Friday, December 12, 2014

Creek Freedmen Association in 1930s




Source of article: Pittsburgh Courier August 18, 1934 p 5

In the early decades of the 20th century various organizations flourished, with the purpose of providing a voice of support to the various communities of Oklahoma Freedmen. Among them was the Creek Freedmen Association. The group organized in the 1920s and although most who were familiar with the organization at the time were mailny people in or near Okmulgee Oklahoma and the many Creek Freedmen settlements, occasionally news about Freedmen made it into the national Black press. One such article was found in a 1934 article of the Pittsburgh Courier.

The article describes to the readers a strong gathering of Freedmen that occurred in Tulsa. The meeting unfolded with over 300 in attendance. The Creek Freedmen Association was formed in 1924 and the group sought to work for the benefit of the Creek Freedmen. As stated, their goal was to protect "the rights of Freedmen against usurpation and exploitation". During these years persons of any degree of African ancestry had many challenges facing them in Oklahoma. Legalized segregation, land grafters, disenfranchisement from the tribal community and many more issues faced them. It is therefore not surprising that they were organized and working for a way to address their concerns and keep them in the forefront of the Creek Freedmen community.

One of their leaders was the amazing A.G.W. Sango, a popular attorney who represented the Freedmen in many cases over the years.

Source of Image:  Muskogee Cimeter, July 23, 1909

Sango was one of a long line of attorneys who worked for Freedmen and he was not the only person from the Creek Nation. The first Freedman attorney was Sugar George, who also served in the Creek Nation in both ruling houses, the House of Warriors and House of Kings. Though Sugar George died in the early part of the 20th century, Sango lived well into the early decades and continued to serve the community.

It is not known what happened to the association, but theirs is a legacy that should not be forgotten.

Friday, November 7, 2014

African Americans on the Cherokee Intruder Census 1893

Source:
Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. 
Original data: Selected Tribal Records. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas.


I often hear from researchers who have a tie to Oklahoma or Indian Territory. In some cases the researchers are descendants of Oklahoma Freedmen, from the Five Civilized Tribes, but in other cases some have ancestors who migrated west an settled there. And many have sought their ancestors but were not sure how or when they arrived in Indian Territory.

Perhaps among a new set of records now uploaded by Ancestry, through its collaboration with the Oklahoma Historical Society, one might find their ancestors on the Intruder Census of the Cherokee Nation. This census data collected in 1893 might provide some answers.

In the image above one can see that people were listed on a schedule and the race was noted on the form. In the Canadian District, as seen above they were listed in the order in which they were found and race was duly noted.

In other communities some settlements were larger and they were thus listed in entire communities, such as this community of "Colored" Intruders. It should be noted that those on the Colored Intruder list are not to be confused with the larger number of Cherokee Freedmen who were native to the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Freedmen were Cherokee Citizens whereas most Intruders were from the United States and thus not citizens.

Source: Same as Above

Note that there were a few cases where not all persons on the Intruder List were really intruders. Some would contest their being considered outsiders and would would later go through the Dawes enrollment process and be able to later gain enrollment legally as Cherokee Freedmen. In the case below one will see the name Zach Foreman. He appears on this list of Intruders. yet, he was later able to establish and prove his citizenship and was therefore admitted as a Cherokee Freedman.

Source: Same as Above.


As can be noted in the following image, Zach Foreman was later admitted as a Cherokee Citizen. As can be noted he resided in the now extinct Freedman community known as "Foreman".

Enrollment Card for Zack Foreman

(Source: Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Dawes Census Cards for Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc. 2014. Original data: Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1186, 93 rolls); Cherokee Freedman Card #300. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75; National Archives, Washington, D.C. )


These images of the Intruder Census Rolls from the Cherokee Nation will be a valuable asset to researchers looking for additional information on their families in Oklahoma. Many researchers whose families originated in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas might find their ancestors among those intruders and it is hoped that many will study these records in detail.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Color Images of Dawes Cards Now Available!


National Archives Publication M1186, Choctaw Freedmen, Card #777
Sam and Sallie Walton & Family, of Skullyvlle, I. T.

Several months ago, I had a chance to speak with a representative from Ancestry, who shared with me that some good news was going to come out in November for Oklahoma researchers. Well, November has arrived, the good news has now been made public. Ancestry has acquired the Dawes Enrollment Cards, and now has all of them fully scanned in color! Although there are other online sites that contain Dawes cards, this is a treat to see the original image in full color. I was also pleased to learn that all of the cards were scanned in color, including the Freedmen of the Five Tribes.

