Thursday, July 28, 2016

Chickasaw Freedmen Would Not Get to Vote

As fascinating story appeared in an 1898 edition of the Evening Star, a Washington DC newspaper. The story described the situation in Indian Territory in relation to the former slaves of Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. The headline reflected the denial of voting rights for Chickasaw Freedmen.

As the turn of the 20th century approached, the Dawes Commission had begun its work to determine eligibility for land allotments and working toward eventual statehood, and during those years, the status of Freedmen in the nations was continually discussed.

Suffrage, or the right to vote in tribal elections arose in the Territory, and there was much discussion reflected in the press regarding the rights and privileges of the former slaves in the Chickasaw Nation. Voting rights caught the attention of many. In August of 1898 a fascinating article appeared about voting rights of Chickasaw Freedmen, in the Evening Star from Washington DC.

Source: See note below next image.

As was common, both Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations are referenced together. In 1885, the Choctaw Nation adopted their former slaves. However, despite signing the Treaty of 1866, the Chickasaw Nation never did formally adopt their once enslaved population, so they were limited in extending any rights and benefits to their former slaves, many of whom lived in dire poverty without education, or access to rights of any kind. They were continually seen as "outsiders" though never viewed as such during the slavery era, for as unpaid slaves, they were valuable assets.

In nearby Choctaw Freedmen, after official adoption into the tribe in 1885, they were given voting rights as was it was given in the other former slave-holing tribes. Apparently however, during that particular year, the rights of Choctaw Freedmen who wished to vote on an pending issue being presented to the tribe, was questioned. Green McCurtain, Chief of the Choctaw Nation at that time was concerned over the Freedmen voting, so he turnedto Washington to inquire about whether or not voting privileges should be extended to the Choctaw Freedmen.

A telegram was then sent to Green McCurtain directing the Choctaw Nation, to allow the Freedmen to participate in the vote.

It was pointed out in the same article that Chickasaws had never adopted the Freedmen into the tribe, and had therefore no voting rights in their tribe.

Things were a bit better for Choctaw Freedmen. Colored neighborhood schools were established for the Freedmen, and most did enjoy voting rights in their nation. But it is also known that several years later, when Henry Cutchlow ran for office on the tribal council and won a seat, but he was never allowed to take his seat and serve. But within the Choctaw Nation, voting rights did exist, and the nation did create several of the neighborhood schools for Freedmen, and much energy was put into Tushka Lusa Academy, though it only existed for a few years.

As the new century emerged, the rights of Choctaw Freedmen began to dwindle, although the Freedmen did get their land allotments when the Dawes Commission had completed its work. But relations eventually faded over the years, and in the mid 20th century Freedmen were expelled from tribal membership as was done in the other tribes during the 1970s and early 80s.

The history of the continuous support from Washington, of the Chickasaw Nation, despite their treatment of their former slaves is one of the understudied stories from Indian Territory. Thanks to scholar Daniel Littleifield, the data that is known was highlighted in his work from the 1970s. The Chickasaw Freedmen, a People Without a  Country.

And despite Chickasaws having signed the same Treaty of 1866 Freedmen  and the blatant violation of that treaty, it is hoped that more Chickasaw Freedmen descendants will eventually start to tell the stories of their ancestors, for it is a story that is still worth telling, in spite of disenfranchisement from the only land that they once knew as home.