Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality on the Frontier

By Jacob Jurss | Black Perspectives

At the turn of the 20th century historian Frederick Jackson Turner argued, “[t]he frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization.” His interpretation of an east to west moving frontier focused on the Europeans experience. It also shaped how generations of Americans perceived not only the history of the American West and creation of the United States, but also which people’s stories were central to that American identity. Since Turner delivered his thesis in 1893 historians of the American West have challenged its conclusions and have worked to uncover the missing and hidden histories buried by a master narrative informed by Manifest Destiny. From this research came new western history, borderlands studies, and settler colonialism theory, which serve as tools that challenge and disrupt the master narrative. Yet as Anna-Lisa Cox’s The Bone and Sinew of the Landpersuasively argues the lives of African American pioneers in the Old Northwest remain largely untold even by recent histories.

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