“An important part of American history told with a clear-eyed and forceful brilliance.” —National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson
“We Refuse to Forget reminds readers, on damn near every page, that we are collectively experiencing a brilliance we've seldom seen or imagined…We Refuse to Forget is a new standard in book-making.” —Kiese Laymon, author of the bestselling Heavy: An American Memoir
A landmark work of untold American history that reshapes our understanding of identity, race, and belonging
In We Refuse to Forget, award-winning journalist Caleb Gayle tells the extraordinary story of the Creek Nation, a Native tribe that two centuries ago both owned slaves and accepted Black people as full citizens. Thanks to the efforts of Creek leaders like Cow Tom, a Black Creek citizen who rose to become chief, the U.S. government recognized Creek citizenship in 1866 for its Black members. Yet this equality was shredded in the 1970s when tribal leaders revoked the citizenship of Black Creeks, even those who could trace their history back generations—even to Cow Tom himself.
Why did this happen? How was the U.S. government involved? And what are Cow Tom’s descendants and other Black Creeks doing to regain their citizenship? These are some of the questions that Gayle explores in this provocative examination of racial and ethnic identity. By delving into the history and interviewing Black Creeks who are fighting to have their citizenship reinstated, he lays bare the racism and greed at the heart of this story. We Refuse to Forget is an eye-opening account that challenges our preconceptions of identity as it shines new light on the long shadows of white supremacy and marginalization that continue to hamper progress for Black Americans.
About the Author
Caleb Gayle is an award-winning journalist who writes about race and identity. A professor at Northeastern University, he is a fellow at New America, PEN America, Harvard's Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies, and a visiting scholar at New York University. Gayle’s writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Guernica, and other publications. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Gayle is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, the University of Oxford, and has an MBA and a master’s in public policy, both from Harvard University. He lives in Boston.
Praise for We Refuse to Forget:
“Black Creek stories, rich with both the subtleties and the crudenesses of America’s racial history, force us all to contemplate new forms of reckoning.” —The New Yorker
“An illuminating look at racial dynamics within [the] Creek Nation…Sharp character sketches, incisive history lessons, and Gayle’s autobiographical reflections as a Jamaican American transplant to Oklahoma make this a powerful portrait of how white supremacy ‘divides marginalized groups and pits them against each other.’” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
"Caleb Gayle's rich and important book reminds us that American history is more surprising, terrible, and, yes, inspiring than we often care to know. The history he weaves is deeply relevant to today's movements for racial justice and Indigenous rights, as well as to the enduring and quintessential question, ‘who is an American?’ I'm grateful for the painstaking work Gayle has done to answer this question for all of us." —Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us
“Caleb Gayle—as a journalist, the son of Jamaican immigrants, and a son of the country—has written a gripping history of the fully black and fully Creek citizens of the tribe who have struggled against both the Republic and the Creek Nation to secure their rightful place in both. He tells a complicated story of the past and in doing so sheds light on the ways our fantasies of race endure and are, gradually, being undone. A vital work. ” —David Treuer, author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee
“When Caleb Gayle wrote this book, he reached back into history to find power. By telling the stories of elders like Cow Tom and other Black Creeks who refused to simplify our understanding of race, he amplified that our stories escape categories because our lives are rich and complex. In the end, he let us not forget that America can handle every part that makes us whole.” —Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist
“We Refuse to Forget reminds readers, on damn near every page, that we are collectively experiencing a brilliance we've seldom seen or imagined. Caleb Gayle welcomes us and then deftly interrogates and really initiates the parts of my experience and imagination that I do not want to wholly accept as home. We Refuse to Forget is a new standard in book-making.” —Kiese Laymon, author of the bestselling Heavy: An American Memoir
“Caleb Gayle is both historian and griot. We Refuse to Forget is an important part of American history told with a clear-eyed and forceful brilliance.” —Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award-winning author of Red at the Bone
“A good reminder of a forgotten piece of American history about the Creek Nation, which both enslaved Blacks and accepted Blacks as citizens.” —Atlanta Journal Constitution