Unpacking the Complicated History of the Black Cowboy

GEN | Medium / August 13, 2021

Alaina Roberts, an assistant professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land,” wrestles with the tension between the historical and popular culture depiction of Black cowboys. Her work uses archival research to connect “debates about Black freedom and Native American citizenship, to westward expansion on Native land.” She says that Black cowboys, who did various categories of work, were also a part of settling the West and its territories into the United States.

Juneteenth is a Celebration of Freedom from Slavery. But it Didn't Mean Freedom for All

USA Today / June 18, 2021

Native Americans adopted Black chattel slavery from Europeans as early as the 1500s, said Alaina Roberts, a University of Pittsburgh history professor. But these five specific tribes [the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole] began assimilating into European-American culture in the late 1700s, including owning slaves as a way to accumulate wealth, she said.

10 Fascinating American Cultural Histories

Book Riot / June 14, 2021

The United States has had a bit of a problem with geography for *checks notes* its entire existence, ever since a bunch of refugees came over and, instead of asking for asylum, just took over. That’s a lot of ground to cover (sorry, I had to), so this book ["I've Been Here All the While"] just takes on a tiny bit of that history, exploring how the “40 acres and a mule” offer extended to newly freed slaves intersected with “Indian Territory” and the longstanding conflict between Native and white imperialists when it came to land and property and ownership. What I appreciate about this approach is that we typically view racial and cultural conflict or collaboration in the United States as a White people x [Insert minority group here] issue and not as interactions between two marginalized groups.

Freed Slaves and Native Americans

C-SPAN / June 2, 2021

Alaina Roberts discussed her new book, “I’ve Been Here All the While - Black Freedom on Native Land,” in which she uses archival research and family history to reexamine the land rights of Indigenous peoples, freed African Americans, and white settlers during Reconstruction. This virtual program was hosted by The Newberry.

A Massacre, Not a Riot

Pittwire (Pitt Office of Communications news) / May 27, 2021

“I tell this story, a unification of Black, Native and white narratives, not only as a historian but also as a descendant of all four peoples: white settlers, Indian freedpeople, African Americans from the United States and Native members of tribal nations. On the one hand, it fills me with pride to think of the resilience of my Chickasaw and Choctaw forebears, who took a forced passage to a new land and turned it into an opportunity to create politically strategic and economically successful nations. And I feel honored to possess the rare legacy of historical Black landownership on the Roberts side of my family,” she writes in the book’s introduction.

Is This Land Made for You and Me?: How African Americans Came to Indian Territory after the Civil War (book excerpt)

Lapham's Quarterly / May 26, 2021

During and after enslavement in the United States, the West, and especially Indian Territory, represented freedom, possibility, and amelioration. Rumors that Indian nations would take in runaway slaves or that enslaved people in the Five Tribes—the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Nations—were treated better than enslaved people owned by whites bred this mythology. While the truth behind these beliefs was far more complex, the West proved to be an attractive destination for an increasing number of Southern African Americans after emancipation.

Native Americans Weren't Alone on the Trail of Tears. Enslaved Africans Were There, Too

CNN / May 9, 2021

"Owning slaves was a part of their strategy to assimilate into American society and it allowed them to be seen as different from other Native people and as more civilized," said Roberts, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. Roberts tells the story of how Oklahoma became a melting pot and the decades of racial tensions that preceded the Tulsa Race Massacre in her new book "I've Been Here All The While: Black Freedom on Native Land."

"I've Been Here All the While" Tells a Unique Slave Story

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / May 6, 2021

When it comes to race, American history is a perpetual factory of both injustices and ironies. At the heart of Alaina E. Roberts’ “I’ve Been Here All The While: Black Freedom on Native Land” is this: The only formerly enslaved Blacks who received any kind of reparations after the Civil War were some of those individuals who’d been owned by Native Americans — the very Natives whom, decades earlier, the U.S. government had driven from the South into what’s now Oklahoma.

Pittsburgh Author's Book Explores 'Black Freedom on Native Land' in the Old West

90.5 WESA FM / April 22, 2021

Roberts is a University of Pittsburgh professor specializing in the intersection of Black and Native American history. But that history is also one she lives, as the descendant of Creek and Chickasaw freed people who once inhabited that very land (though Roberts grew up in California). And it’s a slice of history that can help readers interpret a grim centennial: This May marks 100 years since the Tulsa Massacre, when mobs of whites killed hundreds of Blacks in Tulsa, Okla., and burned down the community known as Black Wall Street.

Black Reconstruction in Indian Territory

15 Minute History / April 14, 2021

Nineteenth-Century Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma) was home to a wide array of groups including Native American Nations, enslaved Indian Freed-people, African Americans, White settlers, and others. In a conversation on Black Reconstruction in Indian Territory, Alaina Roberts discusses what Reconstruction might have meant for Black people in what is now called Oklahoma in the years immediately following the Civil War, and why it should be included in broader conversations about Reconstruction.

The Women in the Windows

Pittwire (Pitt Office of Communications News) / March 4, 2021

Pitt Assistant Professor of History Alaina Roberts says, of all the women in the windows, Pocahontas is her favorite. “She was an important intermediary between her people, the Powhatan, and British colonists in Virginia,” she said. “Pittsburgh has a rich and complicated colonial history on European-Native American relations, so it is fitting that a Native woman who did so much is depicted at one of our city’s landmarks.”

The Tulsa Race Riots, history you were not told

Medicine for the Resistance / January 21, 2021

A candid interview with Alaina Roberts: My ancestors were Black and mixed race people... But I did not know that the owners were native people. So that was kind of a mind blowing thing to learn. And then to learn that my particular family’s history which is Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians is particularly under studied. A lot of the work done on Freedmen is on the Cherokees, sometimes Seminoles so I really wanted to kind of rectify that inequality and the sources.

Black Freedom On Native Land: An Interview with Alaina Roberts

Being Human Podcast / December 1, 2020

An interview with Alaina Roberts, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. The interview focuses on Professor Roberts' research and writing, in particular her forthcoming book I've Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land. Listen here or on Soundcloud

At 26, Youngest Woman to Receive a History PhD at Indiana University

Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, Indiana University /

“I think there’s a reasonable possibility that she will be a leading scholar in her field, if you want to look 10 to 15 years down the line. I think that would mean that she would have earned a reputation as a very original and thought-provoking scholar who looks at the problem of race in American history and in general,” said John Bodnar, IU Bloomington distinguished and chancellor’s professor of history.

In 2017 IEHS scholars made history

IEHS Online The Website of Immigration and Ethnic History Society / December 19, 2017

In 2017, historians entered the fray. Immigration and ethnic history society scholars, especially, have been called to bring historical thinking and analysis to policy issues and public debates about immigration, citizenship, borders, white supremacy, and vulnerable and marginalized communities. Not only do scholars who study immigration history have subject expertise to share that can help us navigate today’s crises, but as educators and humanists, we are also bringing evidence, critical thinking, and knowledge to debates where they are often missing, in a context of epistemological uncertainty.