another's progress and racial ideals" (Deep Woods 189). Their attendance was meant not simply to crack the door to full US citizenship, which was still closed. Rather, it was their attempt to assert a human rights agenda on a global stage, so that one could be both an American and a Black American or Native American. This they did on behalf of all Black and Native Americans.

Still, for these transnational progressives, the URC had even greater implications. It showed that the histories of Blacks and Natives in the United States, while distinct, were also intimately related. If Progressive Era and African American and American Indian historians cannot find the URC significant, at the very least we can use Du Bois's and Eastman's participation in the URC as a foundation for better understanding of subsequent twentieth-century Black and Indigenous social movements. Sometimes Black and Native histories flow in parallel; sometimes they intersect; at other times they diverge. Too many of these stories, however, remain largely untold.


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(1.) Joseph F. Gould to W. E. B. Du Bois, 27 Feb. 1916, Papers of W. E. B. Du Bois, Reel 5, Frame 404.

(2.) Hereafter I refer to the Universal Races Congress as the URC.

(3.) The Radical History Review dedicated a special forum to the URC in its issue 92 (2005).

(4.) Crisis 1.2 (1910), in Du Bois Papers, Reel 1.

(5.) Crisis 1.2 (1910).

(6.) Charles A. Eastman to Richard Henry Pratt, 27 Jan. 1911. Papers of Richard Henry Pratt, Box 3, Folder 85.

(7.) Eastman to Pratt.

(8.) Fayette McKenzie to Arthur C. Parker, 31 Oct. 1911. Papers of the Society of American Indians.

(9.) Crisis 1.6 (1911): 23.

(10.) Crisis 2.5 (1911): 201.

(11.) Arthur Parker, ed., "Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Society of American Indians" Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians 1.2 (1913): 251. According to the SAI Constitution, associate members "shall be persons of non-Indian blood interested in Indian welfare." Society of American Indians, Constitution and By-Laws: The Society of American Indians, Lawrence KS revision (Washington DC, 1916), 4. Edward E. Ayer Collection, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

(12.) See Allen xvii-xviii.

(13.) Lake and Reynolds l06-09. To consider the gendered politics of this, see Hoganson 1-14.

(14.) Pratt's paper was presented at the 19th Annual Conference of Charities and Correction, held in Denver, Colorado, in 1892. Ironically, in the same speech Pratt based his reasoning for assimilating Native Americans on the experiences of African Americans who were forced into white civilization. However, he does not mention slavery. "Left in Africa, surrounded by their fellow savages, our several millions of industrious black fellow citizens would still he savages," he wrote. After being brought to America and "forced into association with English-speaking and civilized people," they became civilized (263).

(15.) For an extensive look at the development of US policies toward American Indians, see Deloria and Lytle; Hoxie Final Promise 155.

(16.) See, for example, Hertzberg 310; Hoxie, Indian Country 225.

(17.) Hertzberg 32. W. E. B. Du Bois to Fayette McKenzie, 26 Jan. 1915; McKenzie to Du Bois, 19 Jan. 1915; Papers of W. E. B. Du Bois, Reel 4, Frame 41-43. It seems likely that because Du Bois was perhaps one of the most famous urban sociologists at the time due to his publication of The Philadelphia Negro and The Souls of Black Folk, McKenzie sent him a letter after consulting with the likes of Eastman and other prominent American Indian intellectuals.

(18.) Fayette McKenzie to W. E. B. Du Bois, 9 Jan. 1904, in Aptheker 71-72.

(19.) Crisis 1.2 (1910).

(20.) Eastman to Pratt, 27 Jan. 1911.

(21.) Charles A. Eastman to Carlos Montezuma, 27 Jan. 1911; Papers of Carlos Montezuma, Reel 1, History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library, U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Wilson 155.

(22.) Papers of W. E. B. Du Bois, Reel 4, Frame 141-193 (1911 U).

(23.) Eastman to Montezuma, 27 Jan. 1911.

(24.) Crisis 2.5 (1911).
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Title Annotation:Plank 5
Author:Mays, Kyle T.
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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