Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Maria K. John

Second Advisor

J. Cedric Woods

Third Advisor

Carolyn Goldstein


In 1970, the town of Plymouth, MA asked an Aquinnah Wampanoag man named Wamsutta Frank James to give a speech at the Governor’s 350th banquet commemorating the landing of the pilgrims. Upon reading a copy of his speech, officials rescinded their invitation for James to speak. The circulation of “Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta Frank James,” led to the creation of the National Day of Mourning (NDOM). As the first Native American protest against this Thanksgiving narrative, NDOM occupies a unique space in the history of Native American Studies. But compared to other major moments of Indigenous protest throughout the 1970s, the NDOM remains considerably understudied. This thesis seeks to address some of these gaps that remain in the historiography by studying the impact of the NDOM and the activism of James himself.

Utilizing first-hand accounts, newspaper articles, and discussions with James’ granddaughter, Kisha James, this argument emerges from an analysis of these sources, and it is upon my analysis that the evidence for this argument rests.

I argue that the National Day of Mourning effectively challenges the Thanksgiving narrative, setting the example for later Native American demonstrations that would adopt James’ method of “dual confrontation” to combat historical erasure throughout the decade, up to the U.S. Bicentennial. This thesis argues that concepts of “blood quantum” hindered the ability of participants and outside observers from recognizing James as an “authentic” Native American because he did not align with overwhelming notions of Indigeneity, which put northeastern Indigenous peoples at a disadvantage for having more diverse communities. These concepts have allowed NDOM and James’ to be over-looked and understudied in the historiographical record, contributing to the repeated inaccuracy that he delivered this speech.

As a historical study with intersections of race and memory, this thesis contributes a new narrative and way of understanding the National Day of Mourning. Looking at how James activism and the NDOM itself altered the town of Plymouth, serves as an example of what the historical record currently lacks, and the impact that we can unearth when we analyze the record beyond these ubiquitous tools of erasure.


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