Monday, October 19, 2020

Upcoming Virtual Conference to Highlight Freedmen Presence in Greenwood District of Tulsa


The Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association and the African Indians of the 5 Civilized Tribes Foundation FIRST VIRTUAL CONFERENCE, Saturday, November 7, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CST.

Special Featured Guest speakers:

-Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin

-Freedmen descendant  Dr. John Whittington Franklin, Senior Manager Emeritus, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Managing Member Franklin Global LLC       

Panel of Lawyers will discuss the McGirt decision and its effect on tribal court, freedmen litigation, sovereignty, and the impact on the North Tulsa community.  
-Cherokee Nation District Court Judge Luke Barteaux
-Former Creek Nation Assistant Attorney General John Parris, and Assistant Public Defender of the Colorado River Indian Tribe 
-Branton Grissum who is a Creek freedmen descendant. 

Panel of African American Authors will discuss North Tulsa community issues.  
-Attorney and author Hannibal B. Johnson 
-Retired professor and author Art T. Burton 
-Author and professional genealogist Angela Walton-Raji , Choctaw Freedmen descendant. 

Panel Discussion on Racial Reconciliation
-Cherokee tribal councilman Joe Deere
-Author/journalist Randy Krehbiel
-North Tulsa Cherokee Community Organization President Waynetta Lawrie 

Other speakers include historians: 
Eli Grayson Citizen of Creek Nation
David Cornsilk, Citizen of Cherokee Nation 
-Reuben Gant, Citizen of Cherokee Nation  and Executive Director John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.  

In addition: There will be featured presentations of guest artists, theatrical performances and more.  All are Welcome!!

Conference tickets are available HERE.

“Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association Virtual Conference”

For more information visit the Facebook Page


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Researching Slave Holders in Indian Territory

 If your ancestors were Freedmen from Indian Territory, this video might assist you in the study of the period of enslavement. By using the 1860 Slave Schedule, you might learn some facts about the community of enlsaved people where your ancestors. 

Hopefully this video will be useful.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

"At First Only the Homes Were Quarantined": Oklahoma Freedmen Recall Health Epidemics

"At first only the homes were quarantined, but later it was so bad, 

that the whole town was quarantined. Lots of people died."   

Henry Clay, Chickasha Oklahoma - 1937


In this unique time of a global pandemic, we should note that many who came before us, also faced times of health crisis in their lifetime. A century ago, many families suffered the loss of loved ones during the period of the Spanish Influenza, of 1918. Others during the same decade had ancestors who faced the threat of tuberculosis.

Earlier, in 19th century, cases of smallpox, measles yellow, fever and cholera also plagued daily life. In Indian Territory, many Freedmen also faced outbreaks of cholera, smallpox and other epidemics. Some spoke about it to their families, and others left words behind in the Indian Pioneer project in the 1930s and some of them told the stories of how they fared during that time of health crisis.

I am sharing a few quotes from Freedmen who were interviewed in the Indian Pioneer Project.

Anderson Bean , Muskogee  (Interviewed February 27, 19370
"I remember the cholera soon after we moved here. A negro man was the first one who died, and a negro woman was next. She died the same day. It was on Monday. They were not kin, and they did not live near each other. They just died sudden-like. It wasn't anything for someone to say that so-and-so "is dead". And you would say, "no he ain't dead. I was just talking to him about an hour ago" and the answer was, "makes no difference, he's dead, now." Some claimed that the muskrats that came up on the river boats were what started the cholera. My brother died with it. The government moved us Negroes out onto Four Mile Creek, until the cholera was over. Some of the people died while out there. Russell Vann picked out a cemetery. It is still in use. My mother was buried there in 1908. You can see her tombstone over there in the cemetery if you go there. Her name was Crosby Bean. She was born in 1802."

Jake Simmons, (Interviewed 1937)

"In 1881, there was a smallpox epidemic at Okmulgee, Indian Territory, and it came near wiping out the entire population of this village. They attributed the epidemic to the Bill Fryer family who had moved into the settlement."

Mary Nivens, (Interviewed February 22, 1937)

"Was I in the cholera? Does I know anything about it? Well, I reckon I does. Mr., I tried to die. All my folks died. I tried to die. Mr. I wouldn't tell you no lie, I sho' did try to die. I et green corn and green cabbage, and everything I could, tryin' to get that cholera so I could die, too. All my folks died and I didn't want to live, but I just couldn't die. The government put us out on Four Mile Creek and we lived under trees and in tents. The government give us our rations. Russell Vann picked out the cemetery location when the first one died out there. People would drink pusley tea and everything they could, trying to do something for the cholera. But they just took sick and died in a few hours."

