Why the Redskins Are Called the Redskins

Washington Redskins logoWith 50 United States senators signing a letter to the president of the NFL urging him to pressure Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, to change the team’s name, and Congressman Henry Waxman calling for the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings on the name, it is clear that the controversy over the name “Redskins” has yet to subside.

In the Wednesday, May 27, Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney purported to rebut the Redskins’ claim that the team was named the Redskins in honor of its Native American coach William “Lone Star” Dietz (whom, it turns out, may not have been an Indian at all, but that was clearly unknown to team owner George Preston Marshall at the time.)  The source of McCartney’s proof is a July 6, 1933 AP story that quoted Marshall to the effect that he changed the team’s name from “Braves” to “Redskins” so that he could avoid confusion with the Boston Braves of baseball’s National League and so that he could continue to use the team’s new Indian head logo.

McCartney is clearly correct on that point.  The team already had a Native American name (Braves) when it signed Dietz as its coach.  The name was changed, as Marshall indicated in the above quote, because the team was moving to a new venue within the city of Boston.  (The team did not move to Washington until 1937.)

Here is the story:

*In 1932, George Preston Marshall and three partners were awarded an NFL team on the condition that it be located in Boston, where the previous NFL team had folded after the 1929 season.

*Needing a place to play, the options for the new team were limited.  Fenway Park was not available because of a city ordinance that prohibited professional sporting events on Sundays if they were within a certain distance of a church (and Fenway was); Harvard would not rent out its famous stadium to professional teams; and the Boston College field was not enclosed.  The only real option was playing in Braves Park, the home of the Boston Braves baseball team.  Moreover, the baseball Braves owner, Emil Fuchs, was a friend of Marshall’s co-owner Jay O’Brien, a well-known New York investor and playboy.

*Having decided to play in Braves Field, it made perfect sense to use the same name as the baseball team.  This practice was quite common in the early history of the NFL for teams in cities with major league baseball teams.  The pre-1932 NFL at different times featured teams with “baseball” names like the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, New York Giants, New York Yankees, and Brooklyn Dodgers, as well as the Chicago Bears whose name was a variant of Chicago Cubs.  Moreover, in 1933, the year following the creation of the Braves, the league added teams called the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.  In addition, NFL teams from Buffalo, Kansas City, Hartford, and Louisville had earlier used the names of local minor league baseball teams.  Consequently, there was nothing particularly special about the new Boston team using the name Braves.

*During the 1932 season, the Braves went 4-4-2, without making any special effort to emphasize the fact that the team had a Native American nickname.  Braves Field was nicknamed the Wigwam, but that name had been used for years before the football team was created in reference to the baseball Braves.

*However, a sequence of events following the 1932 season would lead the Boston team to change both its playing field and its nickname. The first step came when Lud Wray, the team’s coach, resigned to become the co-owner of the expansion Philadelphia Eagles.  To replace Wray, Marshall hired Lone Star Dietz, a famous college coach, who was at the time the head coach of the Haskell Indian School in Kansas.

*Having hired Dietz, Marshall, who was a born-showman who had long been fascinated with Native Americans, decided to revive “Indian football.”  Coach Dietz may well have been the inspiration, since he had been a teammate of Jim Thorpe at the Carlisle Indian School, when that institution ruled college football.  Moreover, only a decade earlier, the NFL had featured all all-Indian team, the Oorang Indians, which in 1922 and 1923 had been captained by Thorpe, universally viewed as the greatest football player in American history.

*Marshall encouraged Dietz to sign Native American players—six ended up on that year’s Boston team—and he decided to add an Indian emblem to the team’s uniform and planned a variety of Native American symbols ranging from war paint on the players’ faces, to Dietz’ Indian headdress which he wore on the sidelines, to the supposedly Indian-inspired tricks plays that filled Dietz’ playbook.  These plans were in place while the team was still planning to play the 1933 season as the Boston Braves.

*Nevertheless, subsequent developments would bring the career of the Boston Braves to a sudden close.  For a variety of reasons Marshall was not happy with Braves Field, which he felt was poorly maintained by the penny-pinching Fuchs.  O’Brien had dropped out of the ownership group after the 1932 season, and Marshall apparently did not get along with Fuchs, whom he felt was also overcharging the football team when it came to rent.  (Fuchs did not own Braves Field and was subject to an onerous master lease himself.)

