Friday, September 10, 2010

Coming to the Table - A Choctaw Reunion

 

Angela Walton-Raji and new friend and family contact,Colin Kelley
Angela descends from Choctaw Freedmen once owned by the Perry family. 
Colin is an enrolled Choctaw and descends from the Perry-Sexton family.

* * * * * * * * * *

It was a mild winter day in western Arkansas. Snow was melting from a surprise snowstorm that had come in two days earlier.  I was there preparing for a conference at the University of Arkansas in Ft. Smith and I was staying at the home of a good friend.  On that mild day---I was awaiting the arrival of a man from Oklahoma. He and a cousin were driving to meet me.  They were the descendants of the family that had once held my ancestors as slaves. My great grandmother Sallie Walton was born in 1863 in the Choctaw Nation, into the Perry family.
Sallie Walton, Choctaw Freedwoman
My gr. grandmother

Now this is not the first time that a descendant of a slave has met the descendant of a slave owner.  But this is probably one of the first times that this has taken place between a Native American slave owner descendant, and a descendant of Native American held slaves. And--what also made this story special is that they contacted me.

One day last summer, I got an email.  A gentleman living near Tulsa Oklahoma wrote to me.  He had seen my name mentioned briefly in the article in the Chronicle of Oklahoma. The man in Oklahoma decided to write to me, reaching out and he hoped, as he had said that I would reply.

Copy of email received in August 2009

He was a descendant of Nail Perry. Wow!!  Nail Perry was the son of Hardy Perry---and the Perry's were connected to my gr. grandmother Sallie, her mother Amanda,  and her grandmother Kitty.  I had several family documents on the family and the name Nail Perry was familiar to me---for he had been a spokesperson on several occasions for my family.

Over and over again---the name appeared--and it was Nail Perry. Nail Perry was a prominent man in his Choctaw community in and around Skullyville, and his word greatly influenced my family's enrollment and receipt of land allotments in what is now LeFlore County Oklahoma. Most importantly--Nail Perry also confirmed the tie that my family had to his family and that they were indeed slaves from the family.

Portion of Dawes Interview
Source: Choctaw Freedmen Application Jacket M1301
National Archives

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Slave Census of 1860 showing some of the Nail Perry's and some of the family, each one owning 1 slave
Source: National Archives  1860 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules


And now, here was Nail Perry's descendant writing to me directly. Wow!

After recovering quickly from my shock, I responded to this man--Mr. Colin Kelley and his own interest in history of both the family and the local area was just as  as strong as mine. I should mention that my close friends and I have documented a number of cemeteries in the LeFlore County Oklahoma area and my colleague Tonia Holleman and I have researched a number of the Freedmen families from the same community. And now here was a man who had lived in the very same community and who not only shared an interest in the local history---he was connected to my family--historically.

Over the next several weeks our exchanges were friendly, and he too expressed curiosity about our families and their relationship. If something occurred to him he would share it with me, and if an idea occurred to me, I would pass it to him. I told him about our cemetery projects and he said he would enjoy trying to locate some of the older ones for me. His kindness was genuine and it was appreciated.

When I made plans last fall, to attend a conference in western Arkansas in January,---close to the eastern Oklahoma where he lived and where my ancestors lived---I told him that I was coming, and that it would be nice if we had a chance to meet.  He agreed.

An unexpected snowfall hit the area that week, but by Thursday of that week---it had melted. So, Colin Kelley and his cousin Dick Perry, ventured into Van Buren Arkansas to meet me a descendant of one of the slaves once owned by their ancestor, Nail Perry.

When their car pulled up---a light rain was falling washing away the remaining snow---and Colin the gentleman who contacted me, came up the walk, materials in hand---some documents, and some of his own family photos. Behind him came a mild mannered soft spoken man--his cousin Dick Perry.

They entered the home of my friend Tonia's whose home I was staying in that week, and initial handshakes were made.  Realizing this moment was significant---I did remember to take a photo right away.

L-R  Angela Walton-Raji, Dick Perry, Tonia Holleman, Colin Kelly
(both Dick and Colin Kelly are enrolled Choctaws)

We retreated into Tonia's library, and began to chat.  I had to thank them both for traveling in the unpredictable Arkansas/Oklahoma weather, and then we got down to exchanging data.



He pulled out records, and so did I.  I had proceedings from the trial of ancestor Jackson Crow, and also records pertaining to other relatives. He had photos of his own family---clearly a blended family of Choctaws and he shared those wonderful images with me.

Ancestors of Colin Kelly

I admired his family photos I noted how some of his relatives resembled some of my own family.  I also shared a photo of my Uncle Joe, and both of them noted how Uncle Joe resembled a member of their family as well.
Mr. Gr.Uncle Joe Perry 

We talked about my ancestor who was put on trial at Judge Parker's Court, and we also discussed our thoughts on what may have happened in that case. In the court proceedings the same name appeared again---Nail Perry.  In that file, Nail Perry mentioned that the man on trial--Jackson Crow-- was also indirectly connected to him.  Crow's mother was Kitty, sometimes called "Old Kit".  Well Kitty was my Sallie's grandmother!  Kitty was the mother of Amanda (Sallie's mother.)

