Today we speak with journalist and professor Caleb Gayle about his new book We Refuse to Forget: A True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity, and Power. In our discussion of his career and American history, we cover Black people in the Creek Nation, forty acres and a mule, and what it means to be a citizen. We also ask why we are so consistently taught not to remember, and who benefits from our forgetting?
The Stacks Book Club selection for July is Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. We will discuss the book on July 27th with Elamin Abdelmahmoud.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:00
Welcome to the Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today we are joined by Caleb Gayle. Caleb is a scholar, Northeastern University professor and award winning journalist. And now the author of a brand new book called We refuse to forget a true story of black creeks, American identity and power. The book tells the story of a Native American tribe called Creek Nation, which two centuries ago both owned slaves and accepted black people as full citizens. It examines the role of the government and white supremacy in the fight for citizenship and the marginalization of black Americans. Since then, it also looks at the what ifs and possibilities of belonging. Our book club pick for July a season of migration to the north by tyabb Sully, we will be discussing the book on July 27th. Quick reminder, everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes. And if you love the show, and want more of it head to patreon.com/the stacks to join the stacks back, we’ve got bonus episodes, a super active discord community monthly book club meetups and more. It’s also a great way for you to show your support for the work we do on this very superduper independent podcast, head to patreon.com/the stocks to join. And thank you to two of our newest members, Benjamin Cruz and Rebecca G. Also, of course, a huge thank you to everyone who is already in the stacks back. And now it’s time for my conversation with Caleb Gayle.
All right, everybody. I’m very excited. Today I am joined by Caleb Gale. He is the author of we refuse to forget a true story of black creeks, American identity and power. Caleb, welcome to the stacks.
Caleb Gayle 3:32
Traci, it means so much to me. Thank you for having me.
Traci Thomas 3:35
Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited to talk about your book I, I went on quite a journey reading it, which I will tell you about. But first, I would love for you to tell the readers a little bit about the book in about 30 seconds or so.
Caleb Gayle 3:49
Sure, yeah, the best way to describe the book, it’s the story of a of a family representative of so many other families of black folks who wants to consider the Muscogee Creek Nation, their political homeland, that they were emancipated in after the Civil War, that they rose to power and that they became quite astute, wealthy and prosperous in but were then expelled from almost 100 years later in 1979. And now the very descendants of those people who want to call that place home, are now suing to get back in. So in one sense, it’s the story of a family but in another very important sense, the story of all of us and how we decide, or how we in some cases don’t get to decide who we are, but rather we have to try and sort ourselves into boxes that none of us ever created.
Traci Thomas 4:43
Yes. Okay. That was very good. I am here to tell the people really quickly my experience of reading this book, I was a little nervous. I was like, I don’t know if I’m interested in this book. I just don’t know if I could do it. And then I started and I struggled in the beginning and the reason why I struggled was the same reason why I wasn’t sure if I could read the book, which is that my knowledge of like World War Two, era, and post and pre and all of that stuff is really shitty because and this gets to the point of your book, the American education system really doesn’t do that very well. And so I felt like, overwhelmed by not knowing. And I was like, oh my god, I can’t read this book, because I don’t have any context because I was failed as a child. And then I got like, deeper into the book. And I was like, Okay, I’m great. I’m actually really loving this. But I was like, so intimidated by this book, but the payoff was like, 1,000%. There, I haven’t stopped thinking about certain things, which we’ll talk about today. But if for people who are picking up the book, if you feel stressed out at the beginning, or you feel like you’re floundering, don’t worry, Caleb will collect you and help guide you on this journey. But for sure, I was like, I’m too stupid for this. Like, I was texting people who had read it. And I was like, Are you sure I can read this book? And they were like, Yes, get over yourself, you weirdo. And I was like, I want to dumb for this. So anyways, that I just want to say to people was the journey that I went on, and it’s worth, it’s worth it once you kind of figure out how Caleb is crafting the book, which is the first place that I want to start. You’re a character in this book, for sure. And what’s interesting to me about it is that your family immigrated to America from Jamaica, you grew up in New York City for a little bit. And then you move to Oklahoma. And this story, like sort of mostly takes place in and around Oklahoma on, you know, Creek land. So what was Creek land that became Oklahoma, which is where you then live? I’m wondering kind of like, how you found your way to this work? And like, what captured you about this story? Since I think so often people write about what they know, or you know who they are. So I’m wondering why you were like.
Caleb Gayle 6:53
This is a story I want to tell, to be honest with you. I think I wrote it because I was haunted by it. And this was a way in which I could exercise and demons. Right? That had been haunting me since I was a kid, right? So the book for your readers starts, you know, when I’m about eight or nine years old, and I’m interacting with kids who look just like me, but in some ways are trying to kind of tease out certain distinctions right? There are saying, I got Indian in me as a way of distinguishing themselves from me. And oftentimes, you know, that’s a phrase that a lot of folks probably heard growing up. But for me, as a kid who already didn’t feel like he belonged because of my immigrant identity. I knew that this something about what they were saying was different. I did dismiss it as myth as a kid, right? I kids bragging on the playground. But to some great extent, it wasn’t until I was much older. And I was, you know, sitting in an office at The Guardian that I realized that the story meant a whole lot more than in fact, those kids who said they had Indian in them, were actually harkening back to a history that was far more powerful than they realized that they were actually kind of the transmitters of knowledge that oftentimes, as you mentioned, is kind of hidden from view, especially in our textbooks, especially in my textbooks growing up in a place like Oklahoma. And then what it did, it forced me to then look back over all of the experiences that I had growing up in Oklahoma, the names of the towns, the names of the streets, the practices that were done in our schools, to kind of commemorate a very different vision of what life was like for people who were here first. And what it meant that all of a sudden, I realized that I had been living with certain ghosts. And so perhaps I can haunt some other people to exercise some other demons, and perhaps, you know, even demystify, right, the challenges that even you experienced when approaching this topic, about anything dealing with the civil war before, right. So I completely understand where you’re coming from, but likewise, right, I knew I needed to exercise those demons.
