Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Madness: When Will History Reflect My People?

America's historical scholars, particularly those who are specialists in the American Civil War, for more than 100 years have continually chosen to overlook, bypass, erase, ignore, over 8000 slaves in North America.

How can a number so large, in a region that was part of the American South, be overlooked?

How can a region of people where the slaveholders were documented in slave schedules when the census was made in 1860 but on the pages of American history---those particular slaves are never mentioned?

How can a region that sympathized with the Confederate states and fought with them on their side to preserve slavery, be omitted when discussion of the Confederacy and their sympathizers are mentioned?

And from the perspective of the enslaved, these questions must be asked:

How can thousands of slaves living in land that would become part of this country be ignored?
How can the largest slave rebellion in North America not be reported in American textbooks? A rebellion more than 3 times the size of Nat Turner's rebellion, but not get mentioned? (See: The Cherokee Slave Revolt)

How can the constant stories of resistance from runaways to slave uprisings be ignored by America's historians?

Runaway Slave Ad from Choctaw Intelligencer 1850
(Note the reward offered if the young man is not captured alive.)

Why is every map depicting slavery on the North American continent conveniently not reflecting enslavement of 8000+ slaves on the same continent? These slaves lived directly north of the state of Texas.

Looking directly north of what was Texas---no slavery in Indian Territory is reflected.

This image of Slavery States and Territories also does not reflect slavery in Indian Territory

In 2009, CNN had a series called "Black in America" and as they depicted slavery in America, they too ignored the same people and the same region when they created their own map of slavery in America.

CNN: Black In America
This image also ignores slavery just north of Texas in Indian Territory in what would become Oklahoma.

And again this is repeated

Once again looking directly north of what was Texas.---no slavery in Indian Territory is reflected.

So----Who are the ignored people on America's historical landscape?  Who were these men, women and children? They were the Slaves of Indian Territory----the black people taken west, in bondage, against their will to the west, with Indians as slaves on the same Trail of Tears.

The Cherokees even documented the 1200 that they took west with them. Yes, there were also free blacks who lived among some of these tribes and they have wonderful stories to tell---and they were not ignorant of the plight of their people and many worked within the tribes to assist their people.  But the enslaved are somehow erased, once the free blacks are discussed. It is almost as if slavery never happened----but it did.

In 1860 there were 444 free black people enumerated in the 1860 census in Indian Territory. In that same year, there were more than 8000 enslaved people documented on the slave schedules in the very same community.

Again the question-----

Why are their stories not told?
Are their being slaves of Indians somehow making them less of a slave or less worthy of inclusion on America’s historical landscape?

It is time that those who are the voices of American history, from historians in the academic institutions to those of the History Channel-------take note of this error and this omission.

The historians of The Organization of American Historians, Assoc for the Study of Afr. American Life & History, American Historical Association are all being asked here and are addressed here: as America's history tellers--how does  this omission get corrected?  

And the story tellers from Ken Burns, to the History Channel---when does this omission get corrected?

There are apologists for the slaveholding tribes that will give quick answers saying "Oh that is because Indian Territory was not part of the United States.

The discussion here is NOT when Oklahoma joined the Union and became a state.

The discussion here is the omission of telling the story of slavery in Indian Territory and thus altering American history.


*Discussion of the Removal is presented in American textbooks, and NO American history book omits this story. But discussion of black chattel slavery after removal is continually omitted.

* California was not a state in 1849---but NO American history textbook omits the story of the California Gold Rush and it's impact.

* Lands from Louisiana to the Pacific Northwest were not part of the United States in 1803---but no American history textbook omits the story of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

The argument therefore of the slaveholding tribes not being a state holds neither weight nor water.

Also note:
The slave holding tribes signed a treaty with the Confederate states at the very beginning of the Civil War.
At the same time there was no objection to the fact that the Slave Holding Tribes of Indian Territory did not live in the United States---just right next door,  nor does the fact of these tribes joining forces to fight for the philosophy and beliefs of the Confederate South was never a concern and is not a concern to this day.

