“The history of Oklahoma is a history of movement, possession, and dispossession. It is American history told in fast-foward,” writes historian David A. Chang in the introduction to The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832-1929 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). “It captures the dynamics of global history in the middle of a continent.”
As a lifelong East-Coaster, I admit this initially struck me as perhaps hyperbolic. Oklahoma may indeed be fertile ground for scholars, particularly in Native American Studies, but American history in fast-forward? The dynamics of global history? These are concepts not generally associated in popular discourse with the Sooner state; certainly not for a New Yorker like myself.
David Chang has exploded my coastal arrogance. In this intellectual tour-de-force and gripping historical narrative, Chang illustrates how in the aftermath of the Creek Nation’s forced removal from the Southeast to Oklahoma, conflicts over landownership – present in every region but magnified in Indian Territory-cum-Oklahoma before and after the devastation of the Civil War and the Dawes Allotment Act – provided the central staging ground for a complicated and often surprising formation of racial and national identities. From Creek’s struggle to maintain their national coherence against a colonial onslaught, to African American settlers seeking new opportunities in the land-rich West, to the agrarian radicalism of the early 20th century and the violent counterrevolution of white supremacy, Oklahoma indeed captures the dynamics of history. The Color of the Land shows exactly how.