Traci Thomas 9:10
Yeah, I’d love for you to be slightly more specific about what that distinction that you felt like people were making, who were like, Oh, I got Indian in me. Like, what specifically? Was that distinction to you? Because I think there are people who are listening who will be familiar with that. Yeah. But I think there’s also people who’ve never heard that phrase.
Caleb Gayle 9:27
Yeah, I think there was twofold. Right. So I think one distinction was on the basis of kind of physical characteristics that, to some extent, were trivial, right? Oftentimes, it would be them trying to talk about why their skin might be my Hue a little bit lighter than mine, even though they were black. Why their hair curled in a particular pattern that was different than mine. But I think also it was a way of signaling to me that look, I’m from here, right? I got roots here, which in some cases, especially is As a kid of an immigrant, of immigrants, rather, like you don’t really feel near as much that you have a place here, right that most of your life is really proving both to yourself and to your family, as well as to the world around you that you do have a place here. So I think for a lot of kids, it was almost them distinguishing that No, I actually belong here. I have roots here. My blood runs deep into this soil.
Traci Thomas 10:29
Right. Okay, I’m going to ask you this question. And I don’t know how to ask it delicately. So I’m just going to ask, but I know that it’s something that I’m certain you’ve thought about it and talked about it, because I know that you’re in the world of academia as well as like journalism. And so do you wonder did people ask you, was there ever a conversation about is this Caleb’s story to tell? My sister in law is an academic she is Chinese and white American, but she focuses on black and indigenous people. And I know that’s a conversation that she has a lot. And so I’m wondering, you know, was there pushback? Did you hear from Creek and Black Creek people being like, well, you’re not, you know, you’re not even from here? Like, what do you got to tell this story?
Caleb Gayle 11:12
Yeah, I mean, so I got that, I think, yes, would be the easy answer to that question. Right. But to some extent, one, I get it, too, when I actually look back on so many people who have done history is not just of this kind, but of many others. Right? A lot of them haven’t looked like the people who have been through it. Right? Right. The first person that really kind of called What happened to the group of people that I talked about in this book, The Black creeks, who just like flat out was like, oh, no, it’s out not racism, was a guy well into his like 70s, or 80s, named Daniel Littlefield, who was a white dude, who has a PhD in like English, and lives in Arkansas and runs on the National Resource Center, right? Like, as distanced from the lived experience of those people, but rather, kind of subordinating kind of myself to the process of listening to people actively engaged in a sort of inquiry. That’s appreciative. But I think also, more importantly than that, like, though, this story, this micro history, if you will, is very much unique to the folks who are involved in it. The ramifications of it applies to all of us. And the questions that they’re asking are questions that almost every single one of us have had to ask or if you feel as if you haven’t listening today, right, you probably will face the same questions, right? Like, who do you belong here? Right? Do you fit in? What what do you have to leave behind in order to be a part of this experience that we call being an American, right? And so to some great extent, right, and their stories are very much so our stories, and hopefully, by diving into their stories, we can better understand who we are supposed to?
Traci Thomas 13:03
Yeah, I just want to say for anyone listening, I don’t agree with the idea that you have to you can only tell your own story. I think that that’s really narrow thinking. And I found books written by people who you know, it is their, their families, their stories, their cultures, who have done a horrible job. And then I found books written by like, straight white dudes that are fantastic. And so I don’t I don’t think that anyone’s entry point. I think it depends on you know, how you handle the story, if it’s handled with care, if you do your due diligence, all of those things. So I just want to say that for anyone who’s listening, because like, I can’t believe she thinks that I don’t think that anyways, okay, so to the point that I was making earlier about, like, the history and specifically like the history of indigenous people. In America, it’s taught so frickin poorly in this country, just like I’m from California, where people allegedly are better about these things. And like, I didn’t learn any of this. So I don’t I mean, I’m sure it’s different in Oklahoma, where you’re from, or where you grew up. But even still, I think in a place like California, it was so bad. I can’t, like if that’s the best we could do. It’s like pretty horrendous. But you kind of get this in the book. And like, what is the purpose of not teaching this? Like, what is the purpose of us not remembering, being taught to not remember these stories? And who does that serve?
