Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Freedmen Descendants With Choctaw Blood Denied Due to Policies Based on Race

 At the Senate Hearing on Capitol Hill in July of this year, representatives of Five Tribal Nations, addressed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on issues pertaining to the Freedmen of the Five Tribes. I attended that hearing, and sat directly behind the speakers. It was quite disappointing to listen to the words of the Choctaw Nation representative. Mr. Michael Burrage who made the statement that Choctaw citizenship is an issue about blood, and not about race.

Was Attorney Burrage speaking from what he truly believed to be true? Was he simply giving spin that he is paid to give? Or was he possibly honestly unaware of cases where numerous people identified as "Freedmen" had Choctaw fathers---who have the blood he spoke about. Is he not aware that they are still considered to be outsiders and not welcomed?   

Here is such an example of a Freedman who had Choctaw blood.

Ardena Darneal, Daughter of a Choctaw Indian:
This is a case where the daughter of a well-known Choctaw was not put on the blood roll, nor was her mother able to place her on the roll of the tribe to which her daughter was born. Because her mother's line came from Chickasaws slaves. The name of Ardena Darneal is actually found on a Chickasaw Freedman Card.  But Ardena had a Choctaw father.

On the front of the Dawes enrollment card, a note appears about Ardena's mother Fanny. The hand-written note clearly states that the mother Fanny Parks, is "Separated from Silas Darneel, a Choctaw Indian." 

Chickasaw Freedmen Card #927
Fannie Parks and children

Close up of notation on front of Dawes Card

Some time ago, Verdie Triplett, the grandson of Ardena Darneal, applied for citizenship in the Choctaw Nation. He was denied. He applied because he has a proven lineage by blood to a known Choctaw. He submitted all required documents including the card referring to Ardena's father. He proved in his application that he had the "blood" that Attorney Burrage spoke about. But yet, he was denied, even though lineal descent was proven.

Was it because the mother Fanny was on a Chickasaw Card? But her card proved the blood tie of her daughter to a still living Choctaw, and Ardena was the daughter of a Choctaw Indian. And if Verdie Triplett can prove that he is a lineal descendant of Silas Darneal a Choctaw and that he has the frequently mentioned blood---why is he not a citizen?

Was it because the child's father did not put her on his card?  That can't be the case,because Fanny, the Freedwoman was not allowed to enter the tent of blood citizens, even though her daughter clearly had her father's blood.  Attorney Burrage states, the case has to be proven of lineal descent. Mr. Triplett proved lineal descent through vital records connecting him directly to Ardena. And it is clear that Fanny Park's Ardena's mother told the Commission, who the child's father was and a notation was recorded on the card. Lineal descent was proven. Ardena had Choctaw blood, but was never put on the blood roll. But the question then arises: What is wrong with Ardena's blood?

Or------------is it possible that the issue is in reality, one of race and not blood? Indeed this question must be asked, because in case after case, those with Choctaw fathers were not admitted. The one thing in common that they had was that in almost every case, the mother was of African descent. The race of the mother extended to the child and was then used against them, thus preventing Ardena, and all of her descendants from Choctaw citizenship forever.  But Ardena was clearly one-half Choctaw and the attorney told the Senate Committee on Indian Affair, that lineal descent must be proven and that it is all about blood!  

Attorney Burrage pointed out that there are black people who are members of the tribe. But he did not point out that these are descendants of inter-racial marriages that have occurred in recent years. 

The final reason to exclude Freedmen when all other excuses are exhaustd is the use of the word, "sovereignty." Is sovereignty a "code word" for the right to exclude the very people who were enslaved in the same nation? Is that the action of an honorable and "proud" people?

Ardena Darneal, like her mother Fanny was put on the final roll as a descendant of slaves. Her blood tie to a Choctaw  meant nothing to the Dawes Commission and it means nothing to the Choctaw Nation, today. Her placement on the Freedmen roll also meant that she would only receive 1/8th the amount of land that blood-roll citizens were given.

