Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Freedmen Exclusions From the Atoka Agreement

While reading some articles pertaining to land allotments in the Territory, the specific exclusion of Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen to specific rights and privileges caught my attention.

The year was 1897 and the Dawes Commission had begun to implement the process of interviewing citizens of the Territory to eventually allot lands to the various citizens of the tribe. An interesting article appeared in the April 25 issue of  The Daily Ardmorite regarding the planned distribution of land. The article outlined plans in Choctaw and Chickasaw country of what could be expected as decisions pertaining to enrollment were to be made.


A lengthy article appeared in the publication describing the agreements in detail that were made in the Atoka Agreement which was an agreement made between the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations with the Dawes Commission. The article was so detailed that it occupied the entire page.

Source: Same as above, page 6

What caught my eye were the policies to specifically exclude privileges to Freedmen. Zooming in on the article were some startling agreements:

"That all lands within the Indian Territory belonging to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians shall be allotted to the members of said tribes so as to give to each member of these tribes (except the Choctaw Freedmen) so far as possible, a fair and equal share thereof, considering the character and fertility of the soil and the location and value of the lands."

"....and a reasonable amount of land to be determined by the town-site commission to include all
courthouses and jails and other public buildings not hereinbefore provided for, shall be exempt from division, and all coal and asphalt in or under the lands allotted and reserved from allotment shall be reserved for the sole use of the members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, exclusive of freedmen.

The agreement did point out however, that the lands to be allotted for Freedmen of the tribes should come from the land allotted in general, but it was clear that Freedmen were only to get forty acres of land. It should be pointed out that the lands allotted for Freedmen were less than the equal value of land allotted to those who were not identified as Freedmen.

That in order to such equal division, the lands of the Choctaws and Chickasaws shall be graded and appraised so as to give each member, so far as possible an equal value of the lands; provided, that the lands allotted to the Choctaw freedmen are the be deducted from the portion to be allotted under this agreement to the members of the Choctaw tribe, also as to reduce allotments to the Choctaws by the value of the same and not affect the value of the allotments of the Chickasaws.

That said Choctaw freedmen who may be entitled to allotments of forty acres, shall be entitled each to land equal in value to forty acres of the average land of the two nations."

The allotment of forty acres to Freedmen however, was not equal to the size of allotments to others in the nation:

"That each allottee shall select from his allotment a homestead of 160 acres, which shall be inalienable and non-taxable for twenty-one years from the date of his patents and for which a separate patent shall be executed."

The benefits to be extended to citizens of the tribe were clearly spelled out and quite clearly it was stated that the benefits were for all "except freedmen".

There were cases where funds were raised for the benefit of education, and this was included also in the Atoka agreement. But as was found throughout the agreement, was the fact that Choctaw Freedmen were excluded from educational benefits as well.

When reading the terms of this agreement between the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and the Dawes Commission, it provides historical context in which to view some of the decisions of the Commission. Extending equal rights to those once enslaved. It is clear that whether or not the persons identified as "Freedmen" were related to those identified as Indians "by blood" the mere presences of their being alive and having African ancestry and being part of the population once enslaved, was justification for the many exclusions from equal treatment.

Sadly this was the concept that later allowed for the permanent exclusion of Freedmen that occurred quietly in the 1970s and 80, only a few years after the nation the Civil Rights laws were put into effect in this nation. The issues of Freedman Exclusions were upheld and allowed to stand and remain unchallenged.

Reading the agreements stemming from the Atoka agreement is a sobering read, and again, this part of history should be told. It is understood that this agreement made between the tribal entities and the Dawes Commission, reflect the social climate of the time, but it is also noted that as the present political climate also tells us, language and policies still reflects the social climate of the time.

Equal treatment is stated, but---"freedmen excepted".

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Many Oklahoma Freedmen Were There?

I have often wondered why there is not much in depth information about Oklahoma's amazing African American past. On many websites, one sees the African American history beginning with the attack upon Greenwood in Tulsa in 1921. However--black history did not begin with the attack in Tulsa. African American presence is well documented in the mid-1800s but still not spoken of widely. As early as the Indian Removal when Choctaws and Cherokees brought slaves with them, there was a black presence on the soil of what is now Oklahoma.

Someone asked me recently if the numbers of Freedmen were so small, if that would explain why there is so little information. I have become interested in the size of the population also, and recently ran into an article that appeared in the Indian Advocate in 1900 that addressed the size of the population, in Indian Territory.

 Included in the numbers were the numbers of Freedmen from the Five Civilized Tribes. The population of Freedmen included in the article represented 4 of the 5 tribes. (Seminoles were reported as one general population and did not break out the Freedmen in their count.) But of the total population was 314,000 from the tribes, and more than 17000 were classified as "Freedmen".

(Source: same as above.)

The total numbers of the Indian Tribal Freedmen was notable, numbering over 17,000.

The numbers are approximate, and were rounded off, but they are still statistically significant:

Cherokee Freedmen:   4000
Creek Freedmen:         5000
Choctaw Freedmen:    4150
Chickasaw Freedmen: 4500

TOTAL:                      17050

With over 17000 people there are many aspects of the people's lives that can be studied and examined by historians and scholars of many disciplines. There are several dozen black towns, hundreds of families, numerous schools, churches, cemeteries, newspapers, societies & associations that will reflect amazing histories still to be told of the Oklahoma Freedmen.

Hopefully more blogs, preservation and heritage associations, books and articles will be shared by those who are students of all of Oklahoma's history. Among the Freedmen were tribal leaders such as Stick Ross, George Vann, Henry Cutchlow, Sugar George, Harry Island, Cow Tom, Bettie Ligon, and so many more.

There are still stories to tell and I hope that more descendants of freedmen will tell their stories. Their legacy extends beyond the Dawes rolls, and their history predates even their freedom.

Let us all strive to tell all of Oklahoma's story!