Caleb Gayle 14:25
Yeah, I mean, not remembering the stories. In dites. America, it chases it on in every way imaginable, right? By telling the stories of those who lived abundantly even on the margins of society. Right. We indict America for the days we indict America’s kind of linear history that valorizes a bunch of white dudes, many of whom made their bones, enslaving people pushing people who were here first further west, or into as as you know, one of the most famous historians on this topic Angie to bow call onto the road to disappearance, right like that’s, it tells us the true history who it serves, or the very sadly, men, usually almost exclusively white men, that it valorizes right like by not telling these stories, we we strip away the humanity of people write full humanity of people who yes, we ascribe only goodness, right? We we make people like George Washington, these bonds had characters who were seemingly completely averse to any form of temptation or averse to doing any bad things. No, he did awful things. It’s why he was known as town destroyer. Right. And so I felt like in many cases, what I was doing in this book, was sullying the reputation of certain people we either know to be heroes, or that we quietly sing as heroes, when in actuality, right remembering this history, maybe it does tear them down as heroes but maybe it also allows us to see them as feel fully human. Right, right to dissenter, their position within our historical memory, collectively and individually. Right. And so for me, it meant a lot to give these characters the full treatment, right? Because even in so doing, there were other people who were in fact, in this book, white men who did deserve to be valorized. But were not remembered fully for who they were. Right in part because their stories their actions, oftentimes, again, did the same thing, that my existence that your existence, Tracy, that so many others existences do it chastens, and it indicts America for the wrong America hasn’t done.
Traci Thomas 16:47
Yeah. So this is a little off topic. But I think it’s on topic. I you know, we’re recording this the last week of June 2022. The roe verdict, all the Supreme Court shit is coming out right now. It’s a nightmare. But there was a thread on Twitter that I saw last night from, I think around the time of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, actually and this white woman was talking about the white social contract. And a thing that I have really struggled with is I grew up in a family where like when someone did something wrong, it was like immediately addressed. And then like sort of forgiven, but like, not forgiven in the way that’s like thoughts and prayers are forgiven, but sort of like Caleb, you fucked up, you know, you broke my doll. On purpose, you’re in trouble. You need to take a break. And then five minutes later, like we’re all hanging out again. And we still love you because your family correct. And one of the things that I’ve really struggled with about the ways that I see, you know, this valorization of these, like Founding Fathers and all these people is like, Well, why can’t we just admit that they were bad because like, we all admit that Martin Luther King was having an affair and like he’s still a hero. And he’s still valorized. And this thread that I saw last night about the white social contract was saying that in in white, in the white social contract, you’re in if you sign on, and we will protect you if you sign on. And if you do the things that this group says no matter what we will protect you, which is why a person like Kyle Rittenhouse, who objectively has done horrible things, regardless of the law is accepted and lifted up because he leaned into what the white group being was saying was the place to be. And it wasn’t until reading this thread that I understood why they didn’t just say, you know Thomas Jefferson was a rapist. Yeah, you know, like he was a child. He was a child, pedophilia, pedophilia, or whatever the fuck you call them. But I’m like, it doesn’t make sense to me. And now I’m for the first time and like, finally have words and like a way to think about this. That’s really, really helpful because it just had never, ever made sense to me. Yeah, it’s not a question.
Caleb Gayle 19:07
No, but I mean, to some extent, right? Like, that contract that you’re talking about, assigns a wider berth, right? of activity that’s allowable, right, still then be considered good, right?
Traci Thomas 19:21
Like the people and the people who like you and I, in this book, the white men in this book that you and I might say are like, sort of did actually do good things were like were helpful in some ways. Those are the people we don’t remember because they didn’t fully buy in to the thing that was Andrew Jackson’s America right? Or like Andrew Johnson’s America, or like, you know, and so I feel like that all of a sudden makes the people who are the white men who are forgotten make a lot more sense to me now, in a way that it never it didn’t even occur to me as I was reading this book. I was like, what do we know about this guy? And now I’m like, oh, because he wasn’t all in on the white. The full white dress You snitched on the homies essentially.
Caleb Gayle 20:00
Exactly. Exactly. You know, that’s that’s definitely what that’s what that’s what has happened throughout history for sure.
Traci Thomas 20:09
Right. Okay. So I heard you in a conversation with KSA layman. Last week talking about this book, it was fantastic. If there’s a link to it, I’ll link to it in the show notes. But in the book, we talk about slaves to the American colonists in America, and then slaves to the creek people. And there’s, you know, some distinctions there. And there’s big ones, I shouldn’t dismiss them. But there are distinctions there in many cases, I heard you say that it was really hard for you to accept that Native American people, Creek people, owned slaves. Does that information make more sense to you, as you got further in this history and realize that there was so much a ratio of black people in Creek Nation, or like, I was a little surprised to when I started the book. And then by the end, I was like, Oh, this really fucking tracks. So I’m wondering if you sort of had that experience? And also, I’m curious why you were so resistant to the idea that native people could have had slaves?
Caleb Gayle 21:11
You know, I think like, how we said earlier, right? Like, I find it and someone like an EN Lamotte can write this way better than I could, but like, there’s something to be said by how we kind of allow people to be fully human, right? And we accept all of the consequences associated with people’s humanity, right? And so to some extent, right, like, I just couldn’t bring myself, right, because the way that history is told is that like, everyone who was marginal, anyone who was marginalized, could never have lived abundantly. Anyone who was marginalized, could have never done anything wrong. Anyone who was marginalized, kind of sat within a very narrow set of experiences. And as such, right, like, I never allowed myself to look at a complicated view of history. And that’s in part due to schooling. That’s in part due to the sort of schooling that I had in a very kind of fundamentalist, Christian conservative, high school and junior high school, elementary school, right, which is like a different podcast for a different.
