Monday, September 4, 2023

Labor Day Festivities in Black Oklahoma 1915


In 1915, the first of several events unfolded in Muskogee Oklahoma when the "Great Agricultural and Industrial Parade" unfolded at the fair grounds. The event occurred during the week of Labor Day from September 6th through 11th at the fair. One of the highlights of the event was a massive parade with dozens of find automobiles and horsemen parading through downtown Muskogee. on 2nd Street which was the heart of the black business community at that time. Each day there were horse races, in addition to automobile racing unfolding. For children there was much to amuse them with carnival rides and plenty of concessions to satisfy the crowds in attendance.

One of the organizers of the event was Herbert A. Clark, an accountant who had come to Oklahoma from his native Ohio, and worked as an accountant in addition to also having worked as a linotype operator, which was the primary macing used to set print. He resided on 3rd Street in Muskogee, only a block away from 2nd Street which for decades was the primary business distict of black Musskogee.

To promote the event it was also noted that much of the event was to have been captured on film, and it appears quite possibly the film maker was Solomon Sir Jones, who produced numerous films of Black Oklahoma. On one of his films an impressive parade was shown with a line of fine automobiles, and others reflecting riders on horseback as part of the parade.

Image from Muskogee Parade Capture by Solomon Sir Jones
Image Captured from Global Image Works

Parade of Automobiles from Solomon Sir Jones Film
Image Captured from Global Image Works

Marching Band in Oklahoma Parade
Source: Global Image Works

Another Glimpse of Oklahoma Parade
Source: Globel Image Works

That first Labor Day holiday event was the first of several state fair events that were hosted in Oklahoima. For the next several years the event to grew to become favorited "Negro State Fairs" in Oklhaoma.  At one time the state governor close the black schools so that black children could attend the "Negro State Fair" that was now celebrated later in the fall.

Source:  Muskogee Cimeter
Chronicling America

For many decades Freedmen from the Five Tribes attended similar events celebrating Freedom and emancipation, and those celebrations were held usually in early August, usually on or around August 4th.  Many Freedmen also attended events in Texas, and this is perhaps where the state fair concept emerged. Almost all of the events consisted of parades, music, competitions and exhibitions for the amusement of onlookers and visitors.

Today Labor Day is usually a family based holiday where individuals spend time with loved ones, placing food on the grill, and enjoying the day. The day usually marks the end of summer with schhols reopening, and that day off has often been the much needed and appreciated change of season day to mark not nolythe calendar change but also for the family and the community to celebrate themselves and their own accomplishments.

So we take this time to acknowledge that we are following a tradition of more than a century ago celebrated by our ancestors. Enjoy this day as our ancestors did. Celebrate your family, and you community as was done in days past.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

"Yall as Free as I am."

Juneteenth and a Season of Freedom

We celebrated Juneteenth yesterday, which is a national holiday honoring the end of slavery and beginning of freedom in the United States for millions of people. However, for several thosand people just to the west, in Indian Territory, slavery continued. A full year after the Civil War the five slaverholding tribes finally abolished slavery by signing a treaty with the United States. Four different treaties were signed, with 3 tribes signing their own treaty--Cherokee, Creek and Seminole Nations. Choctaws and Chickasaws signed the same exact treaty, and at last slavery was abolished in Indian Territory.

There are not many stories written explaining how freedmen came to the various communities. However, years later a few of the formerly enslaved people referred to their experiences when freedom came to them. Below are a few of these memories shared in the 1930s when the WPA (Works Progress Administration) launched the Slave Narrative Project. Thankfully a few of the stories of Freedmen from the Five Tribes were also captured in that process.

Below are a few words documented by the project. Note that the final piece is the only reference made to freedom of an ancestor who was enslaved in the Choctaw Nation. It is a reference simply to my gr. gr. grandmother, and who had freed her. Though her own words are not there---the word "freed" is still there as part of our own family's story of freedom. 

Those enslaved in Indian Territory should never be forgotten. Though many were told that they were not worthy, and that their blood did not count--it needs to be said: It did count! They did count! And their history is there to find.

Although our ancestors were not freed on Juneteenth, we still celebrate the beginning of the end. It would take a full year in the territory and for many such as the Choctaw Freedmen, it would be 19 years before citizenship was finally given to them. 

