Monday, December 12, 2011

Freedmen Neighborhood School Rosters, Choctaw Nation

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Salt Lake City to attend the 2006 AAHGS Conference. While in Salt Lake I was also able to take advantage of the Family History Center and to use some records that I do not have access to in Maryland.  

These were school records from the Choctaw Nation. My interest specifically was in possibly locating names of children who attended the Freedmen Neighborhood Schools. To my delight there were rosters of students from several schools. My interest was Skullyville County, a community where my gr. grandparents Sam and Sallie Walton lived.

I found five such schools. These schools were created specifically for children of the former slaves in the Choctaw Nation--the Choctaw Freedm

The schools were established after they had been officially adopted by the Choctaw Nation, into the tribe, in 1885. The nations had agreed to the adoption of the Freedmen after the Civil War and was one of the terms of the Treaty of 1866. After a good amount of resistance occurred initially and a lengthy discussion of funds (over $300,000 ) was allocated to the Choctaw and Chickasaws to be used for Freedmen matters.  After adoption took place, the question arose again as it had since emancipation---how can education be provided for these African-Choctaw children?

It was decided that neighborhood schools be established within the nation, to provide education for the children.  I was pleased to find several pages reflecting names of children, of teachers and of the superintendents of several schools among some of the records.

I was particularly happy to see the name of my grandfather---Samuel Walton Jr. on one of the school rosters as well!

The schools were Cedar Grove, Clarksville, Dog Creek, Ft. Coffee, and Opossum Creek Schools. The records are by no means complete as they do not reflect many consecutive years and they were not year-round records.  They are mere rosters--but yet they still tell a story of the children who were earnestly seeking to learn.  

The only community that still exists today is Ft.Coffee, Oklahoma an historically black town that was recently incorporated a few years ago as an official township in LeFlore County. Ft. Coffee lies in extreme eastern Oklahoma, not far from the Arkansas/Oklahoma border.  I am happy to share some of the rosters here.

The population in the Cedar Grove area was a diverse one where some of the children were citizens of the Chickasaw Nation and as well as Choctaw Nation. (A notation of the bottom of the roster indicated that some of the children attending Cedar Grove school with crossmarks near their names, were Chickasaw Freedmen.)

Near the top of the Cedar Grove Roster, the Boyd Children are Chickasaw Freedmen, 
indicated by the crossmarks near their names.

When the schools operated, each month the teacher and superintendent would prepare attendance rosters and submit them to the County offices of the Nation.These monthly school rosters were filed by the teacher and trustee, with the County Judge. The document above was filed with Ed Lanier, county judge of Skullyville County and also signed by him.

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Clarksville Neighborhood School was smaller in student enrollment. All of the children in this school were Choctaw Freedmen:

Staff of Clarksville Neighborhood School
Some of the descendants of Battese families are fully enrolled citizens of the Chickasaw Nation.

Roster of Children in Clarksville Neighborhood School

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Staff of Dog Creek Neighborhood School. These names are still known among LeFlore County families. Moses Parker also oversaw the affairs of another Freedman School. (see below)

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Ft. Coffee Neighborhood School was in the one community that still exists today. However, like the other schools, the buildings no longer stand.

The two staff members, were Moses Parker and Squire Hall. 
These names are still spoken in Ft. Coffee today where their descendants reside.

Roster of Students from 1896

I was pleasantly surprised on one of the pages for the Ft. Coffee School, to see my grandfather's name among the students.

Page reflecting the name of my grandfather Samuel when he was a small child 
attending the Choctaw Neighborhood School, in Skullyville

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Opposum Creek Neighborhood School

Roster of Students from Opposum Creek Neighborhood Scohols

Although all of these schools are gone and the landscape reflects nothing of their having been there. Thankfully a few pages of school records remain to assist us with telling the story.

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Salt Creek  - A Freedman School in Indian Territory
Source: Archives &  Manuscripts Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Acts in Regards to Negroes, Free and Enslaved in the Cherokee & Choctaw Nations

I believe that the beginning of healing comes from truly looking at the policies of the past. 