*That same summer, Boston repealed the “close to a church” ordinance, just as substantial renovations to Fenway Park were completed.  Given the opportunity to move to a newer, nicer park at less rent, Marshall signed a new lease with Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Red Sox and Fenway Park that guaranteed that the football team would play the 1933 season in a new home.

*Given that he was no longer a subtenant of the Braves, he had very little incentive to have his football team continue to play under that name.  On the other hand, he was committed to the idea of bringing back Indian football, but the pool of Indian names was limited.  The Cleveland Indians had played in the NFL as late as 1931, and that name appeared to be informally reserved for a future Cleveland team.  Consequently, Marshall chose the name Redskins, in part, one suspects, because of the way that it echoed “Red Sox.”

*In the summer of 1933, the term Redskins was widely viewed as a synonym for Indian and as no more or no less pejorative than names like Indians, Braves, Warriors, or Chiefs.  Recent events have made it clear that many Americans today, both Indian and non-Indian, view Redskins as an objectionable name.  However, that is a consequence of much more recent linguistic changes and had nothing to do with the decision to adopt the name Redskins in 1933.

A fuller account of this story and the history of Native American team names in pre-World War II American can be found here  (http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/facpub/564/) .

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Adopting Veronica

Recently I wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Court declared that a Native American father was not covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act’s procedures for TPR because he had abandoned the child before her birth, and the Court stated that ICWA only protects existing families and their relationships. SCOTUS remanded the case to the South Carolina courts to decide the future custody of the child. Last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court found that the couple seeking to adopt Baby Girl – named Veronica – was the only party properly seeking her adoption, and ordered the Family Court to finalize the adoption.

So what happens now? It appears that Veronica will be transferred almost immediately, which is somewhat unusual. Normally, a court would hold a hearing to determine the best interests of the child, and might gradually re-introduce the child to her adoptive parents since, after two years in Oklahoma with her birth father, little Veronica might not feel comfortable moving back into the Capobianco home in South Carolina. In addition, under so-called “grandparent visitation” statutes, the birth father might be awarded some visitation rights. But here, where the adoptive parents and the biological father have fought bitterly for almost Veronica’s whole life (and where they live half a continent away from each other), shared custody might not be a viable option.

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When Did Slavery Really End in the United States?

During the 2012-2013 academic year, Marquette University has sponsored “The Freedom Project,” which was described at the outset as “a year-long commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War that will explore the many meanings and histories of emancipation and freedom in the United States and beyond.” Much of the recent focus has been upon the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued in its final form by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, an event described in impressive detail by Professor Idleman in an earlier post.

An interesting question rarely addressed is whether either the Emancipation Proclamation or the subsequently adopted Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution applied to “Indian Territory.”

By Indian Territory, I refer to that part of the unorganized portion of the American public domain that was set apart for the Native American tribes. More specifically, I use the term to refer to those lands located in modern day Oklahoma that was set aside for the relocation of the so-call “Civilized Tribes” of the Southeastern United States: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.

These tribes were the only Native American groups to formally recognize the institution of African-slavery. As Southerners, the Civilized Tribes had accepted the institution of African-slavery, and at the outset of the Civil War, African-American slaves made up 14% of the population of Indian Territory occupied by the civilized tribes.

As it turns out, neither document applied to Indian Territory, and consequently, slavery survived in that part of the United States for several months after it was abolished everywhere else with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December, 1865.

In 1861, the existence of slavery and a common “southern” heritage, combined with a history of disappointing dealings with the United States government, led the Civilized Tribes to side with the Confederacy rather than the Union. Although the tribes’ effort to secure admission to the Confederate States of America as an “Indian” state failed, each of the five Civilized Tribes entered into treaties with the Confederacy that at least kept open the possibility that they might someday be directly incorporated into the new nation.

(Less well-known is that the Confederacy also entered into treaties with the Comanches, Delawares, Osage, Quapaws, Senecas, Shawnees, and Wichitas.)