Henry Clay, Chickasha (Interviewed June 16, 1937)

"In 1902 or 1903, Black Smallpox hit the town. At first only the homes were quarantined, but later it was so bad, that the whole town was quarantined. Lots of people died."

It is clear that 19th century threats to the public health affected Freedmen from the Five Tribes,as well as people throughout continental North America. The few words extracted above, from the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma reflect the crises that they faced.

As we deal with the challenges of the current global pandemic with Covid-19 virus, we can find some comfort knowing that our ancestors came through those years when medicine was not advanced. They faced the future with a fear that we also can understand. We can be comforted, however, with the knowledge that the epidemics that they faced did subside, as this one will, as well. And like our ancestors, we should remember to tell the stories of how we faced the situation. This is the time to journal, to record our own feelings, and to pass this to the next generation.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Enslaved by the General---The Slaves of Gen. Douglas H. Cooper

In 2011, researcher Terry Ligon wrote an article about General Douglas Cooper of the Chickasaw Nation. Recently while I was going through slave schedules of Indian Territory, an image caught my attention. I took note of the people enslaved by Douglas H. Cooper in 1860. At the time, he resided in the Tishomingo area of the Chickasaw Nation and he held eleven people enslaved at that time.

1860 Slaves Schedule, Tishomingo, Chickasaw Nation, Page 1

One cannot help but feel compassion for the 70 year old man and the 60 year old woman whose lifetime was one of enslavement and who by their ages, one knows that they were brought to the Territory while young and in their prime of their life with no future. Likewise one cannot help but also feel for the children, held enslaved by the same man. Their childhoods were robbed and they were doomed to a future of toil for the same man and his family. 

Children enslaved by Douglas Cooper

Thankfully, a war would erupt a year later, and though Cooper would emerge to be a general in the Confederate Army, directing the actions of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, his side would lose, and at last the family he enslaved, had a new life of freedom. Though the war ended in 1865, they would not officially have freedom until 1866 when the Treaty of 1866 was signed abolishing slavery in the Chickasaw Nation.
Language from the treaty:
    'Article II. The Choctaws and Chickasaws hereby covenant and agree that henceforth neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, otherwise than in punishment of crime, whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted in accordance with laws applicable to all members of the particular nation, shall ever exist in said nations.
    'Article III. The Choctaws and Chickasaws, in consideration of the sum of three hundred thousand dollars, hereby cede to the United States the territory west of the 98 west longitude, known as the leased district, provided that the said sum shall be invested and held by the United States, at an interest not less than five per cent, in trust for the said nations, until the legislatures of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, respectively, shall have made such laws, rules, and regulations as may be necessary to give all the persons of African descent, resident in the said nations at the date of the treaty of Fort Smith, and their descendants, heretofore held in slavery among said nations, all the rights, privileges, and immunities, including the right of suffrage, of citizens of said nations, except in the annuities, moneys, and public domain claimed by or belonging to said nations, respectively; and also to give to such persons who were residents, as aforesaid, and their descendants, forty acres each of the land of said nations on the same terms as the Choctaws and Chickasaws, to be selected on the survey of said land, after the Choctaws and Chickasaws and Kansas Indians have made their selections as herein provided; and immediately on the enactment of such laws, rules, and regulations the said sum of three hundred thousand dollars shall be paid to the said Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in the proportion [193 U.S. 115, 118]   of three-fourths to the former and one-fourth to the latter,-less such sum, at the rate of one hundred dollars per capita, as shall be sufficient to pay such persons of African descent before referred to as, within ninety days after the passage of such laws, rules, and regulations, shall elect to remove and actually remove from the said nations, respectively. And should said laws, rules, and regulations not be made by the legislatures of the said nations, respectively, within two years from the ratification of this treaty, then the said sum of three hundred thousand dollars shall cease to be held in trust for the said Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, and be held for the use and benefit of such of said persons of African descent as the United States shall remove from the said Territory in such manner as the United States shall deem proper,-the United States agreeing, within ninety days from the expiration of the said two years, to remove from said nations all such persons of African descent as may be willing to remove; those remaining or returning after having been removed from said nations to have no benefit of said sum of three hundred thousand dollars, or any part thereof, but shall be upon the same footing as other citizens of the United States in the said nations.' [14 Stat. at L. 769.]

So, questions emerged for me---Were those once enslaved by Cooper, still in contact with them after freedom came?  Did they also have contact with Mary, Joanna, and others cited in Terry's post? Did they know the daughter of Cooper who later developed mental problems later in life? 