I recently came across the words of William Goodell and his writings. I came across some of the policies that would have had direct impact on the lives of my ancestors living in bondage in Indian Territory. It was important to read them and to learn the lessons by knowing these things.

William Goodell was an abolitionist, a missionary and a reformer. Educated at Phillips Academy, he worked ardently through much of his life for the abolition of the institution of slavery.  He studied the laws and slave codes throughout the country, wrote a detailed book in 1853 called, "The American Slave Code" and the  included in his work were slave codes and policies enacted in Indian Territory.

Surprisingly he included some specific tribal policies of the Cherokee and Choctaw nation in his 1853 book, analyzing slave codes throughout the nations, the details obtained from the constitutions of these two tribes provide a sobering insight into the realities of slavery in Indian Territory.

William Goodell, Abolitionist and Author

In his work, he illustrated the policies of the tribes, by using language from the constitution of the two nations, employing the language of acts passed into law.

In the appendix he focuses on the two tribes:

"...all free women except the Africa race"

"...punishment not to exceed fifty stripes...."

Some aspects of intermarriage were considered acceptable and were considered worthy of legalizing as seen below.  Meanwhile there were also major restrictions placed upon those few who were free in the Territory and also of slaves.

Like the policies of the deep south, reading and education of slaves and also of free blacks was strictly forbidden.

"...leave the limits of the nation by the 1st of Jan. 1843."

Within the Choctaw Nation there were similar restrictions. Free blacks were not encouraged to settle in the community.

Abolitionists were clearly not welcomed in Choctaw country, and those showing sympathy towards blacks by breaking bread or kindly human interaction were frowned upon and such activities were clearly stated in tribal policies about such interactions.

There was some acknowledgement that there were persons of color who had blood ties to both Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. However, those free people of color with no blood ties were informed that they had to leave the nation.

I have often wondered about any slaves who may have gained freedom while being in the nations, what their fate may have been like.  Goodall reveals that it became tribal policy that if there were any who were manumitted by their slave holders, they had to leave out of fear of being re-sold into bondage.

What to Make of These Passages
Reading these passages is sobering but enlightening. It is clear that the "peculiar" institution of slavery was legally sanctioned into tribal culture after the nations had survived the harshness of the removal.  Were all of these policies actually carried out?  That is not certain. Perhaps some were in the early years after their passage, however, after the Civil War, there were clearly persons more persons of color in both tribes, who shared the blood of their masters, who had social relationships with tribal members, and who remained in the only land they knew as home.

Today in 21st century American what does one make of these policies? They provide some understanding of tribal policies today. 

These sentiments of 160 years ago, provided the backdrop of "blood politics"  still practiced to this day. These passages show how the dismissal of persons of African descent was viewed as somehow "logical" in the mind of the racial politician.

Today, blood policies that allow persons with less than a droplet of blood (e.g. 1/1000th and less) to be considered "connected" and "legitimate", illustrate that the concept and practice of discrimination towards those once enslaved, is still somehow "normal". These raced-based policies are still considered logical in their way of thinking. And as this has been shown, for this practice has a precedent, going back 160 years.

To the raced based politician and lobbyist, it is no matter to them that in spite of the fact that those who were once enslaved were immersed into the tribe by language, by their life's toil----their mere presence---the logic of their expulsion and their mistreatment has a precedent and still feeds into the logic of the racial political mind. 

To the racial politician they feel that this is somehow ok.  Furthermore, the concept that those once enslaved are somehow illegitimate and dispensable is embraced as has been witnessed in recent years. This is a way of thinking that goes back over 160 years.  It ties to a southern slave holding mentality that prevails.

But there may be some enlightened who dare to ask the pertinent questions, but it should be remembered that the beginning of healing comes from truly looking at the policies of the past

I hope that someday, my brothers and sisters from Indian Country will someday take a look at the past, understand the impact of the past and understand that we all need to grow and move forward. We share the same landscape for our history and we are all strengthened when we walk together. So as we read these texts, we grow and our journey takes a better direction.