Traci Thomas 22:21
I had a lot of questions about two that I left off.
Caleb Gayle 22:25
But at any rate, it’s not, it’s not like, I didn’t want to fully accept it, because then I would be opening myself up to looking at all of history. And also, I think, all of a sudden, the cultural context within which I operate just completely stood on its head. Right. So to some extent, like yes, when I got further into the history, did it make more sense? Yes. When it when it became clear to me the distinctions and the type of slavery between kind of the American colonists and others it makes more sense, yes. When I realized, kind of the false choices that were provided to those who are here first, specifically, the Muscogee Creek Nation, did it make even more sense? Oh, without a doubt, but it took a long time to get myself to, to be okay with the fact that people aren’t perfect. Right? And that, regardless of whether or not you’re on the margins, or within the center of society, like you are fully capable of being human in all of its different ways.
Traci Thomas 23:26
Yeah, I think in the last few years, there’s really been like, a lot of conversation around anti blackness, and not as something that, like, everyone can have moments of some greater than others, including black people. And I think that that was helpful for me entering this book, because I was like, I’m not like, I didn’t feel like I didn’t have to negotiate any of that stuff. In my head. I was like, Yeah, this tracks like, you know, and, and that doesn’t take away from all of the ways that indigenous people have been subjugated and abused and all of that, but I was just like, yeah, it can be a both and moment for me. Okay, this is a big question that I have for you. And I don’t even know how to articulate it because again, my education around indigenous history is very, very lacking and has only started in the last few years. So please forgive me if I do this very daintily.
Caleb Gayle 24:28
You already have the forgiveness Don’t worry.
Traci Thomas 24:30
Thank you. I just get so nervous when I know that I know the question but I’m like I want to say it properly but I also I’m so I’m just anyways, not a delicate human anyways. Okay, I want to talk about blood quantum. And I was told years ago, like maybe in the last five or six years that anyone who had a connection to like a Native American tribe could did become a member of the tribe at any point if they wanted to, and that the percentage of using air quotes on percentage of their blood was not a factor that you if you joined in a tribe, you were considered fully that thing if you are willing to like commit yourself to the people of which you are joining. That’s how it had been taught to me. I also, of course, remember in like the 90s, some headline of like, there are no more full blooded Native Americans in the country or like, you know, some, maybe it was the state, I don’t know, there was some headline when I was like a kid. And I could be making it up because I was, again, a kid. But those two things don’t square in my mind. And I’m from reading the book, I sort of feel like what I’m getting is that blood quantum is made up, but also super relevant into for tribal membership. So I’m gonna ask you to explain to people what blood quantum is for people who don’t know, and also what it means to be a fool or mixed blood Creek. And then tell me if my earlier understanding is right or wrong, because-
Caleb Gayle 26:13
right, let’s relieve some of the pressure. So like, to some extent, there are elements to what you said that are just spot on and directionally right, you’re on the right path. I think the best way to kind of explain all of this is to take one step back, and remember that what we’re dealing with our nation’s sovereign nations, right, and like any nation around the world, they have rights to create pathways to citizenship ways of validating citizenship, right? And that blood quantum was not something that these nations cooked up one day, right, that got back they came blood quantum the concept, and its implementation enforcement came externally from you guessed that, a lot of really great light.
Traci Thomas 27:10
Shout out to the white male that
Caleb Gayle 27:13
yeah, and one guy in particular name Henry Dawes Is there a lot of people who contribute to that guy right about but one guy in particular Henry Dawes is really one of the folks to blame. The whole purpose behind this right, was to minimize the geographic footprint, the cultural footprint of many of these nations, right? He even said, in a conference with a bunch of other elite white people who were patting themselves on the back for the sort of prosperity America was at that time experiencing the late 1880s. And going through experience, saying, like, look, we just need to assimilate all these dudes. So that way, there’s no distinction between us. And so what they did was that they empowered this guy named Dawes to create a commission that would go through and identify who was Creek enough to be considered Creek. And what it meant many cases, which transports today is that oftentimes, even sometimes, through eyeballing people, right, they would kind of looked some folks and be like, you know, what, you might be too black to be considered a full blood member of this nation or to be on the by blood rolls, right? That kind of citizenship roles. But rather, we’re going to kind of create a different class of people and call them Creek Freedmen, even if none of you actually had the stain or experience of slavery, in your bloodline in your in your ancestry, or even now, we’re going to label all of you as freedmen. If we if we determine that the look of you, right might lead one of us to believe that you are too black to become Greek. So all of a sudden blackness just became diluted now to the Creek Nation. None of this really mattered, right? Like they had their own customs and traditions. They were not fond of losing like the other nations 90 million acres of land that they had before. Right, because that’s all this did was it allowed the Dawes commission to say, oh, you know what, now that you are a creep, we’re going to give you a certain amount of land, we’re going to disrupt this communal way of living, and we’re going to privatize it completely. So that you are like us the white dudes. Right. Right. And so then you transport many years into the future, but only 43 years ago, and being a creek Friedman was enough to disqualify you from being considered a member of the Creek Nation. Right. So something that happened, you know, over 100 years ago introduced by white guys, this thing called blood quantum allowed a distinction in race within a nation to be created such that blackness This became a disqualifier or a deluded agent in being who you’ve always known yourself to be, who your ancestors have always known themselves to be. That’s what Black wants was. That’s why it’s still playing a role. So you’re directionally you were you were there tracing. I’m proud. I’m super proud.