This is is not a discussion of the fact that they may have been on the wrong moral side of a war  by befriending those that fought to preserve a heinous institution. But--re-hashing the Civil War is not the focus here. 

The focus is the omission of inclusion of thousands of enslaved people on America's historical landscape.

The question at hand is: When will the historical maps reflect this history?

Students of history turn to the historical texts, writers, and producers of documentaries to learn what has happened.  But how can one learn when a blind eye is cast upon one region?

When, oh when, will history reflect my people?


Leita said...

While only a beginning, we gave voice at the conference in Fort Smith this year and the publication of the Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society. Maybe some of those who heard will carry the information forward and pass it on!

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Angela, this is a well-written, and thought-provoking post. I know that I, myself, have much to learn about this segment of our people. I will say quite honestly that, until I entered the blogosphere, and began to really broaden my knowledge of other peoples' family history, I didn't know much about these ancestors at all. Thanks to you, and others, for opening my eyes. I look forward to learning more, and to playing at least a small part in helping to make the history of "your people" known.


Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

To HistoryTellers:
Yes, the conference in Ft. Smith was a beginning, and your role is allowing that story to begin being told is worth mentioning. You had heard bits and pieces and provided a platform from which I was able to present parts of that history.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thank you Renate,

As genealogists we have the reponsibility of telling the stories that our ancestors can no longer tell. And of course what we do is search and search to find those stories and tell them.

Those situations in which we find ourselves swimming upstream, against a rushing river---where our ancestors are not acknowledged as having lived--makes that challenge even more awesome. But one cannot be turned away from the task that must be done--we must continue to tell those stories as we find them.

Ms Vicky said...

Thanks Angela for sharing such a truthful and thought provoking post. When historical facts are hidden and swept under the pages of time, its up to us to tell the story.

Mavis said...


Every time I read your in depth knowledge and research on this subject it amazes me that this segment of our history is not told.

Hopefully, one day the history of the slaves will be told not just through your efforts but through the history of all those affected which means in the telling of the history of our country.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Yes, Mavis, this is one of those mysteries that leaves out a large piece of what is America's history. This reminds us even more to tell the stories that are uncoverning.
Thanks for your remarks.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Vicky, indeed so many stories are swept under the table in many places. This is a large scale gesture, that extends beyond Indian Territory, beyond Oklahoma. This is one of those examples that is proof that what we do is important, for our ancestors voices are gone. Their stories of resistance are ignored, so--we must tell them if we are to honor them.

Terry said...

Greetings all,

Angela your points are on the mark! As genealogists and "family historians" we have become the vanguard for forcing the history of Indian Territory Freedmen on the "front" pages of history.

I could understand the lack of information on the subject if it were some obscure chapter in history but when people begin to place the history of Indian Territory in context with the larger history of America a lot of interesting facts begin to be revealed.

Your effort over the years has inspired my efforts and I hope to inspire others because in that way I'm positive this and other stories of the perseverance on the part of our ancestors so they could be included in the discussion of how this country was formed.

If not for the forced labor of our ancestors who is to say the Five Slave Holding Tribes would be in existence today?

If not for the slaves of the Cherokee Nation could that nation be intact to enjoy the benefits of its $300,000,000 (three hundred million) annual stipend from the United States taxpayers?

If not for the Chickasaw slaves could there have been the opportunity for the leading families of that nation too send their children off to the best schools on the east coast and become the lawyers and politicians that their children enjoy in the tribe today?

Yet, like the Creek (Muscogee) and the Seminole nations the history of their involvement in the institution of chattel slavery is ignored by historians and supposedly respectable documentaries produced by the likes of the History Channel and Ken Burns. Evidently the thousands and thousands of pages documented and preserved in the National Archives and Library of Congress was just a little to difficult for them to find and include in their telling of American History, go figure!


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