Friday, January 28, 2011

The Ancestors Speak the Truth of Who They Were

When looking at the saga of issues pouring out of the Cherokee Nation, one sees the manipulation of words----NON Indian--------but never NON-Cherokee.  But beyond all of that--------------who were the Freedmen? 

Who were the Freedmen upon whom their descendants base their claim of an Indian tribal legacy?

Willie Davis, Cherokee Freedman

Sallie Walton, Choctaw Freedman

Thomas Stevenson, Chickasaw Freedman

Sarah Rector, Creek Freedman

Caesar Bruner, Seminole Freedman

They were people from the five slave-holding tribes, who lived peacefully in their various nations, spoke the language of the tribe, ate the same food, and toiled upon the land. Men, women, & children, whose kinsmen now declare that they are an alien non-Indian people who have infiltrated their domain.  But when you read the stories of the ancestors----all becomes clear.  The heinous practices of from Tahlequah to Tishomingo speak to what they are. 

But the words of the ancestors are clear----they speak the truth of who they were.

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The Case of Chaney Richardson

Chaney Richardson was an old lady in  the 1930s, and she told her story in 1937 when interviewed as part of the WPA.  This is part of her story:

Her background:
           "I was born in the old Caney settlement southeast of Tahlequah on the banks of Caney Creek. Off to the north we could see the big old ridge of Sugar Mountain when the sun shine on him first thing in the morning when we all getting up.... 

Her parents:
            My pappy's name was Joe Tucker and my mammy's name was Ruth Tucker. They belonged     to a man named Tucker before I was born and he sold them to Master Charley Rogers and he just let them go on by the same name if they wanted to, because last names didn't mean nothing to a slave anyways. The folks jest called my pappy "Charley Rogers' boy Joe."

Death of her mother:

          When I was about 10 years old that feud got so bad the Indians was always talking about getting their horses  and cattle killed and their slaves harmed. I was too little to know how bad it was until one morning my own mammy went off somewhere down the road to git some stuff to dye cloth and she didn't come back. It was about a week later that two Indian men rid up and ast old master wasn't his gal Ruth gone. He says yes, and they take one of the slaves along with a wagon to show where they seen her.

         They find her in some bushes where she'd been getting bark to set thedyes, and she been 
dead all the time. Somebody done hit her in the head with a club and shot her through and through with a bullet, too. She was so swole up they couldn't lift her up and jest had to make a deep hole right along side of her and roll her in it she was so bad mortified.

Loss of her siblings: 
             I think old Master sell the children or give them out to somebody then, because I never see  my sisters and brother for a long time after the Civil War, and for me, I have to go live with a new mistress that was a Cherokee neighbor.

Death of her father:
           Somebody come along and tell me my own pappy have to go into the war and I think they say he on the Cooper side, and then after while Miss Hannah tell me he git kilt over in Arkansas.
I was so grieved all the time I don't remember much what went on, but I know pretty soon my Cherokee folks had all the stuff they had et up by the soldiers and they was jest a few wagons and mules left.

Hiding of the Cherokee slaves:
       "All the slaves was piled in together and some of the grown ones walking, and they took us way down across the big river and kept us in the bottoms a long time until the War was over. We lived in a kind of a camp, but i was too little to know where they got the grub to feed us with. Most all the Negro men was off somewhere in the War."

In her latter years:
       I've been a good church-goer all my life until I get too feeble, and I still understand and talk Cherokee language and love to hear songs and parts of the Bible in it because it make me think about the time I was a little girl before my mammy and pappy leave me.

Can anyone reading the above passage say thats Chaney Richardson was not Cherokee?

Can even the current chief today truly look a descendant of this woman in the eye---without blinking and DARE say that she was not Cherokee?

She even spoke the language that he himself does not even speak---she spoke Cherokee, yet he and his staff dare declare her to be, NOT Cherokee.

Can the tribe that labels her and her descendants simply as non-Indian truly be believed?

The tribe devotes an ENTIRE page on their website to justify those whom they call NON-Indian. But--- they are careful not to call them Non Cherokee----because the fact is Chaney Richardson IS Cherokee. And if she is----then her descendants are---no matter what.

