Today we welcome a guest post by Andrew Denson, author of Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory. The 1830s forced removal of Cherokees from their southeastern homeland became the most famous event in the Indian history of the American South, an episode taken to exemplify a broader experience of injustice suffered by Native peoples. In this book, Andrew Denson explores the public memory of Cherokee removal through an examination of memorials, historic sites, and tourist attractions dating from the early twentieth century to the present. White southerners, Denson argues, embraced the Trail of Tears as a story of Indian disappearance. Commemorating Cherokee removal affirmed white possession of southern places, while granting them the moral satisfaction of acknowledging past wrongs. During segregation and the struggle over black civil rights, removal memorials reinforced whites’ authority to define the South’s past and present. Cherokees, however, proved capable of repossessing the removal memory, using it for their own purposes during a time of crucial transformation in tribal politics and U.S. Indian policy. In considering these representations of removal, Denson brings commemoration of the Indian past into the broader discussion of race and memory in the South.
In the following post Denson explores a 1935 controversy that saw two communities of elite white southerners compete for ownership of a piece of Cherokee history.
In the spring of 1935, an odd dispute erupted between rival groups of heritage workers in Tennessee and Georgia over the right to commemorate the Cherokee “Trail of Tears.” That year, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in Georgia decided to erect a small monument commemorating Red Clay, a site along the Tennessee border where the government of the Cherokee Nation met in the years just prior to removal. In the early 1830s, Cherokee leaders moved their councils to Red Clay from New Echota (about thirty-five miles south), after the state of Georgia outlawed the tribal government. Red Clay played an important role in the Trail of Tears story as a place where Cherokee leaders debated the removal policy. As the final seat of the Cherokee Nation government in the East, it also represented a starting point for the Cherokees’ forced migration to Indian Territory.
When the Georgia DAR announced plans to place their marker, however, residents of southeastern Tennessee cried foul. Continue reading ‘Andrew Denson: The DAR Squabble: Possessing Cherokee History in the Southeast’ »