More important questions also arose-----How were they affected by the relations between Chickasaw freedpeople and those who once enslaved them? For many years Chickasaw Freedmen were disenfranchised by their own nation. Did many of the Cooper slaves remain in the area, or did they leave?

Were they associates of other mixed blood Black-Chickasaw and Black-Choctaw families like the Chicos (Sheecoes)? The responses to Terry Ligon's original article (found in the comments on his blog) revealed that there are those who descend from the Cooper family, and there were also other mixed blood families facing similar challenges to identity and status.

I did find one significant----did the enslaved remain in Tishomingo--or did they leave the area? One answer is found in the northern part of the Choctaw Nation, in Cavanaugh, Indian Territory. There, Mary Helena Jones appeared in front of the Dawes Commission and applied to enroll herself and her four children, Elijah, Emma, Silas and Tener. They were enrolled on Choctaw Freedman card number 1469. Mary was only in her twenties and was born after slavery ended. But an interesting note appears on her card---that Mary and her children were "descendants of General Cooper's slaves."

A close up view reflects the Jones family and their connections to General Cooper.

Mary's mother was a woman called Maggie Johnson, and it is noted on the back of Mary's card that Maggie was enslaved by Douglas Cooper.

On mother Maggie Johnson's enrollment card it is clear that there was a connection to Douglas Cooper. Her name is found on enrollment card number 1468, and Douglas Cooper's name appears as the slave holder.  Likewise, on the back side of the card, he was the one who had also enslaved her parents.

Interestingly, her parents' names were Lewis and Maria Gordon. They chose not to use the name of Douglas Cooper the one who once held them enslaved.

Living not far away from Maggie, was a sister Lucy Givens, whose parents were also Lewis and Maria Gordon.

And not surprisingly another member of the family lived in Cavanaugh---Annie Furr, daughter of Lucy Givens.

From the Braden Community

Not far from Cavanaugh, is the community of Braden, also in the northern part of the Choctaw Nation. This community was not far from the Givens and Gordons, and there, one finds another daughter of Lewis and Maria Gordon. Her name was Mary Ann Ellis whose daughter Frances had married into the Cole family.

And the Gordon family continued through the family of Silla Clark. Silla was also a daughter of Lewis and Maria Gordon, all enslaved by Douglas Cooper.

This effort to find some of the families enslaved by Douglas Cooper has been an interesting one. I also ended up recognizing the surnames of families that later migrated across the state line into western Arkansas and have settled in nearby Ft. Smith. Gordons, Furrs, Givens, Coles and others clearly had left Tishomingo, and chose to move far away from the community of Douglas Cooper. They also chose not to retain his surname. 

A Patriarch Found

A final glance at the records indicated that there might be another elder to find---Lewis Gordon lived to see Freedom! 

He was once directly enslaved by General Douglas Cooper, and he too, in the 1890s was living in Cavanaugh---in the Choctaw Nation. Clearly, it was important for him and his descendants to leave the Chickasaw Nation  which was once home to them, and they formed their new home in the northernmost part of the Choctaw Nation in Cavanaugh and Braden. He applied in 1898 at the approximately at the age of 89 years. But he died before the rolls were closed, and as a result, his card was canceled but thankfully significant data survives.

Lewis Gordon provided the names of his parents, Bob, and Patience. He did not provide a surname for them, but nevertheless he said their names. Noting Gordon's age, he was not only enslaved by Cooper, but he would have been one of the many African people transported west during the removal--the Trail of Tears. Whether or not Bob and Patience, his parents, came with him or not, is not known.

However, the lineage of Lewis Gordon is documented, nevertheless. Clearly the legacy of this family  extends beyond Douglas Cooper the confederate general and slave holder. These families moved away when it was safe and wise to do so, planting their roots on different soil, and these families survived, and thrived, and hopefully their legacy will continue with vigor and strength.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Open Letter to Curriculum Developers of Oklahoma History

Several weeks ago an erroneous message came forth from the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. On their website there was a statement that "slaves found refuge in the Chickasaw Nation."

Images from website

This statement was placed on the official website until finally word was passed to those in charge that the statement was not simply incorrect. It was, in fact, placing a false narrative about the relationship between Chickasaws and people who were enslaved by most of their leaders in the 19th century.

In recent days information was shared in a social media history research group for descendants of Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen, about the curriculum for use as part of the Chickasaw elementary school curriculum. The text has a statement that does not address the history of  slavery to any degree. The piece was shared to the group, actually painted slave holders as the victims in the one small piece that mentioned slavery.