What makes this special is that with many of the documents originally scanned in black and white, such as that of my gr. grandparents, (see images above and below) the place on the card where some tape was applied, can now be seen. On the black and white scanned image, the tape comes through as a solid black mass, and one cannot see through the faded transparent tape to view the words. (See two images.)

                     

And what also makes having the color images available is that small details now appear more clearly on the card, some of which were a bit hard to see without tweaking the image. It should also be pointed out that there are many cards that had annotations made in different colors. The roll number was actually stamped in blue ink, and now with the color images, that can be seen.


National Archives Publication M1186, Choctaw Freedmen Card #778


Several years ago, I noticed that the first card among Freedmen cards in almost every tribe were often in very poor condition. Some were perhaps in poor condition because of exposure to sun, or had been damaged by some kind of liquid. So I was anxious to see how the new color images appeared with color scanning, so decided to look at Card No. 1, of the Choctaw Freedmen, that of Simon Clark. I know that his card had seen a lot of deterioration, and now with the color image, all of the markings appear much clearer.

Choctaw Freedman Card No.1

National Archives Publication M1186 Choctaw Freedmen Card No. 1


Cherokee Freedman Card No. 1
Cherokee Freedman Card No. 1 is also quite damaged, and the color image provides more opportunity for better analysis. Note the difference between the two, and note how having the color images allows for very faint writing to now be seen.


National Archives Publication M1186, Cherokee Freedman Card No. 1
Color Image


Chickasaw Freedman Card No. 1
National Archives Publication M1186 Chickasaw Freedmen Card No. 1
Color Image


Creek Freedman Card No. 1
National Archives Publication M1186 Creek Freedmen Card No. 1
Color Image


Seminole Freedman Card No. 1
National Archives Publication M1186 Choctaw Freedmen Card No. 1
Color Image


For Seminole Freedman Researchers, it should be noted that there is a slight error in the way that Seminole Freedmen Cards are scanned and labeled

The numbers on the Ancestry index for Seminole Freedmen says 600-699, 



However, when looking at the first seven images, they are actually the very end of the Seminole By Blood cards. With image #8 in that set of cards designated as Freedmen 600-699, the beginning of the Freedmen cards appears on what should be #609. In reality it is Freedman Card #1, that of Ceasar Bowlegs. 

So at first the early numbered cards for Seminole Freedmen might appear to be impossible to find. However, they are there, and are found in the subset erroneously labeled "Seminole Freedmen 600-609."

In all other cases the scanning is accurate, and it is still quite wonderful to see these records now in their original condition! Hopefully for some new data will be extracted previously unknown, or unseen. Having access to these color images, breathes new life into these valuable records!



Friday, July 18, 2014

Dawes Records are only Part of the Story

Two cards reflecting Charles Alexander Creek Freedman
 
When researching families from Indian Territory, especially those whose families are reflected on the Dawes rolls it is important to know that the entire story does not rest with Dawes Records.  The Dawes Records began when the allotment process started in the 1890s that would eventually lead to Oklahoma statehood in 1907. The Dawes records primarily cover the years 1898-1914. In those final years the New Born and Minor children were completed to include those children born after the initial interviews had begun. Nevertheless the Dawes files do reflect a useful record set for those who descend from families tied to the Five Civilized Tribes, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations. With Freedmen files the data is especially treasured, because the information can reflect the parents, and the names of slave holders as well.
 
However---not every file was completed in the same manner, and it is always wise to look at earlier documents. The tenacious researcher will benefit greatly from exploring as many documents as possible. It is hoped that the ultimate goal is to tell the family story. Unfortunately for some people the only goal is citizenship, and many once completed they might terminate their research. And some, if tribal enrollment is not obtained, they too abandon the research although much more data might be found on the family's unique history.  The greater loss is that the family may be missing out on more details of a rich family history. Hopefully these few records might encourage the researcher to keep going.
 
In the case of Creek Freedman Charles Alexander whose card is shown below, one sees a man from the Creek Nation, who lived in Bearden I.T. His card was on Creek Freedman card 1855. He was a member of North Fork town, and his name had also appeared on the Dunn Roll.
 
National Archives Publication M1186 Creek Freedman Card #1855
 
Unfortunately, the reverse side of his enrollment card yields no information about his parents, nor any additional ties to the nation.
 
The reverse side of the card for Charles Alexander revealed no additional information
 
 
Prior to the creation of the Dawes Rolls the Creek Nation had begun their interview process earlier and a set of records that still exists is known as the Old Series Cards. The Old Series Cards preceded the Dawes Cards, an in some cases additional information about the family can be obtained.  Charles Alexander had a card that was part of the Old Series and it reveals a good amount of information about him.
 