Look at the policies of the past.. 
Read them. 
Acknowledge that they occurred.
And grow from them. 

We all benefit from that growth, not a portion, not a selected portion -- all of the family grows.

Remember, it was not until 100 years after the Civil War that the US finally began to make the sons and daughters of it  own slaves, full citizens--and that was a mere 40 years ago. And here we are145 years after the Treaty of 1866 was signed---the fate of the descendants of former slaves of Indians is still be addressed by the slave holding tribes. 

When do the slave owner's children decide that some sentiments can and should be changed? 

Perhaps true healing can now come when the descendants of slave holders, and policy makers address their own history-- for that is when true healing begins. 

The children and grandchildren of the enslaved hold no bitterness in their hearts, and in fact often find themselves surprised to learn that these sentiments from the tribes still prevail.

Hands have been extended, yet are there hands reaching back from the tribes? 

Only by acknowledging the past and working towards a new future can a "nation" truly progress. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Forgotten Days of Early Oklahoma - The Negro State Fair

From the years before statehood till the mid 1900s there were a number of events that were frequently attended by the Oklahoma African American community.  For many decades, families from the Freedmen communities of Indian Territory and later Oklahoma, celebrated Freedom and emancipation in early August. Another event was the Negro State Fair. In the early 1900s after statehood, Jim Crow was made legal when Senate Bill #1 was passed. But the African American community still lived and worked within those limitations to work and find time also to celebrate life.  One such even was the Negro State Fair. By 1915 such events occurred frequently.  But prior to that, many blacks from the new state of Oklahoma looked to Texas for inspiration for such fairs. A decade earlier a Negro state fair was a much anticipated event in Bonham Texas as well, and many families from Oklahoma are said to have frequented those four day events as well.
The events consisted of festivals, parades, music and rodeo expositions for the amusement of the spectators and visitors.

In 1920, the Tulsa Star, a black newspaper from Tulsa Oklahoma widely advertised the Oklahoma based Negro State fair. The sponsor of the event was J. Coody Johnson, the well known attorney and advocate for Seminole Freedmen. 
J. Coody Johnson
Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

A resident of Wewoka, the event was held on Johnson's property along the state highway outside of the city limits. As this was a four day event, the state superintendent of education allowed the "colored" schools to be closed so that school children could also participate in this event.

Tulsa Star October 9, 1920

Events for this fair consisted of exhibitions, rodeo events and a unique treat----airplane rides for those who wished to experience flight!

Portion of article about Negro State Fair
Source: Tulsa Star October 9, 1920 Page 2

It should be noted that the 1920 event was not the first such fair. Several years prior to Coody Johnson's sponsored fair there were similar events held in Muskogee in 1915 and 1917.

As indicated on the flyer for the Muskogee event, a parade through Muskogee was planned. In a rare piece of film footage depicting Oklahoma black life in the 20th century, one can get a glimpse of the Muskogee parade.

Film Footage Showing Glimpse of Muskogee Parade

Although times have changed over the past century, that such events no longer have to be racially segregated, one should still take note of the efforts when people who were legally sanctioned from many public events, struggled to entertain each other within those boundaries established by law. They were and still are those who resisted, remained and thrived.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our History Has No Shame

If one has been reading the papers, there has been a flurry of articles from the mainstream press as well as the Indian press.  All refer to the current issues of the rights of Cherokee Freedmen.  These are people who have a documented tie to the Cherokee Nation. These are people that many in Tahlequah wish would disappear, but at last, their existence is becoming known. Their ties in fact are well documented.  There is the Dawes Roll--but there are three additional rolls depicting black Cherokees before that. (see below) And decades before the Dawes Rolls were created, there were several hundred slaves taken west on the Trail of Tears.