(excerpt from Chickasaw Elementary School Curriculum)

This focus of this appeal, is not to malign the Chickasaw Nation, nor the Chickasaw people. Nor it is a piece intending to put forth an angry narrative about the lives and treatment of Freedmen  in the difficult post Civil War era.

The goal of this piece  is to address the fact that several thousand people lived, worked, toiled, and died among Chickasaw people, as Chickasaw slaves, and later as Chickasaw Freedmen. And a similar story is found among the other slave holding tribes, that also brought their southern culture with them to the Territory--- they brought their language, foodways, burial practices, and among those who could afford it--the enslavement of human beings.

After Freedom, Chickasaw Freedmen remained in the Territory---it was their home. They spoke the Chickasaw language, ate the Chickasaw food, and practiced the culture as a Chickasaw-influenced people. And many Chickasaws today have Freedmen descendants among their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. Many Chickasaws today have Freedmen descendants in their families, and some have Freedmen descendants as husbands, as wives, and also as children. Those relatives, those family members deserve to be a part of the history that is theirs.

Most educators would agree with the following:

*To tell the story of the United States of America, without the mention of the practice of slavery would be a lie---of omission.

*To tell the story of pre-statehood Oklahoma without mention of the Trail of Tears would be a lie of omission.

But I must add to that agreement:

*To tell the story of pre-statehood Oklahoma without the mention of slavery would be a lie of omission.

*To tell the story of the Chickasaw Nation and all of the Five "Civilized" without their own involvement in the practice of slavery would be a lie of omission.

Descendants of those enslaved people who fought for freedom and won---they too are Oklahomans, living on Oklahoma soil and trusting their educators to tell them the story of the amazing land where they live. Yet, at the same time, the descendants of those Freedmen, who still remain in Oklahoma are finding that their own history is being omitted. There were thousands of Freedmen in Oklahoma at the beginning of statehood.

For reference this was the population in 1906 before statehood:
Cherokee Freedmen 3,982
Choctaw Freedmen 5254
Chickasaw Freedmen 4995
Creek Freedmen 5585
Seminole Freedmen 857 + 93 later added
Total Indian Tribal Freedmen:  20, 766
(Source of data: Muskogee Cimeter, January 4, 1906 page 2)

After more than a century since statehood, there are now hundreds of thousands of Freedmen descendants. And it is known that those Freedmen descendants who are native born Oklahomans, who speak with pride about their ancestry--they are not permitted to enroll in their ancestral nation today due to a bias against those of their race. But despite this---surely those children deserve to have their ancestors become more than a footnote in Oklahoma history. Those children who descend from over 20,000 Freedmen, deserve not to have their history overlooked and erased from the pages of their state.

Many who live in Oklahoma often see the "Friendly neighbor" advertisements coming from the Chickasaw Nation and how relations with fellow Oklahomans is so important. Yet, many young people learning their history, whose ancestors were Freedmen, see nothing of their own presence mentioned by the same "friendly" people who are influencing the curriculum.

Oklahoma African American history did not being with the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, and it did not begin with the Oklahoma Land Rush in 1889. African presence in Indian Territory began seven decades before statehood because many arrived during the years of the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Their stories are captured in the Indian Pioneer Papers at the University of Oklahoma, and the WPA Oklahoma slave narratives of the 1930s, and the interviews of the Dawes Commission 1898-1914.

Likewise, the institutions built by Freedmen deserve more than a footnote----

-Tushka Lusa
-Oak Hill Academy
-Dawes Academy
-Evangel Mission (Now the Five Tribe Museum in Muskogee)
-Tullahassee Mission School
-Cherokee Colored High School
...........and dozens of Freedmen neighborhood schools.

They are long gone, and perhaps forgotten by the tribes, but not forgotten by those of us whose ancestors attended these schools.

There is much that can be done from the education community, and hopefully the curriculum of Oklahoma will reflect that. And hopefully Freedmen descendants will not see the lives of 20,000 people from the Five Civilized Tribes, swept under the proverbial rug as if they did not exist, and were not a part of the land that became Oklahoma.

And Chickasaw Freedmen children, whose ancestors were disenfranchised by their own tribe after the war, will not see once again, no mention, no story, no acknowledgement of their existence from the nation in which their history is rooted.

As a descendant of one whose ancestors lived in the Choctaw Nation, and who arrived in Indian Territory with the Perry clan from Yalobusha Mississippi, I can only hope that the someday the children of those who remain in the state of Oklahoma will have their history told.

