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…the state of Oklahoma in 1907, in the dreadful Trail of Tears during the 1830s. They were known as “civilized,” in part, because they owned black slaves.

But even in these tribes, the number of slaves was quite small: According to the 1860 census, four of these tribes (the largest being the Cherokee) owned 7,369 slaves, compared to a total of 3.9 million slaves in the United States that same year. Nevertheless, black slaves made up about 12.5 percent of the total population in Indian Territory in 1860, a sufficient ratio within a recent enough period to mate rather broadly and leave a significant genetic legacy among African Americans today. Claudio Saunt stresses that these figures are undercounts, but the total numbers are tiny, even if we double them (404 free black people also were living in Indian Territory that same year).

In other words, if you can trace your ancestry, as Don Cheadle can, to black ancestors living in what is now Oklahoma between 1840 and 1908, your chances of being among the “genetic 5 percenters” is much higher than for any other African Americans. And chances are you probably do have a significant amount of Native American ancestry. If you don’t descend from ancestors who lived with these Native American tribes or in Oklahoma, the odds are much greater you have very little Native American ancestry.

For more interesting facts, click here.

Why Most Black People DON’T Have “Indian In Their Family”  was originally published on

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