By Marcos C. Barbery & Sam Russell
Americans are familiar with the removal of Cherokees in the infamous “Trail of Tears,” but the involvement of African American slaves is far less known. When the U.S. Indian Removal Act forced Native Americans to relinquish their native land and move west, countless slaves followed them into the frontier, bound and shackled. In 1866, after U.S. lawmakers amended the Constitution to bar slavery, the Cherokee Nation entered into a treaty with the federal government, granting perpetual freedom and full tribal membership to Cherokee slaves and their descendants - newly minted Cherokee members - the “Freedmen.”
BY BLOOD picks up 150 years later. The Cherokee Nation — a wealthy tribe, with land, casinos and various business holdings — argues that Freedmen descendants are not members of their tribe “by blood” because they descended from the tribe’s former slaves. The Cherokee Nation and another former slave-holding nation, the Seminole Nation, began denying tribal rights to Freedmen descendants more than a decade ago.
By 1920, Tulsa had become home to many successful black entrepreneurs. Tensions between the city’s white residents over the success of African Americans in Jim Crow Oklahoma grew intense and on June 1, 1921 they erupted into the Tulsa Race Riots. Sparked by a dubious conflict and led by the Ku Klux Klan, it destroyed Tulsa’s then-booming African American community of 30 city blocks including the area known as Black Wall Street. The film examines the region’s present-day lingering racial tensions, particularly on Tulsa’s north side: a predominately African American neighborhood that is also Cherokee Territory and home to many Freedmen who are struggling economically.
BY BLOOD chronicles Freedmen descendants Roshon Jones, Sylvia Davis, and Marilyn Vann, as well as civil rights advocates David Cornsilk and Jon Velie, whose roles illustrate tenuous race relations across Oklahoma. Ultimately, the documentary illustrates how federal encroachment over Indian territories led to Oklahoma’s statehood and fueled its violent history, as well as the divisive legacy of racial classification by the one-drop rule.