This history is the very reason why such headlines appear in the press today. The descendants of those slaves---whose taxes pay for their very own discrimination, are speaking out against their exclusion and treatment. Many are writing about the subject, and for some, the argument is simply put by Professor Carla Pratt, of Penn State University: 

What Does a Slave-holding People Owe to the Those They Enslaved?

To many, the story in the headlines in recent months has been a story that is complex and confusing. 
To others, this is a story where those who were enslaved, lived within a community, were later freed, and now ostracized by the community where they were enslaved. To others this is a latent struggle for civil rights.

For many, this is a source of surprise and shock, because much public sympathy is given to Cherokees and sad stories about their sufferings on the Trail of Tears are well known. 

But now it is becoming widely known that this same group enslaved others, and now 140 years later---some wish to have nothing to do with the descendants of those slaves--citing an "invasion" of now "non-tribal" people who have no rights, and who should never have rights. There are fears that including this portion of people who were in the Territory from the years of removal to the present, will somehow make their nation weak.

The press has covered this story with a variation of  headlines and reactions. Some will call it blatantly racist. Others will point out the injustices of how a tribe receiving Federal funds, and those same funds paid for by taxpayers---including Freedmen descendants---are now used to prevent descendants of the tribe's former slaves from being considered a part of the nation where their ancestors continued to live.

The story is a broad one that covers not only one, but  of FIVE tribes of Oklahoma. Those tribes known as the Five "Civilized" Tribes, by some, and the Five Slave-holding Tribes, by others, were removed to Indian Territory years before the Civil War. (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations) But what is not known is that slaves---African slaves---from the American South were taken westward with them.  These slaves were not friends, or wards, or people "taken in" as many wish to hear.  These people were enslaved, auctioned for, purchased, traded,  bartered for and sold.  

The ugly side of America's past also stains the histories of these tribes, although to date, none of these tribes, nor their "official histories" even admit that it took place. 

However, there are records---thousands of them, that tell another story---and these records rest in many places.

One hears about the Dawes Rolls---but before that there was the Kern Clifton Roll. Before that there was the Wallace Roll. Before that there was the 1880 Authenticated Cherokee Roll. Before that there were the federal records---the 1860 Slave Schedules, and before that there were the hundreds of Cherokee slaves taken west on the Trail of Tears. 

There is an abundance of documents, and the records are worth studying and the story is well worth telling.

Kern Clifton Roll of Cherokee Freedmen was compiled before the Dawes Roll

Wallace Roll was created before the Kern-Clifton Roll and the Dawes Roll

Barbara Benge Documented the 1880 Authenticated Cherokee Census in her book published by Heritage Books 

Thankfully the records and the press are slowly unraveling the secret of the stories of 7,000 plus slaves from Indian Territory, and their descendants. 

And Genealogists as well as hsitroian historians are telling so much more. One historian Dr. Tiya Miles who has begun to tell the stories of the slaves of Cherokees was recently awarded the esteemed MacArthur Award--the genius grant for telling this little known chapter in American history. The lesson for us all is to tell the story and to study the records, old and new and insure that this significant part of history will no longer be hidden. 

Those of us who descend from those who were enslaved must remember---our history has no shame. The shame comes in not telling the story. 

Whether descendants of the enslaved or the slave holder, withholding this story dishonors the ancestors and dishonors the past, it creates disharmony in the present and it also threatens the future.

We honor all of our ancestors by telling their story. Descendants of slaves are now discovering this story and telling it.  Descendants of Indian slave holders .....some are acknowledging it, some are resisting it, but like all battles for integrity, that which is correct, shall prevail.

Let us chose to honor our ancestors---all of them. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chief Ward Coachman and the McGilbray Freedmen

Source of image: Oklahoma Historical Society

Studying the history of Indian Territory Freedmen is an endeavor that requires that one explore the presence of the Freedmen in their respective nations after slavery was abolished in the tribes. Citizenship was established by Treaty and each tribe signed the Treaty of 1866, and the former slaves were given the privileges of citizenship. Whether this citizenship was recognized varied from place to place, and from person to person. One can glean from the remarks of Chief Ward Coachman, in 1877, that the presence of Freedmen was not one entirely embraced by everyone in the community. However it does appear that this leader recognized the rights of citizenship to be held among Freedmen who had continued to live among Creek people.