* * * * *
~~Phyllis Pettit~~
Cherokee Nation

"But one day Old Master stay after he eat breakfast and when us negroes come in to eat, he say: 'After today I ain't your master any more. Yall as free as I am.' We just stand and look and don't know what to say about it."1

After while Pappy got a wagon and some oxen to drive for a white man who was coming to the Cherokee Nation because he had folks here. His name was Dave Mounts and he had a boy named John.

We come with them and stopped at Fort Gibson, where my own grand mammy was cooking for hte soldiers at the garrison. And I was named after her. She had a good Cherokee master. My mammy was born on his place.

We stayed with her about a week and then we moved out on Four Mile Creek. She died on Fourteen-Mile Creek about a year later. 

When we first went to Four Mile Creek we saw some negro women chopping wood and asked them who they worke for and I found out they didn't know they was free yet."

* * * * *

~~Charlotte Johnson White~~
Cherokee Nation

"Near as I ever know I was born in the year 1850 away back in dem hills east of Tahlequah; the Cherokees called it the Flint District and old master Ben Johnson lived somewheres about ten miles east of  theh big Indian town Tahlequah.

Never did know jest where his farm was and when de new towns of this country spring up, it make it dat much harder for me to figure out jest where he lived and where I was born."

...I hear about the slaves being free when maybe a hundred soldiers come to de house. Dey was a pretty sights settin' on their horses, and de men had on blue uniforms wid little caps. "All de slaves is free," one of de men said, and after dat, I jest told everybody, "I is a free Negro now and I ain't goin to work for nobdy."

A long time after de war is over and everybody is free of dey masters I get down to Muldrow (Okla) and dat's where I join de church. For 58 year I belong to the colored Baptists and I learn dat everybody ought to be good while dey is livin', so 's dey will have a better restin' place when dey die." 2

* * * * * 

 ~~Kiziah Love~~
Choctaw Nation

...I  married Isom Love, a slave of Sam Love, another full-blood Indian that lived on a a jining farm. We lived on Masater Frank's farm and Isom went back and forth to work fer his aster and I worked ever day fer mine. I don't 'spect we  could of done that way iffen we hadn't had Indian masters. They let us do a lot ike we pleased jest so we got our work done and didn't run off.

I was glad to be free. What did I do and say? Well, I just clapped my hands together and said thank Gof Almith, I'se free at last."3

* * * * * 

~~Sallie Walton~~
(Dawes Interview for Walton Family)

In 1899, my great grandparents from the Walton family appeared in front of the Dawes Commission to be interviewed. Basic information was collected, and a member of the Perry family was present and testified on behalf of my great grandmother Sallie. One sentence stood out for me, that referenced how freedom came to the Perry slaves. This is the only reference to freedom from family records. and they are shared here as well.

"The mother of Sallie Walton was freed under my sister Emeline Perry."4
Q. Was your sister a Choctaw?
A. Yes sir

* * * * * 

Clearly, a critical task awaits us---to find our freedom story!

 Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Administrative Files. 1936. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>
National Archives Publication M1301, Applications for Enrollment of the Five Civilized Tribes

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Honoring Oklahoma Freedmen: Black History from Indian Territory



Basic Genealogy & History For Choctaw & Chickasaw Freedmen

In 1906, the year before Oklahoma Statehood, the population of citizens from Indian Territory was published. These were individuals who had been present from the 1830s onward. Among the Five Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminoles) were several thousand blacks the eldest of whom had been brought to the Territory as slaves within those tribes. Their children and grandchildren lived within those nations until statehood, and were thoroughly documented over the decades from the Trail of Tears, to statehood in 1907.

Their story is often omitted when Oklahoma Black history is mentioned, often overtaken by stories of the Black Towns, the Tulsa Massacre, and the Civil Rights era. However, each day during February, a video will be posted here, honoring the 20,000 documented Freedmen of the Five Tribes. 

For reference, their numbers are being shared here.

Indian Tribal Freedmen Population in 1906:
Cherokee Freedmen 3982
Choctaw Freedmen 5254
Chickasaw Freedmen 4995
Creek Freedmen 5585
Seminole Freedmen 857 (+93 children born later)

                                  Total number of Freedmen from Indian Territory: 20, 766 

(Source of data: Muskogee Cimeter, Muskogee, I. T. January 4, 1906 p. 2)