The Land Rush of 1889 and White Supremacy

'Oklahoma Run.' Oil on canvas by Robert Lindneux
‘Oklahoma Run.’ Oil on canvas by Robert Lindneux

The Oklahoma land rush of 1889 is the subject of much lore including paintings, photographs, movies, and more. The background of how this hord of white people came to acquire stakes in what had been Indian Territory under the removal acts of the pre-Civil War era is an example of long standing white supremacist policies concerning the fate of Native Americans. There is an interesting twist however in the details of how this event came about.

During the Civil War the Indian tribes who occupied the territory west of the Mississippi River had taken different sides in the conflict. Some backed the North and some the Confederacy. After the Civil War the victorious North penalized the tribes that had supported the Confederacy and large tracks of land were ceded to the Federal government. This composed a large portion of the land that became the subject of the land rush.

In contrast, the same victorious Northerners did not see fit to penalize the Southern white land-owning class that had conducted a war of secession that remains the longest and largest military conflict on the North American continent. Following the pattern of white supremacy that has been at the center of the European conquest of the Western Hemisphere from the very first moment, the newly freed slaves were left substantially landless. Sharecropping and lifelong indebtedness to white landowners followed. Jim Crow racial laws, terror from the Klu Klux Klan, and regular lynchings at the hands of white mobs became their fate.