Chaney spoke the language and lived according to Cherokee customs.  Yet, her descendants are treated in this manner in the nation of their birth: See image below.

Image from Official Website of Cherokee Nation, with 4th link blatant calling Cherokee Freedmen NON-Indians.  (Wisely they are not referred to as Non-Cherokee)

Sadly-----the word Indian is being used as a "blanket" pun intended---to garner support from the world---that Cherokee Indians have been invaded by alien non-Indians.  

But even Tahlequah officials must acknowledge that -----Chaney Richardson was BORN into the Cherokee world, and that she TOILED for the Cherokee world, ----and no word manipulation, no expensive representation from The Podesta Group, no clever "we-are-victims" wording on tribal membership sites will make the slaves of  their ancestors alien invaders.  

They were Cherokee. 
They lived in a Cherokee world.
They spoke the Cherokee language.
They  lived by Cherokee law.

And likewise,

For the Freedmen descendants of all of the slave-holding tribes:

They were Indian people.
They lived in an Indian world.
They spoke the Indian language of their birth.
The lived by Indian law.

But today, in Tahlequah their crime is simply having slaves as ancestors.

Those who label a segment of their population of people whose ancestors were once enslaved IN their nation as NON----------- those individuals who use such terms hide behind a blanket of shame.

But the ancestors speak the truth of who they were.  

No clever maneuvering can change the past----they speak the truth of who they were.  As Chaney Richardson said: 

 "I still understand and talk Cherokee language and love to hear songs and parts of the Bible in it because it make me think about the time I was a little girl before my mammy and pappy leave me."

NO ONE can say that this woman is not Cherokee.

She was----her children were----and her descendants are.  

No race-driven madness can change who she was.  She merely lived life as it was handed to her in her Cherokee world.

Our ancestors lived their lives as it was handed to them, in their corner of Indian Territory.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can a Friend of Friends be Found in the Territory?

Someday the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners 
will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.......Martin Luther King, 1963

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Last year, in the genealogy community, a movement was created allowing descendants of slave holders to share information in their families or family papers with descendants of those who were enslaved. This gesture originated on the Our Georgia Roots blog, and and from Luckie Davis the blogger's open letter to the genealogy community,  it turned into a wonderful event where people began to interact with each other, acknowledging the past and working together in the same direction to something new. The Friend of Friends  site emerged and now dozens are sharing data on slaves once a part of their family's circle as well.

I was inspired last year, when a descendant of the slaveholders of my own Choctaw family, reached out to me. I shared that meeting with readers of my blog as well. I am happy to say that a year later, there is still contact with my new "cousins" and that our relationship is a genuine one. We speak or email regularly and we discuss the mysteries in the family and the facts that we both share in our lines.  It was and continues to be a good one.

My meeting with Choctaw Descendant of the Perry clan.

I have reason to be optimistic again. This is because another person has also reached out to me.

A descendant of another Choctaw slave holder has contacted me.

We have talked, he visits my sites, we exchange email and there is hope for dialogue, and friendship to emerge. He was not an apologist, nor a revisionist for his ancestors.  And he is not responsible for the actions of his ancestors,  yet he is aware of the issues of freedmen, agrees that the tribes are also on the wrong moral side. He has shared a document created by one of his ancestors talking about the ex slaves.  He is willing to look at other family records, and he has extended a hand of friendship that I accept and that I appreciate.

So---what are the lessons here?

Lesson #1 We can meet and share what we have in common
Lesson #2 We can work to explore a better future together
Lesson #3  We can also be friends and embrace that which is also family.

How does this happen?

-Joint conferences/reunions/gatherings, to share our history can be organized. This can truly happen and there can be something good.  I was one of the many who attended the often mentioned Dartmouth conference in 2000.  That event had its moments of tension and was not without controversy then.  And this past year, several Cherokee and other native scholars attended the conference in eastern Oklahoma that several of Freedmen descendants also attended last year. Not one of the native scholars ever acknowledged that we were there, not one spoke to us unless we initiated it and not one even passed a polite nod or smile.  Icy?  Indeed!! But it doesn't have to be. Thankfully the conference planners also Indian, were warm, genuine and shared a spirit of welcome.

