Friday, October 21, 2016

Remembering Freedmen Schools in Oklahoma

When visiting Oklahoma, one does not see mention of the African American schools in Indian Territory, before statehood, but they were there. Few of the actual buildings remain--but the schools established by and for those once enslaved in the five Indian tribes, were a testament to the earnest desires of former slaves of the Indian slave-holding tribes to have a better future for their children.

Some of the schools lasted till well after statehood, and were eventually merged with the public school legally segregated after statehood. Other schools were small "neighborhood schools" for Freedman children in tiny rural settlements, scattered through the countryside. Some of them were day schools, while others were boarding schools with dormitories for girls and boys and live in staff on expansive grounds.

Today they are all gone, with only a few fragments of buildings that provide hints to a once thriving past. In the early 1900s Oklahoma's education policies established after statehood created a separate and un-equal system, where Black children from the Five Civilized Tribes, had to then depend on the establishment of the newly created state for their education. This also changed things within their communities as they could no longer find direction from trustees coming from the local population. But thankfully, a few images of some of the institutions long gone can be found.

Meanwhile, as descendants of Indian tribal Freedmen are working hard to construct their family narrative, it should be noted that these schools, played a part in the family's history. A few school rosters exist, and thankfully as researchers can now find the names of their ancestors on those few rosters, allowing another dimension to the lives of the Freedmen families to be told.

Tullahassee Mission School

              (Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society) 
This school was originally established as a school for Creek Indian children. After a fire in the 1880s the main building was rebuilt and the school was then given to Creek Freedmen and the Indian Children were removed to Wealaka Mission. (1)
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Cherokee Negro High School

Not too far away in the Cherokee Nation was the Cherokee Negro High School located northeast of Tahlequah in a small area known as Double Springs. The school was destroyed by fire in 1916.

Evangel Mission

Evangel Mission was a boarding school on Agency Hill in Muskogee. The school was for Creek and Creek Freedmen orphaned children. It was described once as a school for "friendless" children and was founded in 1883

Tushka Lusa Academy

In the Choctaw Nation, there were two boarding schools for Freedmen. There was Tushka Lusa (meaning Black Warrior) which was located in Talihina. To the southern part of the Nation was Oak Hill Academy, under the direction of the Presbyterian Church. Oak Hill was located near Valiant, I.T.

Oak Hill Academy

Choctaw Freedmen Neighborhood Schools

Apart from the boarding schools there were the small neighborhood schools that the Choctaw Nation established for the freedmen as well. Some few schools rosters remain and they are useful for descendants of those Freedmen from the small rural communities in eastern Oklahoma.

Brazil Freedman School, Skullyville, Choctaw Nation

Though few remnants of the schools themselves exist in Oklahoma, there are scattered school rosters that can be found of the Choctaw "Colored Neighborhood Schools," such as the one illustrated above from the old Brazil Neighborhood school in what is now Le Flore County Oklahoma. The schools were usually small in size, and they appeared in communities were small clusters of Freedman families with school aged children resided.

In 2011 I wrote an article highlighting a few of the Choctaw Nation Freedman schools, none of which exist today. The schools were: Cedar Grove, Clarksville, Dog Creek, Fort Coffee, Opossum Creek, neighborhood schools.

Remnants of the Schools in Today's Oklahoma
Only one building still exists today of the many schools in Indian Terrritory. That is Evangel Mission, which is now a popular museum in Muskogee

Evangel Mission - Five Civilized Tribes Museum

The building today is known as the Five Civilized Tribes, Museum, and although there are many historical markers on the grounds of the museum, for some reason there is nothing pointing to its history as a school for Creek Freedmen. Hopefully someday the history of this building will be told in its entirety.

Dawes Academy
 In Ardmore Oklahoma, not far from Calvary Baptist church two steps and a few loosely strewn rock are all that remain of Dawes Academy, a school where many Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen attended.

Tullahassee - Flipper Davis or Tullahassee Mission

In Tullahassee, a series of abandoned buildings are referred to simply as the old school. The ruins do not resemble early photos of Tullahassee Mission, but they could be still part of the old school from another angle different from photos of the past. In later years, the school was later part of Flipper Davis College run under the direction of the AME church until the 1930s. Is this part of the the old Flipper Davis Institute? It is not certain and the specifics of this building have not yet been found. However, Tullahassee is one of Oklahoma's Black towns, and only two institutions were said to have been located there.

The educational history of the African American population in eastern Oklahoma is a strong testament to the desire of those once enslaved in Indian Territory to grow, thrive and prosper. As many researchers work to tell more of the story long omitted from Oklahoma's history, the story of these schools should be a part of that narrative. It is the narrative of a people, of Five tribes, and of a state on the western frontier.


Madeline Pennington Mesplay said...

During a visit to Tullahassee I talked with several residents that said the old school was down past the post office in a thicket of trees and bushes. It was very overgrown so I could not explore to see if there were any artifacts of a building. I was interested in finding out more about their statements but was only traveling through.

pat reeves said...

There had been a school building in the Foreman community in Sequoyah County near Muldrow/Redland/Gans area. I am NOT sure if it yet stands.