Old Series Card of Charles Alexander, Card #12
 
From the Old Series card, it is learned that he is the son of Isaac Alexander of the Chickasaw Nation, and Polly Ann Grayson Alexander. He is the uncle to Priscilla and Sam King, who were residing with him at the time. All were residents of North Fork Town (colored) and the relationships are clearly spelled out.
 
The Old Series Creek Cards need to be addressed more in depth, for in many cases they can unlock doors into more of the family history, and may be the key to revealing more family stories. These cards are arranged by district and card number, and they typically do not correspond to the Dawes cards by numbers. More information about the Olds Series Cards can be found HERE.
 
In some cases both cards will provide good information. The Old Series cards, often describe the relationships between family members in more detail, and explain relationships often more clearly.
A good example is the case of Caroline Bruner, another Creek citizen. The data is rich on the Old Series Card bearing her case.
 
 
The hand written piece on the right side of the card describes clearly several relationships between parties listed on the card. 
 
Front Side of Caroline Bruner Card
National Archives Publication M1186 Creek Nation Card #523
 
Reverse Side of Caroline Bruner Card
 
The Dawes Card reflects people in the household but not as clearly as the written text on the Old Series Card. However, the critical information pertaining to the identity of the Creek slave holder on the Dawes Card, and this is data useful to the family historian, and information that the careful researcher will want to incorporate into the family data.
 
These are two small examples of how all records bearing the name of the family are essential to telling the story completely and accurately. Hopefully it will inspire others to look at earlier records as part of the research process.
 
 
 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Judge Rules That Cherokee Freedmen Can Sue for Treaty Rights




"Applying the precedents that permit suits against government officials in their capacities, we conclude that this suit may proceed against the principal chief in his official capacity, without the Cherokee Nation itself as a party," the court wrote."

These words give a green light signal to the descendants of the slaves held in bondage by Cherokees, that they may continue to pursue their treaty rights in court. This particular case going back several years had been placed by the Cherokee Nation against several Freedmen descendants to halt their efforts to maintain their status as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

Their parents, grandparents and gr. grandparents were citizens, and for many, their great grandparents were at one time enslaved by Cherokees. For decades the former slaves and their descendants, lived, voted, worked and abided by the laws of the Cherokee Nation. Some of them also served on the tribal council. And until the late 1970s they were Cherokees by right of their birth. At that time, it was decided that a majority of these former slaves were not "Indian", although it was never said that they were not Cherokee. 

"Indian" became the operative word, without using the word race. The concern, it was said was about blood ties to the tribe, but examining the roll that the tribe uses---the Dawes Roll, the Freedmen never had their blood recorded, only their names---regardless of whether or not their mother or father was Indian---they were told that they were Black and that their blood did not count. And many had been enslaved by the leaders of the tribe.

Enrollment card of Benjamin Vann, former slave of Clem Vann

And in the 1970s a mere decade after America passed the landmark Civil Right Act and the country was finally on the road to making many improvements for all people,  the tribe sought to purge itself of a portion of the population that was distinguished by race. Though the official argument is that "this is not about race" the distinguishing factor of Freedmen being categorized as Freedmen is race. Their being "Indian" is always addressed, although their being Cherokee is not for they are Cherokee. 

So, this ruling now allows the Freedmen descendants to continue to pursue their rights in court. This is what is now being challenged. If the final judgement from the US Court of Appeals rules in their favor then Freedmen can continue to enroll in the nation of their birth.

To understand the current case pending, information can be gleaned in an article shared by the Huffington Post. in 2012 (See article HERE)

Descendants from the other former slave holding tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) are also paying close attention to the case and will also be following the anticipated ruling still to come, and determining how it may apply to their own situation where they too have been barred from enrollment.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reflections on a Historic Cherokee Freedman Hearing in Washington DC



I had the experience today to attend the oral arguments of the case that may finally decide the issues of Cherokee Freedmen and their status in their nation, the Cherokee Nation. The issue pertained to the Treaty of 1866 where the Cherokee Freedmen, as was stated in Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866, were given all rights as Cherokee citizens, were to retain those rights of citizenship given to Freedmen and their descendants.

Cherokee Freedmen enjoyed rights as citizens and were allowed to vote during most of the 20th century until the 1980s when elder Freedmen came to cast a vote in an election and learned that they were no longer citizens and their rights had been removed by the tribe.  This began a series of cases over the years from the Nero Case, to the Riggs Case, to the Vann Case. In turn the tribe has counter-sued the Freedmen claiming a conflict between the tribe having to adhere to Article 9 of the Treaty, and their right to sovereignty and to decide who belongs in the tribe.