In other words, blood-roll Choctaw were allotted 8 times more land (320 acres) than their former slaves (40 acres). And now today, descendants of  "blood-roll" Choctaws are still punishing the descendants of those they enslaved by not even giving them citizenship in the land where their ancestors lived, toiled and died.

In fairness, is it possible that today's tribal officials are simply unaware of these cases? If so, then shouldn't this issue be reviewed to right a wrong?

Would Attorney Burrage not agree that Ardena Darneal's blood tie is there, and that Mr. Triplett and his children are deserving of citizenship? 

Mr. Triplett still lives in the same neighborhood in Le Flore County that his Darneal cousins who are Choctaw citizens live. They know each other as cousins, but yet "sovereignty" or prejudice does not allow one part of Silas Daneal's descendants to be recognized a citizens while others from the same man, are citizens. Yet they are ALL Choctaw people. 

Would be Mr. Burrage become an advocate for descendants of this half Choctaw child to be a  citizen today?  Sadly, this is not the only case, for there are so many more. 

A Question of Morality

Why not address the moral issue of mistreating former slaves and their descendants?

The immorality of the policy of a blood tie should be addressed. When it comes to the right of citizenship of a people held in bondage for generations, how can the composition of their blood cast them out of a place that their ancestors earned?

A question to Attorney Burrage---are you truly comfortable with that?

Choctaw Freedmen had the same home as those on the blood roll and the roll of "inter-married whites" with whom the tribe has no issue. The Freedmen had no other home! The Freedmen themselves had been immersed in the same culture, language, foodways and had to abide by the same laws. So how  canone justify denial of a people who were a Choctaw people, because they don't have the slave owner's blood?

To the Choctaw Nation---Is that who you really are? The policy based on looks and blood---when the former slaves had no other home is a racist policy, a cruel policy and vicious policy!  If that is the case, and if that is what you are, then come forth in your truth and speak to it. On the other hand, if that is not the spirit of the Chahta Proud, then exhibit the courage of the ancestors and do what is right. 

The country that funds the Choctaw Nation is the United States. And the United States did not stipulate in the 14th Amendment that former slaves had to have the blood of their slave holders to be American citizens. So how does the Choctaw Nation practice and consider their blood policy to be one of sovereignty or intergrity, or righteousness?  Especially even when Freedmen descendants prove their blood ties--they are still denied.

Does the Choctaw Nation wish to truly be recognized as a community embracing prejudices of the Old South? If so, say so and let the world know that is who you are. If that is not who you wish to be, then reach back to the hands that reached back to you, in 2021, resulting from Chief Batton's Open Letter. 

Doing the right thing is not that hard.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

If He Was Sincere.....

Image of Open Letter from Chief Gary Batton

 Over a year ago, Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation published an open letter about launching an initiative to look into the possibility of Choctaw Freedmen citizenship. However, since that time many people have sent letters to the Choctaw Nation, expressing an interest in engaging in the "meaningful conversations" with him that he implied was to occur. 

To this date, no one has received even a form letter from the Choctaw Nation, saying "thank you for your letter". No response, no acknowlegement, nothing. Last year, one Freedman descendant with family in SE Oklahoma, was able to establish a cordial relationship by phone with one of the tribal officials in the capitol. However, in late spring she made a call, and was suddenly told that the tribes attorneys  had advised them not to engage with callers about Freedmen.

So--the tribe is now "lawyered-up" in anticipation of some kind of adversarial action coming from Freedmen descendants?  Really? So the question has to be asked--was the open letter not sincere ? 

This year, several of us attended the hearing on July 27th with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,  and we were able to listen to the spokesperson on behalf of the Choctaw Nation speak about issues of blood, insisting their policy has nothing to do with race. The counsel clearly was unaware of the dozens of Freedmen families whose spouses, or fathers were Choctaws by blood. Perhaps he did not know that  their blood was intentionally left off the final Dawes roll, although their Choctaw fathers were named on the enrollment cards!  This gesture forever cast those Choctaw Freedmen who truly had blood ties, into a category of "Freedmen", forcing them to forever wear some kind of "stain of slavery" ---a stain put upon them by the tribe---not by themselves. Clearly this is all about race, and NOT about blood. 

