Racial Borders
Black Soldiers along the Rio Grande
Texas History - African American Studies
6.125 x 9.25, 264 pp.
10 b&w photos., 1 map.
Pub Date: 06/11/2010
Perspectives on South Texas, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Kingsville
  paper
Price:        $19.95 s

978-1-60344-159-9
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2003 Southwest Book Award, presented by the Border Regional Library Association
 
2002 T.R. Fehrenbach Award, presented by the Texas Historical Commission

Racial Borders

Black Soldiers along the Rio Grande

By James N. Leiker

When the Civil War ended, hundreds of African Americans enlisted in the U.S. Army to gain social mobility and regular paychecks. Stationed in the West prior to 1898, these black soldiers protected white communities, forced Native Americans onto government reservations, patrolled the Mexican border, and broke up labor disputes in mining areas. African American men, themselves no strangers to persecution, aided the subjugation of Indian and Hispanic peoples throughout the West. It can hardly be surprising, then, that the relations among these groups became complex and often hostile–hardly surprising, but rarely examined.

Despised by the white settlers they protected, many black soldiers were sent to posts along the Texas-Mexico border— perceived to be a “safe place to put them.” The interactions there among blacks, whites, and Hispanics during the period leading up to the Punitive Expedition and World War I offer the opportunity to study the complicated, even paradoxical nature of American race relations. James N. Leiker has applied the sophisticated perspectives of new social history to the experience of the buffalo soldiers and their legacy in southern and western Texas in an effort to gain new insight about race in the West.

Racial Borders establishes the army’s fundamental role in transforming the Rio Grande from a “frontier” into a “border” and shows how that transformation itself brought a tightening of racial and national categories. But more importantly, it warns about the dangers of simplifying history into groupings of “white and non-white,” “oppressors and oppressed.”

Leiker draws on Mexican and U.S. military records and Texas state and black national newspapers to do more than provide an account of the shifting loyalties of race and nationalism along the Rio Grande over a fifty-year span; he reminds scholars and reformers about the tangled history of race relations in America.

JAMES N. LEIKER received his Ph.D. in U.S. social history from the University of Kansas and has published numerous articles on African Americans and nineteenth-century westward expansion. An assistant professor at St. Cloud State University, he has taught courses in U.S. history and race relations.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Race, class, religion, national ties, and the border itself all helped shape the evolving connections between black soldiers, Indians, Anglos, and Latinos. Looking at all of these factors, James Leiker has crafted a sophisticated, nuanced study of human relations along the lower Rio Grande. This book advances the study of race relations in the West to a new level.”--Frank N. Schubert

“...presents a nuanced approach to understanding this border area...Overall, this interesting study helps the reader to understand the reactions of the many groups in the area to the presence of the United States Army and its four African American units." -Journal of American History


“Race, class, religion, national ties, and the border itself all helped shape the evolving connections between black soldiers, Indians, Anglos, and Latinos. Looking at all of these factors, James Leiker has crafted a sophisticated, nuanced study of human relations along the lower Rio Grande. This book advances the study of race relations in the West to a new level.” --Frank N. Schubert

“James Leiker has crafted a finely nuanced examination of the Rio Grande region which examines the shifting meaning of border, race and nationalism through the prism of the buffalo soldiers who interacted with Anglos, Tejanos, Mexicans and Indians in the region for nearly half a century. This book, a history of the complexities and ironies generated by the intersection of international and racial boundaries, will add enormously to our understanding of the construction of identity in the West.” --Quintard Taylor

“. . . intriguing . . .” -American Studies


“Overall, the study adds greatly to knowledge of race relations in West Texas from the 1860s to 1917, and should be read in conjunction with Thomas Smith, The Old Army in Texas.” --Allan O. Kownslar

“Racial Borders fills an important role in the understanding of the black soldier’s place in western social and military history. To fully understand the implications of “Buffalo Soldiers” serving their country, one must read this fine book. Get a copy to round out your understanding of little known events in our history.” --Mexia Daily News

". . . a fine example of new social history. . . .”-Journal of America's Military Past


“He paints a complex picture of the often ambiguous circumstance of the buffalo soldiers along the southwest frontier.” --History: Reviews of New Books

“This study is based on a comprehensive array of primary documents, including newspapers, diaries, memoirs, archival collections, and military records. Leiker makes an important contribution to African American history during the late 19th century while also providing a lucid commentary on the evolving racial structures of the Texas/Mexico border during that era. General and academic collections at all levels.” --L. T. Cummins, Austin College

“. . . intriguing . . .” --American Studies

“...presents a nuanced approach to understanding this border area...Overall, this interesting study helps the reader to understand the reactions of the many groups in the area to the presence of the United States Army and its four African American units.” --Journal of American History

“. . . intriguing and enlightening . . . It is difficult to do justice to this informative, well-conceived, readable, and though-provoking study in a short review. Suffice it to say James Leiker’s Racial Borders is well worth reading for anyone, but especially those individuals interested in western history in general, in borderlands studies, in military history, and in ethnic history.” --The Journal of Arizona History

“The author supports his study with impressive research. This includes the use of primary American and Mexican sources, local newspapers, and relevant historiography. All helped him produce balanced conclusions. With the publication of Racial Borders, Leiker has established himself as a leading authority on African American military history. Although his work is far from conventional, it is a fine example of new social history and should be widely read.” --The Journal of America’s Military Past

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