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The Genius of Dr. Tiya Miles

University of Michigan professor recently won a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius” Award

(page 5 of 6)

She was 26, researching an African slave named Doll who was purchased in the 1790s by a Cherokee farmer and celebrated warrior named Shoe Boots. 

“I called a state archive and asked if they had material I could use on this topic,” Miles recalls.  “I said my real interest was looking at Black and Native women. The archivist laughed out loud!”

Miles was devastated. “He said Black women were not important enough to be remembered and Native women were not important enough to be remembered, let alone together,” Miles recalls, as her office darkens with clouds passing overhead.

She feared she’d never write her dissertation—or graduate.

That’s when her mentor, Native American historian Dr. Jean O’Brien at the University of Minnesota, encouraged her to persevere. 

“She said if I knew that Shoe Boots and Doll existed, I should not give up.  Four months later, I found the most important document, the Shoe Boots Emancipation with Shoe Boots and Doll.” The subject matter became Miles’ first book, Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom (2005), which of course she sent — along with her second book, The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story (University of North Carolina Press 2011)—to the archivist who had laughed at her.

As she says this, smiling, the sun suddenly illuminates her office.

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