The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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William B. Clements Prize awarded to Claudio Saunt

The William P. Clements prize for the best non-fiction book on Southwestern America was awarded Tuesday night to Claudio Saunt for his work “Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American family.”

The Clements prize has been awarded yearly since 1999 and honors exceptional writing and research on the American Southwest. “Black, White, and Indian” was selected by a panel of four judges, and, according to David Weber, Director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, the competition was particularly fierce this year.

Following a reception at the DeGolyer Library, Saunt was presented with the award, which includes an engraved wooden box and a check for $2,500.

“I am honored and thrilled to receive this award,” Saunt said. “The Clements Center has done so much to preserve the history of the Southwest.”

Saunt then gave a lecture, during which he described his motivation for writing the book and provided biographical information for the subjects of his book. “Black, White, and Indian” follows the diverging paths of the Grayson family of the Creek Nation and of Oklahoma from 1780 to 1920, as one side comes to be considered white and the other black.

“I got into this project when I decided to read an autobiography by a prior Chief of the Creek Nation, and I came across a footnote,” Saunt said.

The footnote Saunt found described how a portion of the autobiography, published in 1988, had been removed at the request of the family. Curious to discover what, exactly, has been removed and why, Saunt embarked on a research project that has included sending stamped postcards to every person named Grayson in Oklahoma and a few threatening letters from lawyers of members of the family who did not want this information to be revealed.

Saunt discovered that the excluded portion of the autobiography described one of the family member’s relationship with a black man and the children produced by this relationship. This family member, Katie, went on to reject her ties to blacks, even going on to own slaves, while her brother William married a slave and had children who would fight for the Union during the Civil War.

These decisions have resulted with Katie’s descendents rejecting any affiliation with their African-American heritage, and with William’s descendents becoming increasingly embedded in the African-American community.

Certain members of the Grayson family have been particularly resistant to Saunt’s research and book, and refused to return Saunt’s phone calls or provide him with the unedited version of the autobiography that first led him to this project. According to Saunt, some of the family members would rather have this information buried forever.

“If you go to amazon.com, there is a revealing message by one of the family members,” Saunt said. “She thinks that I’m trying to create hostility between races.”

By tracing the movements and relationships of the Grayson family, Saunt reveals the effects of racist philosophies of early America not only on the family, but on the Creek Nation as a whole.

Saunt teaches Native and Early American history at the University of Georgia.

During the ceremonies, Saunt was presented with an engraved wooden box and a check for $2,500. David Weber, Director,

Clements Center for Southwest Studies,teaches and writes about Native and early American history at the University of Georgia.

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