Monday, March 28, 2011

Freedom Celebrations in the Cherokee Nation

Flyer for Emancipation Celebrations in Oklahoma

For many years, throughout Indian Territory, a number of celebrations of Freedom took place.  Today they are often commemorated by Juneteenth celebrations, but among many of the  former slaves of Indian Territory--celebrations of freedom from bondage always took place in August, and especially around August 4th.

It is known that this was common especially among former slaves of Creek Indians, but this was also the case in the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Emancipation ceremonies were said have been elaborate and festive events.  Although many Cherokee slaves were released officially from bondage in 1863, they joined other former slaves of Indian tribes by celebrating August 4th as well.

Elizabeth Ross a field worker for the Indian Pioneer project, described the events in Cherokee Country:

Ross went on to describe a particularly memorable event in Tahlequah the capital of the Cherokee Nation. She describes events as they occurred in the latter part of the 1870s.


She pointed out how at that time, (the 1870s) there were still many former slave living who had come into the Territory during the years of the Removal (the Trail of Tears) being brought as slaves along with their Cherokee enslavers.

As time passed the Cherokee Freedman celebration took place more frequently even into the 20th century at Four Mile Branch.

Today Four Mile Branch is where an historic Cherokee Freedman church and cemetery are located. This site is most likely where the last of the Emancipation celebrations occurred.

In the summer of 2005 images were taken of this cemetery by
Tonia Holleman and Angela Walton-Raji

Looking Across Four Mile Branch Cemetery
Images captured in 2005 by Tonia Holleman & Angela Walton-Raji

Although the celebrations of freedom are now events of the past, but hopefully many who share this history will appreciate the value of honoring the ancestors both enslaved and free, both native and states-originated, and both Freedmen and "by blood".

All of the history belongs to all of the people and it is time to begin to tell those stories.

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