Alaina E. Roberts

Alaina E. Roberts

Phillis Wheatly Book Award-winning author Alaina E. Roberts will discuss her book “I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land” at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 in Mt. Lebanon High School Fine Arts Theatre.

Roberts is a professor in the University of Pittsburgh History Department.

An audience question-and-answer session and book signing will follow. Books will be for sale by City Books.

The program is co-sponsored by Mt. Lebanon Public Library and Historical Society of Mount Lebanon. The event is funded by Allegheny County Library Association’s Equity in Action grant.

This talk is free, but registration is required at or by calling 412-531-1912.

Perhaps no other symbol has more resonance in African-American history than that of “40 acres and a mule,” the lost promise of Black reparations for slavery after the Civil War. In “I’ve Been Here All the While,” readers meet the Black people who actually received the 40 acres, the American settlers who coveted this land, and the Native Americans whose holdings were its origins.

In 19th-century Indian Territory, later Oklahoma, a story unfolds that ties African American and Native American history tightly together, revealing a western theater of Civil War and Reconstruction, in which Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Indians, their Black slaves, and African Americans and whites from the eastern United States fought military and rhetorical battles to lay claim to land that had been taken from others.

Through chapters that chart cycles of dispossession, land seizure and settlement in Indian Territory, Roberts draws on archival research and family history to upend the traditional story of Reconstruction. She connects debates about Black freedom and Native American citizenship to westward expansion onto Native land.

As Black, white and Native people constructed ideas of race, belonging and national identity, that part of the West became, for a short time, the last place where Black people could escape Jim Crow, finding land and exercising political rights, until Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907.