-Share a preservation project---cemeteries both black and Indian are disappearing fast and both need to be preserved.  Why not share that preservation effort? Many are working independently to preserve these burial sites---but how much more could be done with collaboration?

-Expand the level of scholarship.  There should be an area of study that explores the Freedmen histories, landmarks, communities----and they can take place by scholars of all races including Indian scholars who have conveniently skip over these chapters in their own history.  It does not make you less Indian by looking at, and studying and talking to the many Africans who lived and live in your midst.  The history is rich and full of amazing stories of resilience of so many! We share that history with you.

-Educational funding----myself having been an educator, and a reader in a national scholarship program, (the Gates Millenium Scholarship) and with over 25 years in higher education, I am aware of remarkable funding sources for students of all backgrounds, the opportunities and the similarity of needs within both communities. I would propose the development of  a scholarship for distinguished scholars, a fund for those who are Dawes Descendants could be initiated, and maintained by a team of educators.  There are methods of securing funds that would not tap into precious tribal resources---and the development of such a fund would serve so many.

-Health awareness and Wellness Both Indian and African American communities suffer from the same diseases. The occurrence of diabetes and hypertension are rampant in both communities, and are at epidemic proportions.  There are individuals who are working on their own to develop community based health programs, including growing organic foods, obesity prevention and so much more.  The same health problems are threatening us all, and stemming from the same causes, starch based diets, fast foods, fried foods, sedentary lifestyle, and more.  There are opportunities within the same communities to address these issues jointly---if only the people would start to talk to each other.

Our needs are the same.
Our histories took place on the same landscape.
And our ancestors arrived together---on the same trail!

When will other descendants of slaves and descendants of slave owners, shake hands and emerge as friends and family?   I am grateful that one man reached out to me and that we met a year ago.

Hopefully others will follow that lead, and will do the same thing.  Surely not everyone in Tahlequah is afraid of dialogue.  Surly not everyone in Durant looks aside when someone different comes their way. Surely not everyone in Tishmingo or Oklmulgee buries their past, and hopefully not everyone in Seminole flinches when members of the Barkus band or Bruner bands, (the Freedman bands) attend a meeting.

Our needs are the same. 
Our histories took place on the same landscape.
And our ancestors arrived together---on the same trail!  

I think back a year ago, when I met the Perry descendants for the first time, and I also realize that this was probably one of the first if not the very first case of slave owners from an Indian tribe who have extended a hand of friendship to descendants of family slaves. Our meeting was probably an historic one, and it is one for which I am grateful.

What emerged was nothing confrontational, or adversarial.  It was a meeting of people who share a history, and one in which that history was acknowledged and a relationship that has been rewarding has resulted.

I think back at the conference in Muskogee, that my colleagues and I attended, and recall that very few from the tribal entities spoke to us. Some chose simply to ignore our presence, while others were overtly rude.  Some of us attempted dialogue, and only after standing aside for long periods of time, would we finally have the attention of one of the speakers, for a mere autograph on a book. It was clear that our questions were merely tolerated, as if  there was an expectation of  trouble to emerge from the Freedmen in the room. But we cannot dwell on that behavior and must simply move on.

I was inspired by the Perrys of LeFlore as I am inspired by others who listen, read, and who share. The possibilities are countless and people will realize that they have more in common than not in common.

Our needs are the same. Our histories took place on the same landscape. And our ancestors arrived together---on the same trail!

Let us learn from my meeting last year. Such things can be done.  I gladly share a portion of that meeting here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

One Cannot Erase the History of One's Past

Federal Census of 1860 - Slave Inhabitants Cherokee Nation

List of people enslaved by Cherokee Chief John Ross

Continuation of Slaves Owned by Cherokee Chief John Ross

Many of the controversies coming from the Five Tribes of Oklahoma, stem from the fact the descendants of Indian Territory slaves, are the testament to slavery that took place on the soil of what is now Oklahoma. The descendants of those who were enslaved, are a reminder to the world, that the tribes that were removed from the southeast, had joined and participated in America's original sin---Black chattel slavery.