Who was Ward Coachman? He was elected second chief of the Creeks in 1875 and not long afterwards, he became Principal Chief when Lochar Harjo had been impeached and removed from office. His tenure was short and he served only three years.

In 1877, on October 1st, he made an address to the House of Warriors and the House of Kings, addressing affairs of the tribe. 

Source: Oklahoma Historical Society

He addressed the status of education for the children in the tribe, the state of the economy which was an agricultural one, and he also addressed the rights of all of the people of the tribe, including the Freedmen, and a group to which he referred to as "The McGilbray Freedmen."
Source: Oklahoma Historical Society

The statements made by this Principal Chief are clear and are one of the few times that one will find words from a tribal chief of the former slave-holding tribes, that address the rights of their former slaves to remain and live fully as citizens. He particularly recognized, that if necessary, "some action be had recognizing the rights of all who under the treaty are entitled to citizenship and equal rights and privileges with us."

Although times have changed in a dramatic way over the past century, the wisdom and sense of equity expressed by this leader of the Muscogee people should be read again, and there might be lessons from which many can learn and grow during these times of contention.

Enrollment Card of one of the McGilbray Freedmen

Monday, September 19, 2011

Black Slaves Red Masters Part 3

Black Slaves Red Masters, Part 2

Black Slaves, Red Masters Part 1

This is part 1 of a video created by journalist and anchor Sam Ford, now of Washington DC. Mr. Ford is a descendant of Cherokee Freedmen.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Freedmen Series - A Video Series

The Freedmen Series

This video series will consist of 6 parts examining the rich genealogical records available to researchers whose history resides on the soil of what became Oklahoma in 1907.

From the 1830s onward, thousands of African ancestored people resided in Indian Territory. Some arrived as free people, but most lived and died enslaved.

The series will examine unique records before and during the Dawes years, and will also look at records reflecting the free people, the slaveholders and efforts extending to Congress, all of which hold rich genealogical data for scholars to examine and tell an untold story.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What a Difference A Century Can Make: 1903 - 2011

Source: Eufaula Indian Journal, August 28, 1903, p. 8, column 2

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(click here)

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Removal of Freedmen - Official & Ongoing since 1938

The recent actions this week of the Cherokee Nation to remove the Cherokee Freedmen once again, and just prior to a runoff election of a chief who has worked diligently for their removal brings back interesting memories of days of segregation, voting rights and voting prevention by those in power.

However, looking at historical records, it is also clear that such sentiments have interesting origins emanating from the Bureau of Indian Affairs over 70 years ago.

There was a fear that Freedmen-descendants of slaves held by the Five Tribes would eventually outnumber the other members of the tribe--and so to prevent any power to emerge from Freedmen and their descendants, official anti-black policies were established by the BIA, and expressed in written documents.

This sentiment was a national one, was one in which persons with African Ancestry regardless of other mixtures in their lineage--were to be excluded systematically and officially in all aspects of American life. This was warmly embraced in the Five Slaveholding Tribes.

The actions of exclusion in 2011 are merely following a seven-decades old policy that is now perceived to be logical, in spite of its illogical and illegal nature.

Further documents from the BIA:


The most interesting documents reflect the numbers that the BIA had presented as the current population of Freedmen.  Keeping in mind that this document was created in the 1930s, in the years prior to World War II, it appears that until that time, the numbers of Freedmen descendants was still being kept. They had significantly grown since the numbers admitted during the years of the Dawes Commission.

There is a tremendous lesson, in particular the need to learn the history and the facts that reflect the efforts of the descendants of former slaves from Five Tribes which held them in bondage and their efforts to find a place and meaning in a land where history has forgotten them.

 Their stories are important and like all stories, deserve to be told.