The arguments were presented by Diane Hammons for the Cherokee Nation, pointing out that the Treaty was already upheld when Freedmen were given citizenship. They had citizenship, and voted, and therefore the treaty was honored. The concern was that forcing the tribe to continue to admit Freedmen "and their descendants" meant that the tribe had no rights to determine who their members should be. She stated that he conflict between the continued status of Freedmen and the tribe having to uphold this part of the treaty was in conflict with tribal sovereignty.

The arguments on behalf of the Freedmen was presented by Jon Velie were clear and he pointed out that the Treaty itself was made by a party that was at one time an enemy of the United States, having fought with the South in the Civil War. He pointed out that this was not the story of a "few slaves held by a few people." The leaders of this very sophisticated tribe, were principal slave holders, including the last Confederate general to surrender, who was Cherokee slave holder, Stan Watie.

Velie continued to address the southern history and the southern biases toward the former slaves, and he spoke fact after fact about the participation of Freedmen leaders who served on the tribal council in the 19th century, and pointed out that this was not a case of a simply unknown alien people trying to join a tribe. This was an act where the history, heritage and cultural ties of a people who were part of the tribe, were having their role, their history and their identity stripped from them.

The judge asked poignant questions and both parties answered them. Of particular interest was the issue of the future of Freedmen as citizens of the tribe. On side from the tribe, there was the concern expressed that by granting continued citizenship rights to the Freedmen, there was the act of making the "rights" to extend into perpetuity. Velie responded by pointing out the key word "descendants". Nothing is ambiguous about the wording of the Treaty. He also pointed out that the efforts to exclude people, seem to be focused on this one class of people in the tribe.

The significant point of his argument came as he addressed the history and the treatment of Freedmen during the hearings on the Dawes Rolls. In response to the issue of Freedmen and the "inability" to determine blood quantum today was also addressed. He then explained the history of the "politics" of blood. He pointed out that in the cases where a Freedman who was half Cherokee and half black, the policy was simple---"your blood does not matter" and they were thus put on the Freedman roll. And now after over 100 years the effort is made to cast out people based on blood when their blood was never worth being addressed no matter how high it was at the time.

Clearly, history was the most important factor emphasized. There was also the discussion of what was meant when the treaty of 1866 was actually signed.

The presentation by the tribe was that extending rights to the Freedmen under Article 9 did not mean into perpetuity.

And the response was simple, the fact is that there is nothing unclear and nothing ambiguous about the Treaty and about Article 9.

Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866


The hearing lasted for approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes and adjourned at approximately 10:52 am. It is expected that the judge will make a ruling within a short period of time.

Being a witness to this case was significant for me.

In 1998, I was an expert witness as the genealogist and historian for the Bernice Riggs Case. This was held in Cherokee Supreme Court, and took place in Tahlequah Oklahoma. To be a witness to the oral arguments today was part of a major event, for should the Freedmen win this case, this may be the end of a 100+ year saga of determining the status of the former slaves of this former slave holding tribe.

It was interesting to see the persons who were there in attendance, from California, to Oklahoma, to the greater Washington DC region. This issue has gone through several stages, and within the Cherokee Nation, it is hoped that finally a era of Jim Crow sentiments left over from a southern former slave holding community, may finally come to an end. When some bad practices, based on old biases end, the entire community moves ahead to a better future. And when all of the components of the society being allowed to participate everyone makes that same community a better entity.

As the Cherokee attorney Diane Hammond pointed out, the Cherokee Nation is no longer "a geo-political entity with one contiguous geographic community" and it was also pointed out that the Cherokee Nation is the largest Indian tribe in the US. Well, I can only hope that the largest tribe, will emerge stronger and better, when all of the people that make up the tribe are allowed to not simply exist, but to contribute to the nation. When all of the people work together the outcome can only be for the better.

This was a historic day in Cherokee history, but also for the Freedmen of all of the tribes. I, as a Choctaw Freedman descendant find that there is hope for the other nations where the Freedmen are disenfranchised, to also be addressed someday.

But today, was a day in which I was there as an eyewitness to history, and I am proud of what I saw.

I hope that Bernice Riggs, was there in spirit, today, and Rev. Nero, and the Whitmires and the spirits of so many others who had the courage to address the wrongs they saw, and I hope that their spirits were all there today.