From the Freedman Expulsion Vote of 2007, to the Lawsuits Filed in Tribal Court Against the Freedmen Descendants by the tribe-----the Cherokee Nation has struggled to divest itself of its slave legacy by simply keeping them out of visibility to all who hold the nation in sympathy, but as it should not do---it won't go away.  It will not go away----the tribes are standing on the wrong moral side of a story that has a simple solution.

George Wallace, Lester Maddox and many countless segregationists of the 1940s 50s and 60s were also on the wrong moral side of a story that had a solution. 

Acknowledge your actions and treat all portions of your nation as citizens, and  move forward as a stronger nation, with its integrity intact.

What will probably be a surprise is that many descendants of Freedmen of the Five Tribes, want nothing other than citizenship and the right to speak of their past without rebuke or scorn from the nation, in which their ancestor EARNED their citizenship. Yes, slavery earned the citizenship of those once enslaved, and they deserved no expulsion, nor mistreatment, nor disenfranchisement. No more than the treatment of former slaves after freedom in the deep south was deserved, it was not deserved in the Territory, and surely not 140 years later. The actions of the 21st century have placed slave holding tribal leaders on the wrong side of a moral battle.

The recent ruling from Tahlequah  (click on link to see the ruling) is an ironic one---because this was the case where the tribe sued individuals whom they had never met, never acknowledged and never even informed them of the lawsuit!!!  It was imply a legal action organized in tribal court against individuals who had never harmed them, never broken a law---they had merely existed while black in the land of their parent's birth.  And, the tribe lost this battle that they started.  

Today in the 21st century, in one tribe on their tribal website they rebuke the Freedmen and call them simply  "non-Indian" (click on link to see the page)---- because they don't have their slave owner's blood.  That can be interpreted in many ways----meaning looking too black, not being light enough, or not being white enough. Non Indian? In a tribe that admits people who are 1/1000th Indian blood as being Indian enough----let common sense prevail that too is also non-Indian. 1/1000th?  And the argument of blood was never applied to the children of inter-married whites----only the children and descendants enslaved blacks were the problem and they were the ones to whom this has been applied and yet---- citizens by treaty since 1866 they are citizens and can prove their tie by blood to their citizen ancestors!  The insanity of it all!

In an immoral battle, there is a lesson here however, and the greater lesson is that: one cannot erase the history of one's past.  One understands it, talks about it, acknowledges it, CORRECTS it and moves forward.

There will be no need spend millions more dollars to revise history, for it won't work. There are documents that exist to contradict every word that has been said to justify the reasons for expulsion. But one cannot erase the history of one's past.

Slave Auction site

There will be no need to hire expensive lobbyists who can't help you in an immoral battle. Not even the Podesta Group could resolve the problem.  No need to invent claims of what documents really meant, for they speak for themselves as they reflect what they really said.  One cannot erase the history of one's past.  Acknowledge it, talk about it, and correct it, and move on.

Looking at the recent case that brought out about this week's ruling, it is so interesting, as not even those who were sued in Cherokee Court were told of their suit in tribal court by the tribe. And look closley, the Freedmen are part of the nation---whether this is liked or not.  As slaves were part of the Cherokee community, so too are their children.  And so, the tribe, sued a portion of its own self---- in its own court---- and lost!!

Once again, being on the wrong side of a moral battle, where it was hoped that the courts would put a nail in the coffin, of segregation, fate has stepped in, because  one cannot erase the history of one's past.

In days gone by from Webbers Falls when the slaves revolted to the tribal confederate alliances of the Civil War fought to keep people enslaved, it was a loss again.  One the wrong side of a moral battle. And one cannot erase the history of one's past.

Slave mansions in Tahlequah still bear the mark of plantation life that was, and yet none of the slave holding tribes even mention this in their history, perhaps of fear that visitors will think less of them, but, the lesson is clear--- one cannot erase the history of one's past.

But the real solution is not that difficult. 

Have a good cleansing of one's conscience, and honestly look at the history, at the facts and look also at the possibilities.

A coming to the table will open so many doors. For what do the descendants of former slaves want? That is simple----to be included in the nation that their parents, grandparents, gr. grandparents only knew as home.
Is that so frightening? 

They want simply not to be ostracized because of a clever manipulation of words and documents and rolls of segregation.

