In the years after the Civil War, the plight of Freedmen of both Choctaw and Chckasaw nations was one of trying to neogiate freedom in a somewhat hostile community that did want them to enjoy such freedom. Some experienced acts of violence against them, while others simply found themselves of a difficult day to day situation of having to negotiate with others for assistance. Theirs was a constant struggleto simply carve out a living in an unpredictable post Civil War Choctaw Nation. With time, some Freedmen turned to church leaders, and many found occasiaonl assistance from the AME Church and also the Baptist convention as well.
In 1880, one of the Freedmen, Nelson Coleman an emerging Choctaw Freedman leader, reached out to AME Church Presiding Elder James Sisson for his assistance with the plight of Freedmen in Indian Territory.
On a recent trip to the National Archives, a letter was found written by Coleman to Rev. James Sisson, a high ranking leader in the AME Church. A follow up letter by Sisson was also found. An image of Coleman's letter appears below, followed by a transcription of the letter.
Letter from Nelson Coleman to AME Elder James Sisson, 1880
National Archives Record Group 75, Entry 604
Transcription of Letter:
Brazil Station, Choctaw Nation
August 29, 1880
Elder Sisson, Dear Friend
I received your kind and welcome letter yesterday and was glad to get to read a few lines from you, but so sorry to hear that you have been in such bad condition, but I am in hope that you will soon gain your strength back and that we may see each other again face to face. My wife is not in very good health at this time present. All the people is well, I think. I have not heard no complaint.
I hope that you will tend to that matter for me as soon as possible and send me answer as it concerns me and all of my race of people that live in this territory. We know you to be kind and faithful to us. I hope that you will do the best you can for us. You will please write to me just as soon as you can hear from that matter. So with such few remarks I will close my letter for this time. This leaves us all well. Hoping to hear from you again soon.
Yours truly friend
Several weeks later, Elder Sisson reache out to the Secretary of the Interior in Washington DC.
Letter from James Sisson to Sec'y of Interior
National Archives Record Group 75, Entry 604
October 5, 1880
Honorable Charles Schultz
The discomforts to the colored people; from the threats of some of the Choctaws are very great: many are kept from improving plantations, of being told that all the colored people are to be driven out of this nation by Choctaws. Could your department settle this matter fully and acceptably to all parties, it would be a great blessing.
James F. A. Sisson
Indian Mission Conference
Although both letters are simple letters they reflect the difficult times and issues that Freedmen faced years after slavery was abolished. Some lived with threats and others lived in fear of being driven away from the only place they knew as home.
Sadly, the saga of Freedmen from the Choctaw Nation is one that continues to this day. Both letters above were written a full five years before citizenship would ever come their way, and the Freedmen at that time were asking questions and seeking their rights then, just as they do today, in the 21st century where today, Freedmen--descendants of Choctaw-held slaves are alienated from the nation of their ancestral nation. No other reason can be except that they come from the enslaved members of the Choctaw nation. And today as descendants of slaves, even those whose ancestors were Choctaws who fathered children, they are kept away, for no other reason than their color, and the slave status of their ancestors.
In the 1980s descendants of the same people, found themselves once again an unwanted people, who had never done anything to merit the alienation demonstrated to them. And now, in the 21st century, and a full year after a letter from the head of the Choctaw nation, Chief Gary Batton, promised to look into the issue of citizenship for them, the gesture has become a hollow one as no one has even had the courtesy of a response to their efforts to reach out to the nation.
Nevertheless, we honor all who worked on the behalf of Freedmen from both Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. Their story continues and their strength is ever enduring. Their story continues to be researched and their stories are being told.