Michael Burrage telling the Senate Committee that their policy has nothing to do with race.

And at the hearing, many of us were left wondering---if Chief Batton was sincere--could he not have come or did the chance of having a meaningful conversation with descendants of Choctaw Freedmen make him avoid the hearing?

Earlier this year when a Freedmen descendant attended a local event, and this person had the chance to meet the current chief and ask about the issue regarding Freedmen citizenship. The response was simply that not too many letters had come in about it, far less than what they had expected. And that was all.

So the initiative that the chief himself was to launch was based upon an unstated quantity letters to come from Freedmen descendants? The question is asked again----Was the initiative that the chief mentioned in his open letter dependent upon receipt of a specific number of letters by Freedmen to be sent to his office?

If THIS was the issue---his OPEN LETTER would have stated so that is, if he was sincere.

One can only surmise the following:

*If he was sincere no quantity of letters should not have kept him from doing the right thing.

*If he was sincere, the initiative said he would launch would have unfolded.

*If he was sincere, he would honor his word "....We see you. We hear you."

*If he was sincere, he would see us now---he would see us today---because still part of the same nation, still sharing the same history, and still walk and live among Choctaw people as Choctaw people

*If he was sincere, he would allow selected Freedmen descendants to meet with him.

*If he was sincere, he would come and look us in the eye, shake our hands, and sit down with us, all as members of the same community and learn that we are not different from each other.

*If he was sincere, he would have honored his word to meet us, talk to us have meaningful dialogue with us. 

Had he been truly sincere, we would not now feel that an empty gesture was tossed at us in a cruel hollow gesture of words unanwered and requests ignored.

Sadly, time has shown us that what we believed was sincere, truly was not.

Excerpt from the 2021 Open Letter of Chief Batton
(To date, no one has been able to meet with him, nor engage in any dialogue with him.)

* * * * *

Friday, August 5, 2022

Emancipation Celebrations on August 4th in Indian Territory


* * * * * * * * * *     * * * * * * * * * *     * * * * * * * * * *

* * * * * * * * * *      * * * * * * * * * *      * * * * * * * * * *
From the Indian Pionner Papers
University of Oklahoma Western History Collection

Entire Interview found HERE.

In honor of our ancestors who celebrated August 4th, we remember them, and we pause to also appreciate that the centuries of slavery endured by our ancestors came to an end. Whatever the origin on the date, it was something to commemorate, and to appreciate that bondage was over, and the ancestors had the freedom to determine the direction of their own lives.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Questions That Must be Asked After the Hearing.

Partial view of panelists at Senate Hearing

The hearing on Capitol Hill regarding provisions on the Reconstruction Treaties between the United States and Oklahoma tribes occurred on Wednesday July 27th, I had the honor of being placed on the list of attendees for the hearing in the Dirksen Building, and was able to be present. As a descendant of Choctaw Freedmen, I was particularly interested in statements from both  Choctaw and Chickasaw representatives, since those two nations signed the same exact treaty. In addition, after a full year since the Chief of the Choctaw Nation reached out to Freedmen descendants in his open letter, and after attempts to reach back to him, with no response, this was definitely of interest. Since the hearing, several questions have emerged for me. 

1) Chief Batton wrote an open letter last year regarding citzenship for Choctaw Freedmen descendants.
And now a year after his letter was published, it was disappointing that he did not attend the hearing where he could have met some of the very the people about whom his letter was speaking. And had he attended, he could have met some of the people who have reached back out to him. In his absence, the Legal counsel of the nation was sent to speak. We had hoped to meet him, shake his hand, but were met with icy stares from a man that  we shortly learned was the spokesman from the Choctaw Nation. No handshake, no courteous nod, but a cold stare and no interaction. Question: Was the obvious distance kept a sign of true disdain for Freedmen descendants? Was the sentiment expressed in the open letter from the Chief a year ago not truly sincere? If it was, what are the mechanisms in place so that we can engage, or has the thought simply been discarded?

