Exactly 187 years ago on May 28, 1830, the “Trail of Tears” began when President Andrew Jackson signed Senate Bill 102, i.e., the Indian Removal Act (IRA). That legislation forced primarily five Southeastern indigenous nations, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole, as well as the Fox, Kickapoo, Lenape, Miami, Omaha, Ottawa, Potawatomie, Sauk, Shawnee, and Wyandot (along with a few other smaller ones), to trek up to 2,200 miles- on foot!- from as far as Florida to what’s now known as Oklahoma where the government’s newly created so-called Indian Territory was established.
These native people were brutally compelled to vacate their homeland on a continent where their ancestors had lived for approximately 14,000 years. That’s 12,508 years before Columbus and his murderous gang of white invaders arrived in 1492.
As renowned historian Dr. Howard Zinn declared in his seminal A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, President Jackson was “the most aggressive enemy of the (so-called) Indians in early American history.” The learned Oxford Companion to United States History described the president’s actions following passage of the IRA as “the most complete genocide in U.S. history.”
And in his revealing Don’t Know Much About History, lecturer and New York Times best selling author Kenneth C. Davis proclaimed, “From the outset, superior weapons, force of numbers, and treachery had been the Euro-American strategy for dealing with the Indians in manufacturing ‘a genocidal tragedy that surely ranks as one of the cruelest episodes in man’s history.’” Davis went on to note, “The killing, enslavement, and land theft had begun with the arrival of the Europeans. But it may have reached its nadir when it became federal policy under President Jackson.”
The IRA led to what came to be called the “Trail of Tears,” which actually began six years before the 1836 date that most of this country’s history books erroneously cite as the year of its commencement. Although the actual numbers will never be known because, as Winston Churchill so accurately stated, “History is written by the victors,” it has been estimated that from May 1830 (when the IRA became law) until March 1839 (when the last Red person, actually a Cherokee, was savagely shoved into Oklahoma), approximately 100,000 of our Red brothers and sisters suffered the trail’s tortuous tribulations and possibly as many as 30 percent of them were killed on the way as a result of shootings, beatings, starvation, dysentery, whooping cough, cholera in the summer, pneumonia in the winter, and exposure to extreme weather conditions.
Also, this genocidal legislation robbed this land’s aborigines of more than 25 million acres of fertile farmland in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and elsewhere.
As horrific as this hell on earth was, the “Trail of Tears” didn’t result in just physical genocide and land theft. It also resulted in cultural genocide. As a History.com documentary entitled Andrew Jackson’s Controversial Decisions, featuring such scholarly historians as museum director Thomas Y. Cartwright and author Professor Harry L. Watson, pointed out, and as did the aforementioned Oxford book, the so-called Indians were forced at gunpoint to convert to Christianity, to cut their hair, to speak only English, to send their children to distant brainwashing and self-hating boarding schools like the Richard Pratt Industrial School here in Pennsylvania, and also to adopt European-style economic practices including and especially private ownership of property- in other words, capitalism.
The documentary continued by pointing out that many had to endure the excruciatingly long haul while being “bound in chains, marching double-file.”
None of that mattered to President Jackson because he viewed these noble people as subhuman. That’s why, in 1833, he said “(T)hose tribes... have neither the intelligence... (nor) the moral habits... which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of... a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority..., they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and... long disappear.”
As an aside, I should explain that the Red people ain’t no damn Indians. Columbus called them that in 1492 because he was an incompetent sailor who thought he had traveled east to India when he actually had traveled west to the so-called Americas. The correct (albeit general) name of the indigenous people from the 500 nations here on this continent is Onkwehonwe. And this land wasn’t called America either. It was Turtle Island.
You might wonder why I previously referred to these First Nations people as our brothers and sisters. Here’s why: At least one of these aboriginal groups, e.g., the Seminoles (and others throughout the country), had many Black members who had escaped slavery. And as documented by the Princeton Public Library’s African-American and Native American History Department, as many as one-third of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw, just like the aforesaid Seminole, was Black. Moreover, the department’s researchers mentioned that the U.S. Army in 1802 listed 512 Blacks as living amongst the Choctaw.
By the way, President Jackson hated Blacks as much as he hated Reds. Even the Andrew Jackson Foundation had to concede that “Slavery was the source of... (his) wealth” and that he enslaved more than 150 Black folks, including children, on his 1,000 acre Hermitage cotton plantation in Nashville, Tennessee,
Many white (and sadly Black) Americans today might argue that as evil as the IRA and the “Trail of Tears” were, they at least ultimately brought “civilization” and progress to this technologically advanced country. However, Oglala Lakota Chief Luther Standing Bear wrote in his 1933 autobiography, From the Land of the Spirit Eagle, “True, the white man brought great change. But the varied fruits of his civilization, though highly... inviting, are sickening and deadening. And if it be the part of civilization to maim... (and) rob... then what is progress?” Good question, Brother Standing Bear. Very good question.