Many Civilized Tribe members served in uniform in the Confederate Army—and while some individual Native Americans fought for the Union—the loyalties of the tribes was primarily to the South. Most famously, the last Confederate general to surrender his troops to the Union Army was the Cherokee Stand Watie, who commanded an all-Indian brigade.

The Emancipation Proclamation by its own language appeared not to apply to Indian Territory, as it was specifically limited to “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States.” Since Indian Territory was not a “state,” the Proclamation had no impact in Indian Territory, even if they were arguably in rebellion against the national government.

However, the year before, the United States Congress had enacted legislation abolishing slavery in the “territories.” Act of June 19, 1862, ch. 112, 12 Stat. 432. (According to the 1860 Census, small numbers of slave were present in Utah, Nevada, and Nebraska territories, areas that had been opened to slavery by the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, as well as the Indian-owned slaves in the area that would like become the state of Oklahoma.)

Was it possible that this act had outlawed slavery in Indian Territory? It seems unlikely, given the unique status of the Indian Territory. Although referred to as a “territory,” “Indian Territory” (or “Indian Country” as it was also called) had never been organized as a formal territory (even though it was apparently treated as one for census purposes in 1860.)

Moreover, territories were intended to be proto-states, but in 1862, there is no evidence that anyone in the Congress imagined that the Indian Territory, home to semi-sovereign Indian Tribes, would someday be a state. The problem of Native American tribes coexisting with state governments was what had made the Trail of Tears necessary three decades earlier. Consequently, it was never an actual territory and thus was not one of the areas covered by the 1862 act.

Moreover, subsequent events involving the Cherokees suggest that Native Americans in Indian Territory did not believe that either the 1862 Act or the Emancipation Proclamation had ended slavery in their jurisdiction. In 1862, John Ross, the president of the Cherokee nation, broke with the Confederacy and cast his lot with the Lincoln Administration. Although a majority of Cherokee remained loyal to the Confederacy (and pro-slavery), Ross was able to use his influence on the National Council of the Cherokee Nation to repudiate the treaty with the Confederacy and to abolish slavery in February 1863, slightly more than a month after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. (Pro-Confederate Cherokee, who were concentrated in the southern part of the Cherokee lands, ignored these actions.)

The National Council’s 1863 decision to abolish slavery, if nothing else, illustrated the beliefs of pro-Union Cherokees that neither to Abolition of Slavery in the Territories Act of 1862, nor the Emancipation Proclamation had changed to status of slaves in Indian Territory.

Because of the widespread view that the Tribes were independent sovereigns, physically located in the United States, but not part of the United States, it also seems unlikely that the drafters and ratifiers of the Thirteen Amendment understood that it would end slavery in Indian Territory.

Moreover, the language of the Thirteenth Amendment itself seems to rule out application to the Civilized Tribes. The somewhat awkwardly worded amendment provides that it applies “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The problem is not with the use of “their.” Until the 1870’s, the United States was commonly referred as a plural noun, even when one was talking about a single entity. .

The problem is that Indian Territory was not within the “jurisdiction” of the United States as that term was understood in the 1860’s. Given that the United States government used the international law device of treaties to deal with all Indian Tribes, including the Civilized Tribes, the Lincoln Administration continued the practice of treating the Indian tribes as though they were separate sovereigns, outside the jurisdiction of the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment, enacted in Congress the following year, had a similar disclaimer: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States …” which provided a continuing rationale for treating native-born tribal Indians as non-citizens.

In fact, in 1866, the United States addressed the slavery in Indian Territory issue by entering into new treaties with each of the Civilized Tribes (although the treaty with the Choctaw and the Chickasaw was a joint treaty). Until these treaties, which were signed between March and July and proclaimed in July and August, only the Cherokee had taken steps to abolish slavery. However, in each of the 1866 treaties the tribal signatory acknowledged that slavery would no longer be recognized as a legal institution by the tribe.

If we simply go by the dates on which the Tribes ratified these treaties, slavery in the continental United States came to an end as a legal institution on June 14, 1866, when the Creek Tribe agreed to abandon African-American slavery. The was, somewhat ironically, the day after Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment.

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