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Marideth Sisco reflects on racial identity in the Ozarks from a historical perspective.
This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. You know, of all the things we talk about with the elections coming up this fall, all the races we have a stake in, what we seem to be talking the least about, although it's on everyone's mind, is race. And I'm wondering if it's because there are so many of us that have very little room to talk. Now I don't want to get into politics here. What's on my mind is history. I was talking the other day with a friend of mine who is of Japanese descent. She told me a story about her mother, who grew up on a farm in Nebraska, of immigrant parents, and when she first went to school she learned she was different when the children played a game where they circled round, holding hands, and she was next to the teacher. And she thought that was special, until the teacher, instead of taking that little girl's hand, pinched up just the tiniest bit of skin on the back of her hand, so as to touch as little of her as possible. Her teacher did that. Isn't that something. So when she could, she went to California, where she was a little less different, until World War II, of course, when she was rounded up and put into an internment camp, for fear she'd feel called on to become a spy for her native land of ... Nebraska?
Anyway, we can be stupid when it comes to race. So, I'd like to tell you another story, about my great grandmother, Granny Luke.
She started out as Elizabeth Loveall, or that's what we always thought. Came here with her parents from over in the Carolinas somewhere, and married, and settled out on the prairie in Newton County, at a little town called Gadfly. It's not there anymore. Well, the war came, and her husband took the union side, and he met another soldier named Mark Gentry and they became friends, and he asked Mark that if anything happened to him, would he go tell his wife. Mark agreed. Well, the worst happened. Mark went to tell Elizabeth, and some time later he married her. They had several children, among them, my grandfather. One of my grandfather's brothers had the curious name of Boudinot. Another brother, M. L., whom everyone called Boomer, had another curious habit of offering to fight anyone who suggested the family might have any Indian blood. Well. Years, and generations passed, Mark died and she married Mr. Luke and became Granny Luke, and she and everyone in that story passed on into history. And then one day in a book I stumbled onto the name Boudinot again, and discovered it was the name given the son of John Ross, first chief of the Western Cherokee, who had led his people across the new United States on the shameful, sorrowful Trail of Tears. What was he doing among us?
So I went to look at Elizabeth again. There were no Lovealls on the Cherokee rolls. But when I looked at census records to see where she had come from ... her parents appeared to have come from three different places, in three different years, and there was no record of them having settled here. They apparently came to Missouri, dropped off their daughter, and disappeared. Well. So it appears I may be an Indian, at least partly so. Not quite white, some would say, and, Sorry, Uncle Boomer, but I really don't mind that. It's a rich history, and I'm in good company. I don't know many in these hills, who could say much different. Some are proud of it, and some not. I can't prove it, because they were too good at hiding their traces, to protect Elizabeth. I won't get my name on the rolls. I won't be eligible for a scholarship, or a tribal newsletter, or whatever. But I'm sure of her identity, and mine, from two things. One, I have a picture of her, with her black, straight hair, high cheekbones, eyes as deep as the ages; and two, I have another story, passed down from Uncle Boud, from his first day of school, when the other little kids came out and danced around him in a circle, pointed their fingers at him, and chanted, "your maw's a squaw, your maw's a squaw." And that brings me to the children and how they always seem to learn less from what we teach than than from how we behave. If we're honest about how we've been doing, surely to god, we can do better than that. It'd be hard enough to answer for if the race category had just one box, marked "human."
This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills.