Sunday, July 3, 2011

Evangel Mission, A School for Creek Freedmen

Evangel Mission,  a School for Freedmen, Location: Muskogee Oklahoma

It is important to keep one's eyes open for pieces of history all the time.  

Sometimes an old photo can tell stories and many times stories are found small pieces of paper that can tell a story. I often find clues even when I am not looking. Finding the answers to questions unexpectedly.

Such is the story of my learning about Evangel Mission.

While recently going through a collection of records, I noticed a letter. Since it was written on stationery, I enlarged it just to see the image, and thought it looked familiar. And this simple letter in an old collection finally revealed the name of this beautiful school. It was known as Evangel Mission.

The masthead on the letter revealed not only the name of the school--but indicated that it was a place of residence for"friendless"  Indian and colored children. This school was probably the first school known to be racially integrated, as a school for Indian and "colored" children. The letter was written almost 30 years before Oklahoma became a state and quickly instituted racial codes separating the races for decades.

Evangel Mission was a Baptist School founded in 1883

Evangel Mission was established in 1883, and was operated by Baptists missionaries.But not much has ever been written about the school.. But from the a letter written in 1888, on official stationery it appears that in the 1880s, for some time the school was under the direction of Rev. Ira A. Cain. 

Today, the building is known by a different name--the Five Civilized Tribes Museum.Yet, when visiting the site today----it it known to be a building rich in history but the name of the school is not mentioned. 

Interestingly---there are several historical markers on the ground of this site---for at one time, it was also the old Creek Agency, but Evangel Mission School is not mentioned by name on any of the historical markers. 

Marker on Grounds of Evangel Mission, now The Five Tribes Museum
Source of photo: Personal Collection of Anegla Walton-Raji

Another marker on the found of the museum
Photo: Personal Collection of Angela Y. Walton-Raji

Five Tribes Museum Today
Photo Taken by Angela Walton-Raji

One historic artifact rests on the grounds, which could be the old school bell for Evangel Mission.
Photo taken by: Angela Y. Walton-Raji

And next to the school bell is another marker that speaks to the history of the building as the old Creek Indian Agency.  

On the marker it also mentions that the building was at one time a school. However, the name of the school is not mentioned.

Marker next to the old bell, mentions that the building 
was once a school used by Creek Freedmen children, but no name is mentioned.

Thanks to a letter that was found in a collection of letters, the name of the school, one of the officers of the school, Rev. Ira A. Cain, is now known. It is clear that the school was known as Evangel Mission.

On the school stationery, a caption underneath the image of the school suggests that there were additional buildings that comprised Evangel Mission School.

If the school was a self-functioning school as the marker suggests, there would have been other buildings, and being a Baptist school there also would have been a chapel among the buildings. Though much of the land around Evangel Mission (now the Five Tribes museum), is now occupied by a large water tank on one side and a hospital on the other side, I cannot help but still wonder what the other buildings were, and where they stood.  

Nothing has surfaced to date with the names of the children, nor any of the teachers.  However, the letter below suggests that the school was funded by some relatives of the school children, and all were not known to have been orphans or "friendless" children.

Letter Found on Evangel Mission School Stationery

Page 2 of letter from Evangel Mission 

Someday, I hope that the history of Evangel Mission school will be known.  Unlike so many other schools, that have disappeared and are not remembered,  this is probably the only Freedman school known to still be standing.  

Many questions about Evangel Mission must be asked:

Who founded the school?

Who were the teachers?  

Who were the students?  

Do the foundations of other buildings still exist on the property?  (Have they ever been sought?)

Have any records of Evangel Mission survived?  If so--where are they? 

Could old records be in the building today?  

And now that the name of this school is known---Evangel Mission---can it's name be put someplace on the premises?

In a recent blog post,  I mentioned that there are so few landmarks that represent the African American history of Oklahoma, especially the pre-statehood-Indian Territory years.  

Oak Hill Academy for Choctaw Freedmen is gone. 
Tullahassee Mission School aka Flipper Davis College is gone. 
The Creek-Seminole College for Freedmen in Boley is gone.
All of the original buidings that were built on Langston University are gone.
Tushka Lusa Academy for Choctaw Freedmen is gone.

BUT-------for some reason---perhaps for the beauty of it architecture---the old Evangel Mission School stands. 

Although at present the visitor to this building is not told of its rich history, perhaps that can be changed. Although today it is known as the Five Civilized Tribes Museum, nothing prevents anyone from referring to this important building by the name that it once bore for many years---Evangel Mission.

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