2) Several weeks ago, when a call was made to the Choctaw Nation to ask questions with one of the staffers with whom a cordial relationship had been established, the caller was told that lawyers had advised the staffer not to engage with the Freedman caller.  Question: Has the tribe now "lawyered up" in anticipation of a possible adversial legal action coming from Freedmen descendants? Although  no lawsuits have emerged against any officials in the Choctaw Nation are lawyers now in place for in preparation for a lawsuit?

3) Prior to the panelists taking their seats at the hearing, there was informal mixing and mingling and brief cordialities with handshakes and polite greetings among those in attendance. No such niceties came from Choctaw nor Chickasaw representatives. Question: Was there a directive from Durant, or Ada, not to engage in any way with anyone? Are Freedmen descendants viewed as "enemies" of the Choctaw Nation, instead of people who are  part of the nation's history? Are descendants of Choctaw Freedmen viewed as threats to tribal sovereignty? How is this so? 

4) The Legal counsel from the Nation stated that whatever the resolution regarding Freedmen that it would not hurt the Choctaw people by affecting tribal sovereignty. Question: Do descendants of Freedmen pose any kind of physical threat to the people--of whom we are a part? Do descendants of Freedmen pose a threat of any kind to the sovereignty of the Choctaw Nation? If so, how does the nation not recognize the fact that we do have a "shared history" as Chief Batton said a year ago, and how is there no realization that Choctaw Freedmen are also Choctaw people?

5) When the United States ratified the 14th Amendment to the constitution granting citzenship to the former slaves, there was no requirement that slaves have the blood of the slave owner. Yet looking at tribal history with decades of enslavement, many  had "blood" ties that were overlooked. Question: Do you not consider those raised in your space, living the same lifestyle and customs and culture, also one of you?  Or does their dominant obvious racial distinction justify your saying that they are not Choctaw? If those who were enslaved in your nation were Choctaw slaves, and then became Choctaw Freedmen, are they not Choctaw people as well once freed? Does your humanity not allow you to recognize others who are among your own people? Or are you so hardened in anti-black sentiments, that once freed there was no further use and suddenly my ancestors were discarded like refuse?  Is that really the way a nation acts?  One day they belonged to you and the next day they were tossed?  Is that what being among the Chahta Proud is?

6) The Choctaw representative said "this is not about race, it is about blood." However, when numerous Freedmen who had blood (see Equity Case 7071) was filed over 100 years ago, almost 2000 Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen sought to be transferred to the Blood Roll, because they had Chickasaw fathers. Suddendly both tribes relied on a false "tradition" of being matriarchal. When the mother was black---their Choctaw blood of their children did not matter and they were recorded as having zero blood on the roll that you now use as your base roll for citizenship. Is this because the roll refused to record the Choctaw blood of the Freedmen children? Likewise with Chickasaw, if their mother was black, then the Chickasaw blood of their children did not matter.  However--- these Freedmen HAD Choctaw and Chickasaw fathers---thus they had the blood. QUESTION: How can descendants of those with Chickasaw fathers and black mothers be treated differently than those with Chickasaw fathers and white mothers? Is blood not blood?  Or does it not count if the blood stems from a formerly enslaved woman?  Do you not see this inequity? Do you not see that this is ALL ABOUT RACE? And if that is what you call "sovereignty" then it is clearly about race, no matter what you say.

It is anticipated that now that the sentiments expressed a  year ago by the principal chief if they were once sincere, have now been rescinded and he and others have been advised to now avoid contact with Freedmen descendants, a people who have never posed a threat nor shown disrespect towards him nor to others in their office.