They want what all people want---their legacy as men, as women and as people to be honored.  Period.  

If one has an inability to embrace that concept---once again, they stand on the wrong side of an moral battle.  

From Tahlequah, to Tishomingo, from Seminole, to Durant to Okmulgee, how ironic that America's first citizens can stand and look at the descendants those stolen from another land and enslaved in their land and can tell them, in a good old fashioned southern manner---you are nothing, you don't have my good blood, and therefore I can legislate you out of existence.

It is time to come to the table.  The people you hate do not hate you.

It is time, Tahlequah, Tishomingo, Seminole, Durant, Okmulgee---if you wish to stand rightfully in the league of nations----you must embrace all components that make up who you are. And yes, those slaves that supported those leaders of the past brought you to this day!  And they ARE part of you!

You cannot erase the history of your past.

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Collage of Indian Territory Freedmen Illustration by: Terry Ligon

Monday, January 17, 2011

On This MLK Day I Like to Think that "A Change is Gonna Come"

Who will meet me on the Cultural Bridge?

"I have a dream that one day........the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.~

In September 2010, I shared information with my readers about my meeting a man who could also be my cousin, who contacted me.  He was the descendant of the slave owner of my gr. grandparents, and it was f or both of us A Choctaw Reunion. That meeting restored a sense of confidence in people and what people when they talk, can do.

This past week I receive another amazing email.  It was a from a gentleman who read my article about Israel Folsom, a Choctaw leader in the 19th century, and a man who also owned slaves.  The man who contacted  me was a descendant of Israel Folsom. His email was a warm one, rich in detail and he left a phone number.  I replied to his email and he wrote a second time.  The response was rich in detail, about his ancestors, and it included information about the relationship that the family maintained with some of the former slaves and their descendants. It described a relationship that continued into the 1970s.  His second email also contained a phone number, and I decided to phone him to thank him for sharing rich data with me.  We ended up talking for quite a while----and had much to share.  Like my experience with the gentleman I met a year ago, our conversation was warm, enlightening, and full of information, that will allow us to continue to talk in the future.

Several months ago, I asked the question---who will meet me on the cultural bridge? I was compelled to ask the question to express thoughts and emotions from having attended a remarkable landmark conference in Muskogee Oklahoma.  The term was taken from a presentation by one of the storytellers at that conference who asked such a question in that way. 

On this day, which happens to be Martin Luther King's birthday, I am also compelled to ask the question and to reflect on his words and dedication to understanding, and to dialogue, conversation and human respect shown to all. That event in itself was enlightening, although in real time, the interaction between those from the tribes and those from the Freedmen communities was sparse and at times chilly.  But we all must grow from the experiences that we have.

With some of my paternal roots firmly planted in Oklahoma soil, the lessons of the past have not been without its challenges. Slavery, the American kind-----black chattel slavery was practiced in what is now Oklahoma-- and the slaveowners in my family's case were Choctaw.  My gr. grandparents Sam & Sallie Walton were among those slaves.

Enrollment Card of Sam & Sallie Walton as Choctaw Freedmen
M 1186  Choctaw Freedman Card #777

The Choctaw slave owners of my gr. grandparents were clearly spelled out on the card.

In the course of conversation with the Colbert descendant, it was odd to him also that slave descendants were  still disenfranchised to this day.  He acknowledged the fact that slavery but surely, he had hoped that such ideas of separation were not woven into tribal politics today----but they are, and I explained how this is, and how Freedmen are considered unworthy of citizenship.  

It should be noted that the gentleman who contacted me, is an accomplished professional, very well educated and well established in the community where he lives.  He is an enrolled member of the tribe, and though he lives outside of Oklahoma today, does get back to his home base at least once a  year. He is therefore, no stranger to the land of his parents, grandparents, and gr. grandparents. He was also a very gracious man, and our conversation promises to lead to future ones, where data and stories can be shared, and barriers can be torn down.

This week, a judge in Cherokee Court, addressed the amendment that allowed the Cherokee Nation to "vote out" a portion of their nation that they don't like.  The judge courageously pointed out that no longer can a tribe that hides behind a "blanket of blood" (they don't have our blood) be allowed to do something so heinous. 

