Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tushka Lusa Academy - A School For Choctaw Freedmen

Tushka Lusa Academy, Talihina Choctaw Nation
Courtesy of: Eric Standridge of Wister Oklahoma

Part 1 The Establishment of Tushka Lusa Institute

Six miles east of Talihina Oklahoma, buried somewhere underneath a century or more of brush an overgrowth, the foundation of Tushka Lusa Academy lies. Tushka Lusa, whose translation means "black warrior" can be called one of the long forgotten schools on the western frontier. This school was the one institute established by the Choctaw Nation for the children of their former African slaves.

Freed in 1866 and formally adopted as citizens into the tribe in 1885, the former slaves would wait many years before their final fate would be decided and major changes brought to their lives. It would be almost a decade before steps to begin formal education for Choctaw Freedmen children would unfold. But in the years after the Civil War, the Freedmen remained in the nation with no legal status, but most chose to live where their parents and grand parents had lived and died because it was the only place that they knew as home. There was no place in the United States to go, and Indian Territory was what they knew and it was where they remained.

In May 1883, the Choctaw Nation passed the law that finally made the Choctaw Freedmen legal citizens, and in the summer of 1885, the actual process of registration began. This was met with great concern, as many Freedmen had begun farming and cultivating dozens of acres of land individually, and there was great fear that their land would be reduced to a mere forty acres. And they wanted education so badly for their children. Neighborhood schools had begun to appear, but these schools provided basic education. A high school was strongly desired by the Freedmen, so that their children could also have a chance to grow and prosper.

Historian Angie Debo noted that in 1891, the Choctaw Nation "went beyond the obligation assumed by the act of adoption, by establishing a colored boarding school." (1) (See footnote below)

The original name of the school was Tushka Lusa Institute, and was called such when it was originally approved by the Tribal council to establish the school. Provisions were made however to only allow for thirty or so students at Tushka Lusa. The other officially sponsored schools in the Choctaw Nation allowed for 100 students at Jones Academy for boys and 100 students at Tushka Homa Female Institute.  

Once approved funds were set aside, and a superintendent was appointed for the new school.

Document from Choctaw Nation approving funds for Tushka Lusa Institute

Over seven thousand dollars were approved in early 1892 for the new school.

Receipt reflecting payment of initial funds to establish the new school for Choctaw Freedmen

Henry Nail a Choctaw Freedman was appointed to run the school in the spring of 1892 and he submitted the first report to the Choctaw Nation in the fall of 1892.
First Page of Tushka Lusa School Report by Henry Nail, sent to Choctaw Nation

Second Page of Tushka Lusa School Report by Henry Nail sent to Choctaw Nation

The general sentiment was that the school was progressing well, and that students were pursuing in earnest their studies.  

Close up of some of the text about the status of Tushka Lusa Academy

In his report, Henry Nail was gracious and was certain to express appreciation to the officials of the Choctaw Nation for going beyond was was expected in providing this school for Choctaw Freedmen. 

Henry Nail showed his appreciation for the generosity of the Choctaws for the establishment of the school.

Henry Nail quickly settled into his roll as the superintendent of Tushka Lusa and frequently sent letters and reports to the school. When fund were needed for additional provisions, he also sent additional requests to the Nation. From the tone of his letters he was given the necessary provisions to run the school efficiently. The relations between the school administration and the Choctaw Nation, also appear to have been amiable. The reports submitted by Henry Nail were accepted and approved without dissension.

Report on Tushka Lusa Accepted by Choctaw Nation

(1) Debo, Angie, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic. Norman Oklahoma: The University of Oklahoma Press 1934, 1961,  Print p. 109

(End of Part 1)


Naturally Tamara said...

very interesting. i'm glad i was able to catch this post since i have not been on blogger in some time. i have family that lived in that area of Talihina.

Mrs. Cowell said...

Rumor has it that the house my father grew up in was the remnant of an old Freedman's Academy. It was located near Talihina. He was born in 1934 and moved to the home in about 1946. My father remembers there being a lot of old bricks on the property. As a kid, he rarely saw African-Americans in town, but he recalls once while riding his bike through the woods near the house that he came upon an African-American funeral ceremony at an old graveyard.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Can you say where that house was located? This would be wonderful to find out the location today. What was your dad's name? Perhaps a city directory might give an address for his residence. And if there is an old cemetery nearby--that too is an amazing find! These are the hidden treasures where old stories are buried.