It is hoped that someday that the Choctaw Nation and the Chickasaw Nation will put down their shield of fear and drop the security blanket of sovereignty, using it to keep a portion of their people isolated and at distance. 

No one from the community of Freedmen descendants is an enemy of the Choctaw people, and likewise for the Chickasaw people. Hopefully someday, the need to hide behind a host of "interpretations" of the words of the treaty, will cease. The need to send lawyers to justfiy racially based misdeeds with clever explanations crafted by legal wordsmiths should end, to allow officials to tend to greater needs of the community. The blanket of sovereignty should not be used as a code word equivalent to that of "state's rights" from the racist old south that meant--they felt a "right" to mistreat people of African descent anyway they chose. Clearly both nations are better than this. And furthermore---Freedmen are not a class of outsiders trying to force our way into a foreign place.

We have a shared history, a shared culture and a shared identity.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Plight of the Oklahoma Freedmen Told in Congress Again


Images from the 2021 Hearing on Capitol Hill

Last year a hearing occurred on Capitol Hill about language pertaining to the Freedmen in the Indian Housing Bill. At issue. was language included in the Indian Housing Bill (NAHASDA) that included mention of the  Freedmen descendants from the Five Tribes. Several individuals from the Freedman community were present at that hearing on July 27, 2021.

Now in 2022, exactly a year later, another hearing pertaining to the Freedmen will occur, and this time the hearing is entitled, "
Oversight Hearing on Select Provisions of the 1866 Reconstruction Treaties between the United States and Oklahoma Tribes."

In light of the upcoming meetings on Capitol Hill there is much discussion about the true nature of the hearing, when tribal officials from the Five Tribes will collectively have 25 minutes to tell their story of how they have responded to Freedmen issues. Only one person, Marilyn Vann, a Cherokee citizen who also has Freedmen ancestors, has been invited and she will have only 5 minutes to speak on behalf of Freedmen from all five tribes.

For Choctaw Freedmen coming from one of the five tribal communities, we have 1/5th the opportunity to have our story told. Since the Cherokee Nation now allows descendants of Freedmen to enroll as full citizens, only four groups will have to be addressed by Ms. Vann.

Many questions arise:

1) Why is the "tribal" side can be given 5 times more time, while the Freedmen side has so little time?

2) Are Freedmen being treated as one large group and our own unique tribal affililations be put together because of the commonality of race or color?

3) Because "Freedmen" descendants are being viewed as one large body, is that why only one speaker from the community was invited to speak?

4) Is there any explanable reason that no Freedmen from the ignored Freedmen communities were included in the planning calls?

5) What is the process by which Congress can efficiently address issues pertaining to Freedmen from each group? 

6) Is the unique tribal history of each Freedman community being viewed collectively while each tribal community among the 574 Federally Recognized tribes are seen from their own unique cultural base?

7) Is the collective anti-black raced based policy practiced by the former slave holding tribes the reason why the Freedmen from the same tribes are viewed simply as one large group and treated as such in this hearing?

The questions can go on and on. But there might be a more understandable explanation of this egregious omission of additional voices from the Freedmen descendant community. Many leaders from both Congress to the tribal capitols, have no knowledge of this history in regards to Freedmen in their nations.

For example, when officials from the tribe say, "The Freedmen were forced on us." They do not understand that people freed from bondage did not force themseles on the auction block into a Chickasaw or Choctaw chattel slavery status.

One also hears statements such as "We have done right by the Freedmen already when they got land." Lands were allotted by the Dawes Allotment process and not through any generosity of the tribe. In addition, Choctaws and Chickasaws gave themselves 8 times more land stacking the odds against the Freedmen whose lands did not have the same protections.

Additional Historical Facts about Choctaw & Chickasaw Freedmen:

* Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations signed the same Reconstruction Treaty in April of 1866 in Fort Smith.

* Both nations agreed to end slavery and to extend citzenship to their former slaves. 

* In 1873, the Chickasaw Nation initiated a process for citizenship but it stopped and their abrogation of the treaty was never addressed by the US Congress leaving former slaves of that nation without a country until Oklahoma statehood.