I had so many questions that day---and one being---where might Amanda, and Kitty be buried?  But that, they did not know.

Since that time though, we have occasionally spoken by phone, and we have emailed often, and as recently as this week, "Cousin Colin" has made calls on my behalf, inquiring about long forgotten black cemeteries in the area, and he might have gotten a lead to follow.

We now share the search to identify where Kitty, Amanda and gr. grandpa Samuel, might be buried.  I hope to visit the area again soon, and to have the privilege of his showing me the community where two abandoned African American cemeteries might be.

Simply said----that first meeting earlier this year was one in which we met as strangers, and departed as friends.

Angela & "Cousin Dick" Perry

I realized now, months later that sometimes when people meet, they learn that they have so much more in common than not. Colin and I still talk, and exchange email, and still weigh the possibilities of where other African American burial grounds might be in the old Choctaw community, near Howe, Heavener, & Hontubby. We discuss the community around the old Conser Road and Conser Home, and ponder the times as they were.

I read often about the need for healing, especially between slave owner descendants and descendants of the enslaved.  I am inspired by the efforts from the Coming to the Table program. But then---I pause and I realize-----how fortunate I am.

Out of the blue, I was contacted and brought to the table by a man who has since become my friend. I realize that our histories, our lives and our families intersected in the small Choctaw community in eastern Oklahoma.  For that I am grateful.

Perhaps we were blessed by the ancestors----Kitty (Old Kit) ---Nail Perry, Amanda, Jackson Crow , and my Sallie and so many more, whose names are not known.

I think that somehow they too now have come to the table, not as master-slave, but as friends and as family.

We came to the table, and we now walk along the same road.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am so happy for you Angela :-)

Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

This is a great post. I love to read about connections made and friendships cemented in the genealogy world. I hope to do the same with my own Chickasaw line someday.

Ms Vicky said...

A Touching Post Angela you and your new found cousins are very blessed to have found each other.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Amy thank you! One never knows sometimes when surprises come your way. I research both Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, and the history is a rich and fascinating history, indeed. Perhaps such a connection will come your way.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Vicky thank you so much! I have learned a lot from meeting my cousins and have treasured the day last August when I received the first email. I hope someday to learn even more. I have been blessed, indeed.

Proud Navajo said...

This was a very interesting, interesting post. I didn't know of this "Coming to the Table" program, this is the first I've heard of it. Does this "coming to the table" process include the discussion of reparations for our ancestors and their descendants? Because if not, "coming to the table" cannot possibly be a genuine, honest, and just process.

"Healing the wounds of slavery" cannot possibly begin until there are at the very least, reparations for our ancestors and descendants (including free tuition to city and state universities for African-Americans, tax incentives, and the like). The nation has yet to stop calling it a "trade", refusing to not acknowledge it for what it was: human trafficking, barbarism, genocide, rape, and government-sanctioned torture.

I appreciate seeing other African-Americans who are really digging in to the family tree and reestablish those roots. But any true "healing of the wounds" can only take place when justice prevails.

Thus far, the American approach has yet to be to truly "heal those wounds". My people would definitely agree with me.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thanks for your comments. The Coming to the Table project is still evolving and it will an interesting program to watch as it evolves and as families connect with each other. I was honored to spend time with Colin and Dick and look forward to meeting them again on my next trip to Oklahoma.

ZBoyd said...

Hello Angela & Perry family! I am happy to learn of your Perry connection, becoming a tangible one. Joseph Perry (son of Wm. Hardy Perry Sr.) was the father of Johnson, Edmond, Isaac, ....

Well, Johnson Perry & Martha Sarah "Dinah" Reed,had a son named Joshua Johnson (here is where the son was given the fathers first name for his last name...confusion, but we understand it all now).

Joshua's (or Joshaway) son was Jess Johnson, which is my great-grand father that died in McAlester Oklahoma, November 1941.

My family consist of Riddles, Sextons, Halls, Perry, Choate, Shoate, Johnson, Browns, and Leflore, Keith, Factor/Factory, Boyd, Burris... (just to name a few).

If anyone knows more regarding my "Johnson Perry and Joshua Johnson," feel free to share it with me.

Gratefully yours, ZBoyd

Maureen Moore said...

Hi Angela and All, What a lovely story about your family. Thanks for sharing it!

I have been doing geneaology for about seven years now. Over time I have discovered my husband's family line also traces to Hughes and Seminole Counties, Oklahoma. According to my research he is related to Martha Sarah "Dinah" Reed. But my records show she was married to Bob Kachubbee, and that they had a son named William Kachubbee Moore b. 1850. Do you have any information about her?

Thanks!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Can you tell me more about the Bob or Robert Kachubbee? Was he a Dawes enrollee?

Zendre said...

It is good to finally hear from you Angela. Six months ago you asked me to forward you my Perry ancestry, and I did that. I asked to be put in touch with Mr.Colin and Mr.Perry, I hope that will come true for me. Regarding Bob Kochubee, there is too much info to mention here. I will email you, and Mrs. Moore my number. I am always wling to share any information that I have, and seek the same generosity as well. Sincerely, ZBoyd

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Hello Zboyd,

Thanks for the reminder! I shall contact you via email.