On the day when many in the land, pause to reflect on why MLK Day exists, I urge those to simply dwell on the very concept of how descendants of those who lived on the land, who worked on the land, who died on the land in the same community----how can they NOT be considered to be a part of the community that they helped to build?

Perhaps those who despise the descendants of their slaves, from Tahlequah, to Tishomingo, from Seminole, to Durant, to Okmulgee-----perhaps it is time that they look at themselves, at their practices at their values, and decide that it is time to do what is right. And then perhaps a "change is gonna come."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Amendment to Cherokee Constitution against Freedmen Overturned

Enrollment Flyer Used for Cherokee Freedmen
Distributed to Cherokee Freedmen Citizens During the
Years of the Dawes Commission Enrollment Period

In a lower court ruling today, Cherokee Nation District Court Judge John Cripps overturned an amendment to the Cherokee Nation Constitution passed by the Cherokee people with 77% of the vote in 2007, which denied citizenship to about 2,800 non-Indian freedmen descendants who had gained citizenship since a previous court ruling in 2006. 

Information was just released today and the ruling can be found HERE.

This ruling means that the Cherokee Nation may begin to process the applications of several thousand applications made by Cherokee Freedmen, that were halted when the nation voted to expel descendants of those who were once held as slaves by the nation.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remembering the 1st Kansas Colored - Black Freedom Fighters from Indian Territory

Flag of the 1st Kansas Colored


As the nation begins to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, we as descendants of Indian Territory Freedmen need to pay attention to the efforts that will unfold for the next five years.  In the nearby United States,  as well as in Indian Territory, from 1861-1865, there was active  participation in the fight for freedom among those who were slaves of the Five Tribes---Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations. Several hundred Africans fled into Kansas, and emerged as soldiers, armed and ready to fight for their freedom!

Upon arrival in Kansas after a treacherous winter trip into this non-slave state, an incredible opportunity arose for the slaves who escaped with Opothle Yahola and others. This opportunity was to seize freedom, enlist in the Union Army and to fight for freedom! Many men responded, some joining the 1st Kansas Colored, others the 2nd Kansas Colored and a small number of these black men also joined the 1st and 2nd Indian Home Guards.

Today is the anniversary of the date that the 1st Kansas Colored, was mustered into the Federal Army which redesignated this unit as the 79th US Colored Infantry (New).   The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry is historically one of the most significant regiments for it was a regiment of "firsts".

This was the first African American unit recruited in the Union Army for service in the Civil War.
As a unit they were organized as early as August 1862, and the 1st Kansas colored was later officially mustered into the Federal Army on January 13th.

This was the first black regiment to engage in battle in the Civil War
Prior to merger with the Federal Army, the 1st Kansas Colored engaged in battle at Island Mound, Missouri in October 1862.

From this unit came the first black soldiers to die in action in the Civil War.
10 soldiers died at Island Mound, but the battle was a victory, as confederate soldiers were driven off.

Photo: Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

And of course, the distinction of this unit was that this unit would be the one that "saved the day" at the Battle of Honey Springs. This battle was one in which was also described by a former Creek Nation slave, Lucinda Davis, who was a young girl, who lived close to the battlefield. She was interviewed during the WPA Slave Narrative project period.

Photo: Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society
Lucinda Davis was an eyewitness to the beginning of 
the Battle of Honey Springs

Among the stories that we collect---there should be those stories of the first days of freedom, the Civil War efforts made by our ancestors, and their involvement in the war that eventually led to freedom. 

Of course it must be mentioned that the end of the Civil War did not bring immediate freedom for those in Indian Territory.  When slaves were freed in the United States, the tribes were resistant in freeing their slaves in many places throughout the Territory. As a result, the Treaty of 1866 was signed that officially abolished slavery in the Five slave holding tribes.

This is all the more reason for the need to tell the story of the bravery of those men from the nations that did enlist---that did defy their masters many of whom had joined Indian confederate regiments----and their goal had nothing to do with rights of southern states----the Indian confederate units engaged in the war of the rebellion to preserve chattel slavery on their soil.  

The courage of those enslaved men, who dared to escape therefore should not only be honored, but their stories should be studied and learned and told, so the future generations will know these stories.  