I am an independent researcher, and an educator by profession, and many for whom I conduct research, live in Oklahoma. They are often quite shocked when I share records with them, reflecting that their ancestors were slaves right there where they live They then ask me, why they were never taught that in school. I can only respond by telling them to talk to their educators and talk to their leaders.

An Opportunity
This is a wonderful time and a wonderful opportunity for scholars of multiple disciplines, (history, sociology , anthropology and archaeology) to allow their spirit of academic inquiry to expand into other arenas. Tell those stories of Freedmen settlements, find this historic sites where the Freedmen schools once stood, research their past--and tell the stories of the people who made these events unfold.

But this can't happen, if the state of Oklahoma cannot even teach the history correctly. Without the full story, historians cannot truly explore the many unwritten chapters in its history. Without the full story, a false narrative emerges, and entities will create false myths such as slaves seeking refuge in the tribes that were, in fact slave owning tribes.

My appeal is that the full history be included as the curriculum is developed, so all of the sons and daughters of Oklahoma----native people, Freedmen descendants, and pioneers--will all find their story put back on the historical landscape where it occurred.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Freedmen Descendants Share Common Histories

Six Active Oklahoma "Freedmen" Groups

In the past two decades numerous groups have come and gone among people who descend from Oklahoma's "Freedmen" more correctly described as Freedmen from the Five Civilized Tribes. Such groups did exist among separate tribal groups in the late 1800s when Freedmen were negotiating their status prior to statehood. They did not wish to leave the only place that they knew as home, and where they had lived, and toiled, and whose elders elders died there on that soil.

In the 1800s, 
Cherokee Freedmen had an association formed as well as Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen. Both of those last two groups were,  particularly vulnerable after the Civil War, because the tribes tried to have them removed from their nation. The efforts to act upon their own behalf left small footprints on the historical landscape, that can be researched today. From the proceedings from many of those meetings, stories of resilience of Freedmen are noted.

In recent years, especially in the last two decades, efforts to act on behalf of the Freedmen have arisen, and today in both physical and online communities a few groups have arisen to study preserve and protect the legacy of Indian Territory and Oklahoma "Freedmen".

Here is a list of the groups in which discussion on history, legacy and political status have occurred. You are encouraged to explore them.

-Cherokee Freedmen Descendants (Online Group)
-Choctaw-Chickasaw Freedmen Descendants
(Online Group)
 -Descendant Freedmen Alliance of Kansas City 

-Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes
-Muscogee Creek Freedmen Band
-Young Freedmen Descendants of the Five Tribes, Discussion Group  (Online Group)

 For those interested in earlier discussions about the status of Freemen, the older AfriGeneas African-Native American message board is still active. This contains archived and searchable messages and threads that go back to 1997.

Over the years discussion has occurred within many sectors of the community, and at present there is also discussion about the possibility for another "real-time" meeting/conference in the next year or so. Whether or not such meeting unfolds, it is clear that activity is unfolding among more people who wish to pursue this much under-told story of Freedmen from Indian Territory. The Oklahoma-Freedman diaspora is widespread, but the need to encourage more dialogue and research is strongly encouraged. Hopefully more will become interested in this history and will join some of the groups mentioned above. 

These groups all hold promise for a continuation of the history being preserved. One thing however appears to be missing---the written record. Perhaps a history journal in which stories of Freedmen communities, Freedmen leaders, and the political and social initiatives of Freedmen, could be developed. 

Several years ago, discussion occurred to establish a group focused on history and devoted to production of a periodic journal and or events to present the past to emerging generations. 
Perhaps now,the long discussed, Indian Territory-Oklahoma Freedmen Historical Association may be the group whose time has come: ITOFHA

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Freedmen of the Frontier

Freedmen of the Frontier

The book is here!

In 2017 I decided to undertake a year-long project to document 52 families in 52 weeks. The families to be documented were Oklahoma-based families that originated in Indian Territory among the Five "Civilized" Tribes-Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations. These were African American families whose elders had at one time been enslaved by Native Americans.

The project ewas inspired by a popular genealogy blogging meme of documenting 52 ancestors in 52 weeks. But with this project the goal was to document the families from these nations, because so little is written about these families from the soil of what is now Oklahoma, although their enslavement, emancipation, and families were rooted on that soil.

By years's end, I had met the goal of putting the family stories out there, but decided to move the stories from my blog to book form, so that more people who have ties to the Freedmen of those nations, will be able to easily access these stories. Many people will find it easier to read their stories in book form than will actually go online and find their family story there.

The families profiled in the book are listed below:

The book can be ordered directly from AMAZON.