Traci Thomas 30:22
But so, so then, but to the thing that I thought that means that you can’t just, I mean, at least in the, let’s not do all sovereign nation, but like, in the sense of the Creek Nation, you can’t just say, I want to be Creek, and I think I’m Creek and be Creek, you have to prove exam that goes for any Creek person, black, or otherwise, there still is a point like, like a person couldn’t just go up to him and be like, I want to join the nation. Correct? Right. Like, is there immigration into these nations? Like, is that a thing that people can do? Can you become a citizen? Like you could become a citizen of the United States or no, so historically,
Caleb Gayle 31:00
right, when this nation like many others, right, we’re, we’re kind of becoming confederated, right? Where there were a bunch of different tribes within what is now considered the Creek Nation of the Cherokee Nation, right? There were processes and customs whereby people became part of it, right. And historically, right, like the even that’s the kind of shows you the creativity of their notions around identity that, like I, historically, let’s say, in the early 1800s, could have been a slave, but then entered the Creek Nation through a marriage or through some form of adoption, and I would lose every stain of slavery. Right? Whereas it seems like even in this country, we’re still living with those things today, right? Yeah. So to some, yeah, so So to some great extent, right? Like, you do have to be able to prove your ancestry on particular roles, and if your ancestry happens if some of your ancestors landed on the Creek Freedmen roll, right, which again, that distinction that didn’t matter to folks when it was happening and being created, it matters a whole hell of a lot today, and that was essentially invalidate your claim, regardless of how much you could demonstrate, right? How much you can show
Traci Thomas 32:15
right and even before doors and the blood quantum and all of this there’s a character a person in the book cow Tom, shout out cow Tom, the homie who, who along with some other black people who are part of Creek Nation made a, I don’t even know it’s more than concerted effort they they made certain over time, they were committed to this that the black people who were part of the Creek Nation, whether they had been slaves or had married in or had just been part of the community for for years and years, through whatever means. I mean, in cow Tom’s place. He His family says that he was never a slave and that he just worked for some guy, though the record of the white people says that he that he was a slave, a whole conversation, which could be another podcast also. But cow, Tom, and the homies were like, the black folks need to be citizens. So like, in addition to what happened, that nobody cared about at the time, with Dawes Previous to this, there was some foresight of like, we’re in this nation. Fuck what you have to say, we built this shit. Cow. Tom was like a leader in the nation. And you know, we follow his family in the book, and you get to see how his family and his descendants were also leaders and thrived within the nation in many different ways. That’s not a question either. I just wanted to shout out to the cow, Tom and just say that, like, there was before all of this happened in the 1970s. There were people in the 1800s that were like, Let’s just make sure we get that citizenship. Mark, please. We want that blue check for citizens. Yeah, we need to get locked in. Okay, I sort of teased, and I don’t I really don’t want to talk about this because I feel like for me in my reading of the book, there is a person who is the reason that the black creeks officially lost their standing in Creek Nation and I sort of don’t want to spoil that because for me, it was like a very important moment in the book because it like we talked about earlier sort of changed what I thought it’s not who I thought it was gonna be. It’s not how I thought it was gonna play out. So we’re gonna skip over that person completely. I just I for people who are reading I really want to protect your experience at the time in the 70s when this changed in Creek in the 1970s when this change in Creek Nation, do you have any idea what percent of the creeks were kicked out of the nation? Like how many black creeks who had been on the freedmen rolls? were removed? Like what percent? Do you have any like? Was it hundreds of people? Was it 1000s of people? Was it?
Caleb Gayle 38:45
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So in terms of proportions, it’s difficult, right? Like, and kind of a preemptive sense is back in like 1890. Right, it was estimated that like some 13, or more percent of the folks walking around were black, that were a part of the Creek Nation. It kind of compound they were living well, right, compelled some folks that were kind of the predecessors to the US Census, as we consider it today being like, whoa, this might this part of Oklahoma’s eastern part of Oklahoma, might be the best hope for the Negro, as they would say, right. But as time goes on, right, there’s a large amount of people who, who then came from those 1300 or so. So like, we know that it’s, it’s in the 1000s, most likely, especially if we were to consider them today, but no real estimate as to like the proportion of those who are one citizens who are now no longer sort of,
Traci Thomas 39:40
And then as far as the creek people who are on the buy blood rolls. Have you heard from those people, either about this book, or like what was their response when this group of people, the people who were on the freedmen rolls or the Mixed Blood rolls were kicked out of the nation like was there are a feeling of like this is our community’s still like, we’re upset about this, like, that part, I don’t believe was in the book. So I’m curious like what the by blood people what their response was and if you’ve heard from any people directly about your book?