* In 
the Choctaw Nation it would be 19 years before citizenship would be extended to them in 1885.  Many of the elder ex-slaves died before ever having citizenship in any nation extended to them.

* In 1882Chickasaw Freedmen wrote an eloquent Memorial to Congress adressing their plight, where they had no rights of suffrage, no schools for their children, and no legal standing of any kind recognized in tribal courts.

*Chickasaw Freedmen were never adopted into the Chickasaw Nation, had no rights and were not entitled to any interest in the $300,000 set aside for the benefit of the Freedmen, which was held in trust.

*In the late 1890s, Henry Cutchlow, a Freedman ran for office in the Choctaw Nation. He was elected by vote, but prevented from taking his seat on the council as the council did not want a man with African blood to sit and participate.

*Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen were given 40 acres in the Dawes Allotment process, but those declared to be "by blood" as well as inter-married whites---received 320 acres. Having 1/8th of the land given to fellow Choctaws, the Freedmen of the same nation were relegated to second class status.

In Recent Years 

*In 1983 the Choctaw Nation altered their own constitution following the steps of nearby Creeks to put in the "blood only" requirement for citizenship. Aware that the Dawes commissioners ignored those former slaves who had a blood tie, and dismissed the physical tie that all of the Freedmen had to the nation detemined by slavery that they practiced and from which they benefitted.

*Several Choctaw Freedmen descendants have applied to the Choctaw Nation over the years to met only with denial, based on the fact that their ancestors did not have the right blood or as they will say, their names were "not on the blood roll." Does their blood truly make them a disposable people?  This needs to be addressed.

*In 2021 Choctaw Chief Batton wrote an Open Letter regarding an initiative to be launched to explore the possibility of citienship for descendants of Choctaw Freedmen. This instilled a spirit of optimism among the community of Freedmen descendants and dozens submitted letters and reached out to the chief in response. To this date, not one has received a letter of any kind from the chief or  his representatitves, nor had the opportunity to meet him although he said he looked forward to discussions about our share history.

Last year, Freedmen descendants from all Five Tribes were represented at the 2021 hearing listening to the statements. Many sat directly behind the speakers at the hearing listening closely to their statements.

Freedmen seated behind presenters at 2021 Capitol Hill hearing.

Afterwards, many of those in attendance were able to engage with each other, some meeting for the first time fellow Freedmen descendants from each of the Five Tribes. 
This was the first time in history that such a gathering had occurred. Several had traveled from multiple states to represent their own ties to the Five Tribes. 

Freedmen Descendants from Choctaw, Chickasaw,
Creek and Seminole communities were pesent at 2021 hearing.

At this time, the Choctaw Freedmen now watch as another hearing will occur on Capitol Hill addressing issues that could affect them. No voices from the Choctaw Freedmen community of descendants have been included but thankfully, I shall be there in attendance for the hearing. I have submitted a statement to be a part of the official record and am hoping that we are closer to having our story told and understood.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

An 1880 Appeal for Help from Choctaw Freedman

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

                             Nelson Coleman

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
November 1880
National Archives Record Group 75, Entry 604

Transcription of  Sisson's Letter

                                                                                                              Indian Territory
                                                                                                              October 5, 1880

Honorable Charles Schultz
Sec'y Interior
     Washington D.C.

           Dear Sir:

                      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
                                                                                              Presiding Elder
                                                                                              Oklahoma District
                                                                                              Indian Mission Conference
                                                                                              African Methodist
                                                                                              Episcopal Church

***** ***** *****

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.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Twenty Thousand People Should Not Be Overlooked

Suggested books about Oklahoma Freedmen

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As Black History Month has arrived many are honoring those of African descent and the contributions that have been made in the nation. In places like Oklahoma for the first time a workshop discussing Freedmen from Oklahoma will be presented in a workshop presented by the state's historical society. This is applauded and embraced, however so much more has to be done.

