Monday, December 12, 2011

Freedmen Neighborhood School Rosters, Choctaw Nation

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Salt Lake City to attend the 2006 AAHGS Conference. While in Salt Lake I was also able to take advantage of the Family History Center and to use some records that I do not have access to in Maryland.  

These were school records from the Choctaw Nation. My interest specifically was in possibly locating names of children who attended the Freedmen Neighborhood Schools. To my delight there were rosters of students from several schools. My interest was Skullyville County, a community where my gr. grandparents Sam and Sallie Walton lived.

I found five such schools. These schools were created specifically for children of the former slaves in the Choctaw Nation--the Choctaw Freedm

The schools were established after they had been officially adopted by the Choctaw Nation, into the tribe, in 1885. The nations had agreed to the adoption of the Freedmen after the Civil War and was one of the terms of the Treaty of 1866. After a good amount of resistance occurred initially and a lengthy discussion of funds (over $300,000 ) was allocated to the Choctaw and Chickasaws to be used for Freedmen matters.  After adoption took place, the question arose again as it had since emancipation---how can education be provided for these African-Choctaw children?

It was decided that neighborhood schools be established within the nation, to provide education for the children.  I was pleased to find several pages reflecting names of children, of teachers and of the superintendents of several schools among some of the records.

I was particularly happy to see the name of my grandfather---Samuel Walton Jr. on one of the school rosters as well!

The schools were Cedar Grove, Clarksville, Dog Creek, Ft. Coffee, and Opossum Creek Schools. The records are by no means complete as they do not reflect many consecutive years and they were not year-round records.  They are mere rosters--but yet they still tell a story of the children who were earnestly seeking to learn.  

The only community that still exists today is Ft.Coffee, Oklahoma an historically black town that was recently incorporated a few years ago as an official township in LeFlore County. Ft. Coffee lies in extreme eastern Oklahoma, not far from the Arkansas/Oklahoma border.  I am happy to share some of the rosters here.

The population in the Cedar Grove area was a diverse one where some of the children were citizens of the Chickasaw Nation and as well as Choctaw Nation. (A notation of the bottom of the roster indicated that some of the children attending Cedar Grove school with crossmarks near their names, were Chickasaw Freedmen.)

Near the top of the Cedar Grove Roster, the Boyd Children are Chickasaw Freedmen, 
indicated by the crossmarks near their names.

When the schools operated, each month the teacher and superintendent would prepare attendance rosters and submit them to the County offices of the Nation.These monthly school rosters were filed by the teacher and trustee, with the County Judge. The document above was filed with Ed Lanier, county judge of Skullyville County and also signed by him.

* * * * * *

Clarksville Neighborhood School was smaller in student enrollment. All of the children in this school were Choctaw Freedmen:

Staff of Clarksville Neighborhood School
Some of the descendants of Battese families are fully enrolled citizens of the Chickasaw Nation.

Roster of Children in Clarksville Neighborhood School

* * * * * 

Staff of Dog Creek Neighborhood School. These names are still known among LeFlore County families. Moses Parker also oversaw the affairs of another Freedman School. (see below)

* * * * *

Ft. Coffee Neighborhood School was in the one community that still exists today. However, like the other schools, the buildings no longer stand.

The two staff members, were Moses Parker and Squire Hall. 
These names are still spoken in Ft. Coffee today where their descendants reside.

Roster of Students from 1896

I was pleasantly surprised on one of the pages for the Ft. Coffee School, to see my grandfather's name among the students.

Page reflecting the name of my grandfather Samuel when he was a small child 
attending the Choctaw Neighborhood School, in Skullyville

* * * * *

Opposum Creek Neighborhood School

Roster of Students from Opposum Creek Neighborhood Scohols

Although all of these schools are gone and the landscape reflects nothing of their having been there. Thankfully a few pages of school records remain to assist us with telling the story.

* * * * *

Salt Creek  - A Freedman School in Indian Territory
Source: Archives &  Manuscripts Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Acts in Regards to Negroes, Free and Enslaved in the Cherokee & Choctaw Nations

I believe that the beginning of healing comes from truly looking at the policies of the past. 

I recently came across the words of William Goodell and his writings. I came across some of the policies that would have had direct impact on the lives of my ancestors living in bondage in Indian Territory. It was important to read them and to learn the lessons by knowing these things.

William Goodell was an abolitionist, a missionary and a reformer. Educated at Phillips Academy, he worked ardently through much of his life for the abolition of the institution of slavery.  He studied the laws and slave codes throughout the country, wrote a detailed book in 1853 called, "The American Slave Code" and the  included in his work were slave codes and policies enacted in Indian Territory.

Surprisingly he included some specific tribal policies of the Cherokee and Choctaw nation in his 1853 book, analyzing slave codes throughout the nations, the details obtained from the constitutions of these two tribes provide a sobering insight into the realities of slavery in Indian Territory.

William Goodell, Abolitionist and Author

In his work, he illustrated the policies of the tribes, by using language from the constitution of the two nations, employing the language of acts passed into law.

In the appendix he focuses on the two tribes:

"...all free women except the Africa race"

"...punishment not to exceed fifty stripes...."

Some aspects of intermarriage were considered acceptable and were considered worthy of legalizing as seen below.  Meanwhile there were also major restrictions placed upon those few who were free in the Territory and also of slaves.

Like the policies of the deep south, reading and education of slaves and also of free blacks was strictly forbidden.

"...leave the limits of the nation by the 1st of Jan. 1843."

Within the Choctaw Nation there were similar restrictions. Free blacks were not encouraged to settle in the community.

Abolitionists were clearly not welcomed in Choctaw country, and those showing sympathy towards blacks by breaking bread or kindly human interaction were frowned upon and such activities were clearly stated in tribal policies about such interactions.

There was some acknowledgement that there were persons of color who had blood ties to both Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. However, those free people of color with no blood ties were informed that they had to leave the nation.

I have often wondered about any slaves who may have gained freedom while being in the nations, what their fate may have been like.  Goodall reveals that it became tribal policy that if there were any who were manumitted by their slave holders, they had to leave out of fear of being re-sold into bondage.

What to Make of These Passages
Reading these passages is sobering but enlightening. It is clear that the "peculiar" institution of slavery was legally sanctioned into tribal culture after the nations had survived the harshness of the removal.  Were all of these policies actually carried out?  That is not certain. Perhaps some were in the early years after their passage, however, after the Civil War, there were clearly persons more persons of color in both tribes, who shared the blood of their masters, who had social relationships with tribal members, and who remained in the only land they knew as home.

Today in 21st century American what does one make of these policies? They provide some understanding of tribal policies today. 

These sentiments of 160 years ago, provided the backdrop of "blood politics"  still practiced to this day. These passages show how the dismissal of persons of African descent was viewed as somehow "logical" in the mind of the racial politician.

Today, blood policies that allow persons with less than a droplet of blood (e.g. 1/1000th and less) to be considered "connected" and "legitimate", illustrate that the concept and practice of discrimination towards those once enslaved, is still somehow "normal". These raced-based policies are still considered logical in their way of thinking. And as this has been shown, for this practice has a precedent, going back 160 years.

To the raced based politician and lobbyist, it is no matter to them that in spite of the fact that those who were once enslaved were immersed into the tribe by language, by their life's toil----their mere presence---the logic of their expulsion and their mistreatment has a precedent and still feeds into the logic of the racial political mind. 

To the racial politician they feel that this is somehow ok.  Furthermore, the concept that those once enslaved are somehow illegitimate and dispensable is embraced as has been witnessed in recent years. This is a way of thinking that goes back over 160 years.  It ties to a southern slave holding mentality that prevails.

But there may be some enlightened who dare to ask the pertinent questions, but it should be remembered that the beginning of healing comes from truly looking at the policies of the past

I hope that someday, my brothers and sisters from Indian Country will someday take a look at the past, understand the impact of the past and understand that we all need to grow and move forward. We share the same landscape for our history and we are all strengthened when we walk together. So as we read these texts, we grow and our journey takes a better direction.

Look at the policies of the past.. 
Read them. 
Acknowledge that they occurred.
And grow from them. 

We all benefit from that growth, not a portion, not a selected portion -- all of the family grows.

Remember, it was not until 100 years after the Civil War that the US finally began to make the sons and daughters of it  own slaves, full citizens--and that was a mere 40 years ago. And here we are145 years after the Treaty of 1866 was signed---the fate of the descendants of former slaves of Indians is still be addressed by the slave holding tribes. 

When do the slave owner's children decide that some sentiments can and should be changed? 

Perhaps true healing can now come when the descendants of slave holders, and policy makers address their own history-- for that is when true healing begins. 

The children and grandchildren of the enslaved hold no bitterness in their hearts, and in fact often find themselves surprised to learn that these sentiments from the tribes still prevail.

Hands have been extended, yet are there hands reaching back from the tribes? 

Only by acknowledging the past and working towards a new future can a "nation" truly progress.