Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Their Struggles Continued for Decades

Letter written by Chickasaw Freedmen to Washington DC asking about rights denied to Chickasaw Freedmen. This was written 4 decades after slavery ended in the Chickasaw Nation.

These letters tell so many stories.

Last summer while on a number of trips to the National Archives at College Park MD, I began to read and copy a number of heartfelt letters written by Freedmen of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, expressing their plight.  With the Chickasaw Freedmen in particular, they were an abandoned people---released from bondage reluctantly by their Chickasaw slave holders.  Like the other tribes, the Chickasaws also signed a treaty in 1866, officially ended slavery in the nation, and the treaty stated that these former slaves were to be assisted in their new life, with citizenship and the rights and privileges that came with citizenship.

Some of the five slave holding tribes complied, but the Chickasaw Nation fought it continually up to Oklahoma statehood, in 1907.  Today the Chickasaw Nation,  (like their Cherokee neighbors) is a wealthy tribe--one of the wealthiest in the nation, in fact.  Of course the descendants of those slaves have no rights, and now that more than a century has passed of statehood, and today, the stories of Chickasaw Freedmen appear only now on the faded pages in forgotten boxes at the National Archives.  But---the stories that they tell!

In the letter above, Ellis Williams wrote a simple letter asking if it was true that he and his people in Chickasaw country had truly been denied their rights.

He wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior in 1903, and asked,

"I whis(sic) to know is it a fact that the Indians beet(sic) us out of our freedman writs(sic) or not..
How painfully sad this is, particularly as the former Chickasaw slaves and their families were a people without a country until statehood, when Oklahoma joined the Union in 1907.  But immediately one of the Oklahoma statesman, who is is taid had Chickasaw ties, had strong disdain for freedmen initiated the first law passed by the state, making separation of the races legal. Thus, the "coach law" was passed legalizing Jim Crow accommodations on public transportation. (The Oklahoma did not repeal this law until 1965.)

I became curious as to who Ellis Williams was and looked up his Chickasaw Freedman Enrollment Card.

Enrollment Card of Ellis Williams Chickasaw Freedman

The 2nd side of his card was also revealing.

Reverse side of Dawes Card for Ellis Williams

Information about Ellis and his history is present reflecting that he was a slave of Chickasaw Sophia Keeel
On the front of the card is also the name of his wife, Viney. On the reverse side, her history is interesting.  She was said to have been a slave of the Eastmans. Betsy Eastman was her slave owner.  (Betsey, it was revealed in the application jacket was a Chickasaw woman whose husband was an inter-married white citizen.)

Although not much is known of Ellis Johnson the man, his file is rich with data (which I shall put in another blog post)  

However the status of the family was part of the greater saga of Freedmen hoping to have issues settled in their nation, along with the land allotments that they were to have received. 

His letter above speaks to the frustration that must have been felt during those years of alienation and neglect by both the US government that never enforced the adoption of the Chickasaw slaves. That denial of rights is still upheld to this day.


Lena Chantel said...

Excellent blog Ms. Walton! I am elated that Black/Indian genealogy is being brought to light!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thank you very much for visiting the blog and for your remarks.

Sherri said...

This is a wonderful blog! I was truly starting to lose hope. I will pass it around.