Caleb Gayle 40:14
Yeah, so I was in Tulsa for the first like official stop on a book tour. One of the folks who came was a guy named Eli Grayson, who is a member of the Creek Nation. And who is, you know, family members, Joy Harjo. Right. And if you look at Eli, you’d be like, do I back you up? Or do I check your hands? Right? And, you know, it’s interesting, he’s been an advocate for many years for the RE inclusion of freedmen, right. And it kind of goes to show perhaps, like, the questionable nature of those divisions, right. But one thing that, you know, I think he really kind of want it to be, but I’m saying that, you know, there is, there is a sense and a real one that I really want to lift up and affirm that, like, folks who have been told what they must be, are at times tired of being told who they then must include. Right? And I think that like, to some extent, right, there is hope that sits right around those folks, right? With the Cherokee Nation, the Seminole Nation, kind of the Cherokee Nation in particular losing its case, to a bunch of Cherokee freedmen, led by people like Maryland van who are now re included in that nation, or at least given a pathway for citizenship on the same kind of bases, that a lot of Creek Freedmen are asking for that same inclusion. But when you hear from folks it’s like, look like we have been told what we are we have been like, when’s the last time you were I Tracy have like, had people say, Oh, let me see your papers, right or right. Like, can you talk to me about what percentage American you are? Right? So I think like, to some extent, it’s, it’s, it’s worthy to be affirmed the desire to kind of self determined, especially if if we are purported to believe that these are sovereign nations, right. So it’s, it’s difficult, and I think I didn’t want the reader to ever approach this thinking that the solutions are easy, or that the response would be warm. Right, right. Rather wanted people to be situated directly in the sort of complications that a bastardize form of history kind of creates.
Traci Thomas 42:36
Right. Okay, so one of the things this book did for me, and I think other readers that I spoke to, it’s, it brings up a lot of like, what if situations about right now, you know, and like, Yeah, I mean, there’s a big question in the book is like, can you be fully black and fully Creek? And I think, you know, to make this about me, my fucking podcast if you don’t want to hear about me get great your own. Or, you know, the way that I’m thinking about the world is like, at can, anyone who is not white, and does not buy into white America be fully American? You know, like, I think about, like, it makes me think about like, a lot of the anti Asian violence we’ve been seeing recently. And like the way that we talk about people who are American, but call them Asian American or black American, just like calling someone a Black Creek, that is in and of itself, that use of language is, you know, demarcating those people as something other. I’m a black American, but I would argue that my family has been here a lot longer than a lot of white American families, my dad’s side much longer than my white mom’s side. You know, and so it just made me think a lot about like, what happens if, you know, not to be so bleak, but the world is horrible, but like, what happens if the Supreme Court decides something about citizenship? Like, am I considered a freedmen, American? Am I kicked out of the nation? Even though I’ve been here and I’ve been raised American, and I’ve been I’ve been American, like, there’s one thing to think about, that’s like, black people are second class citizens in this country, which we all know. But it’s another thing to think about. What does that actually mean? If there is a citizenship test?
Caleb Gayle 44:38
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I think that the way in which I would reframe it, is that those hyphens let’s add to the beauty yes, they don’t add to any sort of dilution they’re not there. No,
Traci Thomas 44:52
I think it depends on whose whole angle
Caleb Gayle 44:56
Oh, for sure. I think what this I think what this work is, are Viewing for is that even an examining what happened in the Creek Nation where Black Creek, it’s all good, your your ancestry you’re who you are doesn’t necessarily make you other I think people then have kind of wrested control in many cases, right, have the ability to label and then assigning to that either proximity to power or distance from it. And then also value right, when in actuality I think all of these things lead to a more interesting tapestry. It’s why like the book kind of concludes with asking people not so much to not give up on America, but rather, your vision for America. And I wrote that not necessarily talking hint hint to the white dudes, I primarily wrote to those of us who’ve ever existed on the margins, where our identity in some form has been the subject of some sort of Supreme Court conversation today, hearing case, etc. Right. I wrote it such that I don’t really know if America is much without us. Right. And I don’t know if the legacy and history of our existence as protest our decisions who thrive as protest, I don’t know how much of America is America without those experiences. So those Haifa minutes, I think, hopefully are reclaimed as power not distancing or other rising.
Traci Thomas 46:36
Sure, I think I feel more powerful because I’m black, and American. But I guess my point was more like the people who don’t value us will use the high finit. To lessen us. That’s what I mean, listen, I’m not trading in my blackness for anything. Not that I could, but I wouldn’t. Okay, there’s one more thing that came up, and then we have to talk about your process. I could not stop thinking about 40 acres and a mule. Reading this book. I know that that promise of 40 acres and a mule was obviously not fulfilled. For people who don’t know, when the Civil War ended, there was a promise from the government that black people would be given 40 acres and a mule. Didn’t happen. But it couldn’t stop thinking about the what if of that, because when we get into Cow, Tom’s descendants, Jake Simmons, senior and junior, and they have land, and they have a way towards wealth, and they have upward mobility, and they have all of these things that were bestowed upon them. Because of all the things that had been taken from the Creek Nation. It made me think about the rest of the black people in America and like, what could have been and what should have been, and what was told would be an it just is like, such, it’s such a devastating, what if to think about and obviously we know, in some places where black people did create wealth and power, what happened obviously, Tulsa, which is in the book, Wilmington. I mean, just watts, like, everywhere, there’s so many to list, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about that, like original 40 acres and a mule. of it all, again, not a question. Just that’s the thing that has haunted me. Yeah, your book and a lot of ways as like, the lies and the promises that were broken, and the like, way that it forces us non white people to then become this sort of like crabs in a barrel mentality, like the taking away of the opportunity. It’s just was really it was hard. Yeah.