In 1906 over twenty thousand people had been classified as Freedmen of the Five Tribes. After a century the number of twenty thousand will more than tripled in number, and clearly over one hundred thousand of descendants today 
can claim ancestry among those thousands from 1906.

Broken down more specifically by nation: 

Indian 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

This seldom studied history of the lives of Freed people in Indian Territory deserves attention by Oklahoma-focused historians and also by the state's historical archives. 

Scholars from several disciplines are urged to examine this history and engage with the community of people who descend from the twenty thousand. Their presence has been on the soil of Oklahoma for more than a century. The Freedmen and their parents and grandparents were present in Indian Territory 9 whole decades before statehood. Yet---so little is known about them. 

1) Many arrived in the 1830s as enslaved people. They traveled on the same Trail of Tears spoken about from the Oklahoma Historical Society, to the shores of the Atlantic seabord, yet slavery in the Territory is not taught, nor studied. It is time to change.

2) Once freed, the newly emancipated began their lives in the tribal communities into which they had been immersed, as now a bilingual, bicultural, and in some cases, bi-racial people. Living within two segments of territorical life, the Freedmen emerged as people with a "hybrid" existance, navigating life and facing challenges of frontier and their tribal cultural base.

3) Politics and anti-black racial sentiments, influenced many challenges Freedmen faced, including a racial bias towards them for having African ancestry. The struggles included the effort to become full citizens in the land of their birth and to claim their legacy as citizens of the nations where they had lived as a people enslaved for decades. Some found resistance by the same people who enslaved them, carrying forth racial biases to the present time. Descendants now face a climate where their presence is dismissed on the basis on whether they possess the blood line of the families that enslaved them, as if blood line determine inclusion in a community that perceives to be a "nation" in a country where citizenship is not based on blood line. 

The plight of Oklahoma's Freedmen and their Descendants is a subject that demands truly objective analysis and scholarship. Therefore a call and plea is made to members of the academic community to extend their focus into this overlooked arena. 

Twenty thousand people should not be overlooked! The number of Freedmen from Indian Territory is an impressive number and clearly this is a population that deserves to studied from every academic perspective. Historians have at least made a few efforts to document the history in the past 30 years. But academicians have much work that can be done within their discipline.

Sociologists are needed to study the demographics and the social dynamics of the five groups of people classified as Freedmen. They are needed to study how the Freedmen of these Five Indian Tribes fared and how eventually their status and recognition would change as the decades of the 20th century passed.

Psychologists can pursue issues of identity and self definition by examining the issues and struggle of those who embrace a tribal identity today and who are met with rejection from the tribes to which they have a tie.

Anthropologists have yet to begin to study the cultural norms and language, foodways, traditions, burial practices of Freedmen and how they have changed over time.

Archeaologists have much to explore, with the now disappeared black towns that were built upon tribal reservation land, and also to explore and to find the remnants of the slave dwellings of the large plantations such as that of Robert Jones, the wealthiest Choctaw who had over 500 slavesm and who is known to have been the largest Indian slave holder in the Territory. To date, no studies of former plantations have ever been studied in Oklahoma.

Archives and Arhivists are encouraged to study what records can be found of Freedmen institutions, as they are more than mere memories. 
From Tushka Lusa, to Oak Hill Academy, to Dawes Academy, to the Cherokee Colored High School, to the Tullahassee Manual Labor School--all are gone and the locations of most of these schools are now forgotten. There is much to do from the academic community and hopefully the lives of 20,000 people, all citizens of the Five "Civilized Tribes", will stimulate the interest of scholars from Oklahoma and beyond.

Legal scholars have many avenues to explore, because each tribe had their own relationship with their Freedmen. Some were inclusive and some are continally exclusive and distant, but all deserve study.

Most of the activity involving exploration of Oklahoma Freedmen history revolves around the efforts of a handful of researchers and community preservationists. So much more needs to be done and hopefully more scholars will respond to the call for more study and research.