We honor our ancestors by telling their stories!

Headstone of Robert Bowleggs, 79th US Colored Infantry
Buried at Ft. Smith National Cemetery
Photo taken by Tonia Holleman of Van Buren Arkansas
The 79th was first organized as the 1st Kansas Colored

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Case of Susan Colbert, Cherokee Father, Choctaw Freedman Mother

The WPA interview with Susan Colbert is an interesting one.  It reveals the policies under which many Freedmen had to live and the discrimination that was expected to be dealt to them.  This sentiment, is reflected also in the voice in which this interview was written. Instead of a 1st person speaker voice, the entire selection was written in the voice of the interviewer, Gomer Gower.  Many of the Gower interviews are most interesting since he interviewed many from the ex slave community of the Choctaw Nation.   However, his sentiments come through on the final page, that the exclusion and non-recognition of marriages with between Choctaw and "negro" spouses was acceptable and also to be applauded.

(interview continues below)

 (Having a mother who was a former slave, was the prevailing rule that placed Susan Colbert on the Freedmen roll, and prevented her descendants from having access to the Nation of their ancestor today.  Their distinguishing fault? Having a female ancestor of the wrong color.)

She married twice in her lifetime.  Her first marriage was to a Choctaw freedman, and after their marriage ended, she married a Choctaw I.C. Colbert. This is one of the few interviews that outlines the racial policies followed by the Dawes Commission, and conveniently used by tools today as a tool of exclusion.

The Irony
Strangely, the practices of exclusion practice 100 years ago are not known to most who descend from their Freedmen ancestors. Thus today many individuals apply to the tribe of their grandparents and gr. grandparents, hoping to enroll in the nation. The sentiment is one of "joining the family" but when the application is received---the jolt is felt!!!  They are surprised, hurt, and confused--for the people for whom they had warmth and good feelings are meeting them with with hostility, coldness and outright dislike.  This again is unexpected and not understood.

Many Freedmen descendants speak of their ties to the Five tribes, with good feelings, and pride, and many are stunned into silence to learn that such feelings are not mutual, towards them, and that the policies of exclusion continue and are part of the current policies of the day. The hurt and surprise come from the fact that they have been taught that African people they were accepted, when there was in fact little acceptance, and surprising to many there is even less today.

The reason for so much of this comes from the fact that slavery is not acknowledged as being part of the history of the tribes, and students in Oklahoma today are not taught about slavery that took place on their own soil.

The interview continues:

This segment indicated that there was little change to the lives 
of the Choctaw slaves even in Freedom.

The policies of a different set of rules for Freedmen was actually addressed in her interview.

The interviewer Mr. Gower outlines the sentiments of the day (and interestingly today). The treatment or mistreatment towards those possessing African blood was not only legal  for the policy makers, but it was also considered to be smart and somehow protective. This treatment of Freedmen and their descendants was somehow  "protection," supposedly against the Negroes who might harm the integrity of the tribe.  It was described by the interviewer as wisdom that was actually greater than, as the he described it, the wisdom of Solomon.

This is such a strange statement to read and to absorb, and as both a researcher, and one who descends from Freedmen, it presents a sad statement that anti-black feelings are far larger than imagined, studied about, and admitted to by those from many communities.

This interview is shared here, because it is reflective of a policy enacted 100 years ago, supported to this day, and until further notice will continue.

Three years ago, a gentleman from the same county (LeFlore) submitted an application to the Choctaw Nation.  The enrollment card alone was clear, that the mother was a Freedman and the father was a Choctaw Indian.  The result was that the entire family of over 125 who had applied as a group were denied.  Their rejection was based solely on an ancestor who had been placed on the Freedman roll.  The father of the child was a well known Choctaw who had been a part of the tribal council and whose descendants from his other wife were easily admitted. Their admission ticket---having a mother who had no Negro blood.

This interview was one of the more fascinating ones from the Pioneer Papers, and it explains the origins of policies practiced today.

The greater irony, that Freedmen descendants, tax paying citizens of the United States are among the only people paying with their tax dollars for their own discrimination.

Sadly those who speak with such warmth and good feelings have an unpleasant surprise awaiting them, should they submit applications for enrollment.