Caleb Gayle 49:00
The book is almost an analog or the inverse of disinvestment. Right. Right. Like the provision of opportunity by birthright is, like, hard to even. I still, I mean, I wrote it. Yeah, I still struggle with like, understanding it at a deep level, at almost a personal level, right? Because it’s just so not the experience that I had growing up. It’s not the experience you had, it’s not the experience that most black people have had. So the perhaps it’s getting us to then rethink it. And to do so with very concrete examples that offers us the best chance to start to think about how we articulate what’s at stake now for repairing for the damage done to so many people who are in fact black, right like that. That’s the that’s hopefully what it does do hopefully it does. I’m glad to hear that it haunts you. Like I hope it haunts so many others to think about what we were promised, what we were promised. What was ripped away. And perhaps right what could be if we took off the GIS from disinvestment, but we actually invested in those who have who, whose whose histories here have been so beleaguered with the United States Government systematically depriving us of what we were owed. Right. So I’m glad to hear that it haunted you. I’m sad. That it Yeah, that it’s a truth. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 50:27
Okay. The cover, is that cow, Tom?
Caleb Gayle 50:31
No, no. Two guys on their legacy pyramid who I write quite a bit about in the book was a two time chief of the Creek Nation and indistinguishably black and then Silas Jefferson, as well.
Traci Thomas 50:46
Got it. Got it. I was just curious about that. Okay. You are a person who has like 90 jobs you’ve gone to like 9000 important fancy schools, your real nerd. We love this for all of us. are proud of you for being like top tier nerd on this podcast. Love, love, love. How did you make time to write this book? Where did you write how many hours a day? How often do you listen to music? Do you do it in the house? Did you go out into the world? Snacks, beverages ritual? Tell us about it? Wow, that’s a lot of them. Well, any of the things that apply?
Caleb Gayle 51:18
Sure, yeah. So I started really writing this book, or at least contemplating what it would look like to write this book during business school. And for your for your listeners, like, I did not like business school, specifically, the school that I attended.
Traci Thomas 51:33
Okay, are we naming names are no sure.
Caleb Gayle 51:37
I went to I went to Harvard Business School. And it was more about the accrual of like, how much are you willing to spend to be like, all of the folks who go to yacht week and whatnot, and that, that just didn’t jive with me. So I began a lot of conceptual work there. But because I have this nagging habit to eat, and because like I lived in New York and all that, like I had to be able to continue to service this habit of eating. So I went to Boston Consulting Group, which meant that, you know, Monday morning at like, 5am, I was on a flight to who knows where, and we’re come back Thursday night after having worked 14 hours every day. So I had to develop somewhat of a practice, which was rather monastic. So like I wrote everywhere. My ideal state would be like to write on a beach or in a mountain, or something of that nature. But I never got that chance. When I was writing most of this book. I wrote it on planes, I wrote it in cars, I wrote it, you know, in the back offices of some fortune 500 company that we were consulting with. I ate what was around, which usually wasn’t healthy. So I don’t have anything inspirational to provide.
Traci Thomas 52:54
Oh, it’s not supposed to be inspirational. It’s supposed to be delicious. I get mad when people tell me a fruit or vegetable.
Caleb Gayle 53:00
So yeah, the beauty the beauty, though, of being in consulting is that you can expense all of these snacks to companies that make more money than God. And so as such, I was egregious in like ordering things that I would never order now. Now that I’m not working. They’re like, No, like, what? Oh, man. Well, there’s a case that I did in Dallas. That was right across the street from Nobu. So like, did I expense a black cod? thing? Yes. All of the time, egregious was awful. Everywhere whenever I could, and stuck it to the man, whoever that is, I’m air quoting like crazy for the listeners, primarily because I do it. And I used to wake up around four in the morning, every day, right until about 830. Because after 830, you could be up until two in the morning working but just continually got up every single morning at 4am. And we’re right for four and a half hours just to kind of get through.
Traci Thomas 53:59
Oh my god, but if you were up till 2am Then you got like no sleep.
Caleb Gayle 54:03
It was really unhealthy. And it really pissed off my now wife.
Traci Thomas 54:06
Yeah, I’m annoyed for you for her annual okay, but so if you’re working like that, and you’re working 8:30am to 2am Some days, and then writing from 4am to 8:30am. How are you tapping into your creativity? Like how are you finding that space in your brain to write this beautiful book?
Caleb Gayle 54:27
Well first of all, thank you for calling it beautiful. Say I’m an artist. I’m sensitive about my sensitive. Yeah, um, yeah. So I think like, jobs like consulting and investment banking and the like, are not jobs. I would say that tap into your creative spirit, they don’t see your creative soul. And so as such like this was my way of hanging on, right, because I hated those jobs. And I didn’t feel as if I was gay. getting anything out of it, but the ability to buy my wife and engagement ring, right, like, so to some extent, like it was incredibly transactional. And with this work, it didn’t feel transactional, it felt like a higher calling and so now that I have been able to kind of craft a life in which I am not doing those things anymore, right, I feel as if my soul is that much more enriched, but like I, I was holding on for dear life. And the way that I held on was doing something completely and totally non transactional, which was hopefully amplifying stories that like the world, I felt like need to know.
Traci Thomas 55:37
Okay, you went to Oxford or something?
Caleb Gayle 55:40
I did. I’m Tracy, I’m like the son of Jamaican so like, degree trading immigrants. So like, you have to do all the degrees.