And so were the spirits of  the Freedmen leaders who once served on the Cherokee tribal council and their names deserved to be mentioned: Joseph Brown, Frank Vann, Ned Irons, Stick Ross, Samuel Stidham, Jerry Alberty.  They should never be gotten and their history is a rich one, though seldom mentioned by the tribe, it should be mentioned by all who cherish history and truth, for these were men of Cherokee soil, and life and culture.

The hearing adjourned at approximately 10:52 am.  Afterwards a few who were in attendance gathered to have lunch in a nearby cafe, before departing in many directions
******

Group of Cherokee Freedmen and Attorneys after hearing
Front Row: Cynthia Cook Robertson, Attorney, Jon Velie, Attorney, Marilynn Vann Cherokee Freedman, Dexter Ruffin Cherokee Freedman, (2nd from left back row) Sam Ford, Cherokee Freedman, David Cornsilk Cherokee By Blood, Mark Harrison, Cherokee Freedman.)
(Photo courtesy of Sam Ford)

Ron Graham (Creek Freedman) and Marilyn Vann (Cherokee Freedmen) outside courthouse


Cherokee Freedmen from California at lunch



Journalist Sam Ford, (Cherokee Freedman), Mrs. Ford, and Marilyn Vann (Cherokee Freedman)



Mark Harrison (Cherokee Freedman) & Mark West of No. Carolina


California based Cherokee Freedmen who were also in attendance.


***********************************

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Washington Hearings to Unfold For Cherokee Freedmen Monday


Oral arguments pertaining to the status of Cherokee Freedmen originally scheduled for April 28th were moved to Monday May 5th at 9:30 am. This is the case filed by the Cherokee Nation against descendants of their former slaves, known as Cherokee Freedmen.

At issue will be issues pertaining to the Treaty of 1866 where the former slaves of the Cherokee Nation were adopted and were given full status as citizens of the tribe. These issues emerged again in the mid 20th century as the Cherokee Nation (and the other tribes that signed their respective treaties) enacted new laws excluding descendants of Cherokee Freedmen.

From decade to decade in the 20th century, issues arose with freedmen and their rights being honored, most frequently, in the Cherokee Nation. In the 1980s there was the Nero Case. In 1983, when Rev. Nero went to vote in a Cherokee election as ge had in the past, he and his family and other companions learned that the laws of the Cherokee Nation had been changed to exclude them. However, they had voted in previous elections including 1979. But the tribe had quietly changed the restrictions and the elderly Nero learned that he was no longer wanted in the nation, that he always assumed was his nation by birth.

In the 1990s there was the Bernice Riggs case. She challenged the laws banning the Freedmen and filed in Cherokee court, and it though it took years for a decision to be made, it was initially decided against her, but then it was reversed when the Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation reviewed the case, and decided that the Treaty of 1866 was still valid and Mrs. Riggs and other were indeed citizens of the Tribe.

Many enrolled, and the action of the then sitting chief was swift, when it was decided to put the admission of Freedmen to the tribe to a vote by the population. And as the votes were cast, it should be pointed out that this was an election in which 3% of of eligible Cherokee voters participated, The result was to remove the Freedmen from the tribe. This was followed by lawsuits and counter lawsuits. The Vann case emerged, initiated by Cherokee Freedman leader Marilyn Vann, and it was followed by a counter suit from the tribe and the case left Oklahoma to emerge in Federal Court.

And the latest chapter of this ongoing saga will unfold tomorrow in Washington DC at the Federal Courthouse on Constitution Avenue NW.

But this saga has a long history, stemming from the Treaty of 1866, and the various acts to exclude persons of African ancestry from participating in the tribe, which was part of the only nation that they knew as home, and the tribe which their parents and grandparents had lived, toiled and died as slaves.

Interestingly 100 years ago, the same issues were there and can be followed in the press from multiple states.

The Day Book, Chicago, January 30, 1912 p. 25

And looking at the press from Oklahoma, one sees other headlines also similar to the issues of today. Note this one from 1906.


So the issues are not new, and it is truly amazing to see that an issue that began in the 19th century is still being heard in the 21st century.

Many arrived in Washington on Sunday, including Marilyn Vann named in the suit, and in attendance at the hearing will be Cherokee Freedman advocate David Cornsilk, and several Cherokee citizens, and representatives from Cherokee Freedmen,Creek Freedmen, Choctaw Freedmen,and others.

And so it continues. The oral arguments will be heard at the Federal Courthouse at 9:30 am at 3rd and Constitution Avenue NW, in Washington DC.

"Sometimes what is news is not always new."