Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tushka Lusa Academy - The Staff & The Students

Tushka Lusa Academy Part 2

The first administrator of  the Choctaw Freedman school of Tushka Lusa Institute that became known as Tushkalusa Academy was Henry Nail. Not much is known about his background, but he was a Choctaw Freedman, and he lived in the same Talihina Community where the school was established. 

The academy was located 3 miles southeast of Talihina Indian Territory, and although there were other schools for Freedmen in other parts of the Choctaw Nation, it apppears that Tushka Lusa was the premiere school. The enrollment was never more than 40 nor was it intended for any larger number, so selection and admission to the school would clearly have been viewed as a special privilege. 

Tushka Lusa Academy provided basic education and was not a secondary school. However, many of the students were actually in their teen years. The school was divided into five grades and the basic subjects of Reading, Arithmetic, Geography, Spelling, Writing and Phonics were taught. This was clearly outlined in the annual report sent by Henry Nail to the officials of the Choctaw Nation.

Page 1 of Annual Report from Tushka Lusa Academy by Henry Nail to the Choctaw Nation

For third and fourth graders, Grammar was added and for the Fifth Grade History and Dictionary were added to their course of study. 

2nd Page of Annual Report from Tushka Lusa Academy by Henry Nail

The enrollment however was always small and it was always planned to keep the number of pupils at Tushka Lusa at 35-40 students. This issue was of great concern to many of the parents wishing to have their children enrolled at this tribally funded institution. The schools for Choctaws "by blood" had an enrollment of 100 students each. A group of Choctaw Freedmen who lived in various parts of the Choctaw Nation from Atoka, to Stringtown to Tushkahoma, were very interested in having their children given the opportunity to attend the academy. They wrote a letter in 1893 to the Choctaw Nation, requesting that the enrollment be increased so that their children could also attend. A copy of the letter appears below.

Request from Choctaw Freedmen parents to the Choctaw Nation 
to increase student enrollment at Tushka Lusa Academy. ( Written in September 1893)

Names of parents requesting increase in enrollment for their own children

The Staff:
It is not known how many teachers were at Tushka Lusa, however these few names are known: Henry Nail, Superintendant; Dora E. Johnson, Principal; Julia Coleman, 1st Assistant.

Henry Nail was a well known and respected Choctaw Freedman, and Dora Johnson had formerly been a teacher. Dora E. Johnson was a teacher who lived at one time in South Central Texas in Luling Texas as a teacher. In the early 1890s she was a teacher there.

The Students
One of the most exciting thing about locating school records is the possibility that names of students can be found. I was fortunate that when I examined the papers from Tushka Lusa,  there were lists of students who attended the academy. The lists are only from the early years of the school, but they are nevertheless significant and they are lists from which we can see and to learn.

1894 Students
This is a list of the students recorded in 1894. The lists were prepared by Mrs. Dora E. Johnson as part of official reports that were eventually sent to the Choctaw Nation.

List of Girls attending Tushka Lusa Academy in 1894

Sarah Butler
Mary Butler
Julia Coleman
Jane Garrett
Emma Gross,
Sarah Gross
Berda Howell
Lucey Hunter
Mumbra Humbes
Sophia James
Dicie Nail
Annie Nail
Amelia Nail
Amanda Peachlyn (sic)
Eliza Riley
Martha Rodgers
Tena Shoals
Lucretia Shoals
Emma Thompson

Male Students Tushka Lusa Academy 1894

Miles Burras (sic)
Nathan Davis
Caesear Eubanks
Ben Nail
Lee Nail
Walter Pickens
Mariod Reed
John Richards
John Stanley
Walton Shoat (sic)
Solomon Sexton
Israel Tyms

 (Note the name Burras was most likely Burris, a surname still found in the LeFlore County  and McCurtain County areas by Choctaw Freedmen descendants. The name Shoat was most likely Choate, which is also a surname found in the same community among Choctaw Freedmen. The name Peachlynn [see names of Girl students] was most likely Pitchlynn, a prominent name in the Choctaw Nation.)

 So little is known about the experience of the students and the eventual fate of this little known Freedman school. By the mid 20th century, the school had ceased to exist. Very few residents of Talihina even recall the presence of a black population in the town let alone a boarding school . Sadly all traces of Tushka Lusa Academy are now gone. There are so many stories hidden in the trees southeast of this small Oklahoma town, and hopefully someday more will be known of this school. 

I was happy to have found these records of Tushka Lusa and hope that someone with a strong sense of curiosity and history will begin to explore the outskirts of the town, and may someday find that remnants of the school and lives of those who were once a part of this forgotten community.

* * * * *

(Special thanks to Eric Standrige of Wister Oklahoma 
for sharing the long lost image of Tushka Lusa Academy.)

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)