Traci Thomas 55:48
Okay, well, let’s bring you back down to earth then. What’s the word? You can never spell correctly on the first try? Whoa, all that Oxford cool education.
Caleb Gayle 56:00
Yeah, yeah. Oh, man, like relieve or live? perceive.
Traci Thomas 56:07
Okay, so you’re an audio guy.
Caleb Gayle 56:09
I before E except after C just like doesn’t work in my brain at all. Because of all the words like that. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 56:15
And it’s also like, not an actual reliable rule, like ever. So it’s so it’s a disrespectful little rhyme that like someone came up with and then was like, Don’t fact check. Don’t fact check. This is me off every time. Yeah, I’m a terrible speller. And so I love when people who have gone to places like Oxford and Harvard are like, I can’t spell words either. Do you? This is such a rude question. But I always like to ask, and you can tell me no, I refuse to respond. I refuse to forget what comes next. Do you have any idea what Yeah,
Caleb Gayle 56:46
yeah, yeah, I’m diving into the what is right, but so I’m writing a book that’s tentatively titled push ahead, which is about one of the characters that or people that you meet in the book, very briefly named Edward McCain, kind of first black statewide elected politician in in the history of the Old West, who essentially crusades on the idea of trying to colonize Indian territory, which then becomes Oklahoma for black people. And at the same time, proposes that he might be the best governor of this new state and tries to convince President Benjamin Harrison and a whole lot of others to do so. And fails in such drastic fashion in some important sense. But to some great sense, inspires the creation of many black towns, Oklahoma’s lone, historically back college and university, and really puts front and center whether or not ambition will be enough to make us fully belong.
Traci Thomas 57:52
Did you think that you would write about this time period?
Caleb Gayle 57:58
No, but I just like can’t get over. Okay. Some of these people.
Traci Thomas 58:05
Yeah, I there are some time periods that I’m like really obsessed with, like I like to read about. And so I was just wondering if this was something like you always knew or if it was like, once you got into it, you’re just like, these people are with me now. Yeah. Who’s the coolest person to express interest in this book?
Caleb Gayle 58:22
Oh, man. I mean, it’s probably a tie between like, Dr. Abram candy and Kiese Laymon, but I think it’s because I just, I love yesterday for so many reasons, on an interpersonal level, so like when he said that this was like a new standard in bookmaking, I may or may not have cried, Oh,
Traci Thomas 58:47
this is like basically just a PSA fan podcast, if I’m being honest. Like, he’s one of the heroes of my life. He’s just such a great person. Okay, for people who love we refuse to forget what is a book or some books that you might recommend to them that are maybe in conversation with this work, or will help them understand or just anything that you think is a good companion piece? For whatever reason?
Caleb Gayle 59:11
Yeah, I have some of the books here. I just keep next to me all of the time. So I think like, for like a very broad history that’s actually very well written, like the relative disappearance by Angie to bow, anything that Dr. Taya Miles, who wrote all that she carried, but also his written like, he’s like the ties that bind and herself is of Cherokee descent, but also a black woman, anything that she has written, and then all the while by Elena Roberts, but I think also kind of the what if right, considerations really leads one to like, think about Paradise by Toni Morrison, right for the fictional approach to some of this work, as well as to people like Psy D. Hartman, right? Who really kind of takes on the fabulous literature to help think through what the archives could be. So yeah, those, those women, essentially, predominantly black women are ones I would say this book is maybe not so much in conversation with as much as I hope and aspire that it’s in conversation.
Traci Thomas 1:00:17
Okay, I love this aspiration. Last question. If you could have any person dead or alive, read this book, who would you want it to be?
Caleb Gayle 1:00:25
Oh, man, I’m a jerk. I’d really want to not because I want his approval. I just want to see the like, pain and angst on their faces. So it’s a trio. I want George Washington’s read this book. I feel like the jerk that he is or was. I want Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson to read this. I want Benjamin Hawkins to read this. I just want a lot of folks who have done so much harm. They kind of read about how how much I want people to remember them for all they were and the damage that they did and very vindictive on my part-
Traci Thomas 1:01:02
This is a troll petty podcast. So thank you for ending in the spirit of this show. pettiness vindictiveness. We never forget, we refuse to forget people. We are out here for the founding fathers and their friends. Caleb Gale, ladies and gentlemen, we refuse to forget out now wherever you get your books, get your copy. It is fantastic. If you get caught up in the beginning, push through. Trust me, I was you. And happy I made it to the end. Caleb, thank you so much for being here.
Caleb Gayle 1:01:36
Thank you so much for having me Traci, so much.
Traci Thomas 1:01:40
And everyone else we will see you in the stacks.
All right. Well, that does it for us this week. Thank you so much for listening and thank you to Caleb Gayle for joining the show. I’d also like to say a huge thank you to the wonderful Ashley garland for helping make this episode possible. Reminder the stocks book club pick for July a season of migration to the north by tyabb Sully which we will discuss on July 27. If you love the show and what inside access to it, head to patreon.com/the stacks to join the statspack make sure subscribe to the stacks wherever you get your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stacks. Follow us on social media at the stocks pod on Instagram and at the stocks pod underscore on Twitter and check out our website the stocks podcast.com This episode of the stacks was edited by Kristian Duenas with production assistants from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. The Stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
To support The Stacks and find out more from this week’s sponsors, click here.
The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.