Descendants of black freedmen ignored as Governor Stitt clashes with tribes

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Before Black Wall Street spawned the nation’s wealthiest African-American business district, black people known as freedmen were once enslaved by the nation’s five largest indigenous tribes.

Gaining freedom through a series of treaties after the Civil War, freedmen and their descendants went on to establish many historically all-black towns in what is now known as Oklahoma.

Without the strength and perseverance of the Freedmen, the prestige of Black Wall Street might never have existed. Adding to the unique richness of Oklahoma’s cultures, Afro-Natives claim a loving lineage, whose blood contains both African and Indigenous roots.

Yet these days, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (a citizen of the Cherokee Nation) continues on Fox News to spread anti-Indigenous hatred in the state following the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling. in 2020. This SCOTUS ruling reaffirmed the jurisdiction of the Muscogee Nation over their territorial boundaries and other tribes referenced the ruling.

Meanwhile, most descendants of the freedmen continue to lack citizenship and rights in the tribes that once enslaved their ancestors.

Black freedmen protest their deportation outside a Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office in Muskogee, Okla. Marilyn Vann, in pink, is the president of the Association of Freed Descendants. (NPR)

Talk with The Black Wall Street Timesthe descendants of the Freedmen detailed the rich stories of their family and their fight for justice as the world continues to eclipse them.

“I feel like the Choctaw Nation is ignoring the plight of the freedmen and the 1866 treaty giving them full rights to be citizens,” Dedra Strickland, descendant of the Choctaw Freedmen, told the Black Wall Street Times.

Some tribes that fought for the Confederacy continue to discriminate

During the Civil War, citizens of the five largest tribes in Indian Territory: the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw aligned themselves with the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

While members of some of the tribes, such as the Cherokee Nation, were also aligned with the Union and Confederacy, other tribes, such as the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, were fully aligned with the Confederacy, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

In retaliation for their support of Southern insurgents, the federal government forced the five tribes into binding agreements known as the Reconstruction Treaties of 1866. Each of the tribes signed treaties that forced them to give up land in the western half of what is now called Oklahoma. This abandonment of land allowed the migration of Southern whites to the region, as well as newly freed entrepreneurial Blacks from slavery in the South.

Veterans of the Cherokee Civil War in 1903

Yet before the Civil War, the five tribes had long enslaved Africans into their ranks.

“I feel like we’ve been left out. I also feel like the Choctaw Freedmen helped build the Choctaw Nation through slavery,” said Lewis Ervin, a descendant of the Choctaw Freedmen. The Black Wall Street Times. “I believe that we are all equal and that we should come together and have unity for our people.”

Notably, the 1866 treaties required the tribes to abolish slavery and give freedmen full citizenship and rights.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society: “The Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Treaties gave freedmen absolute rights, but the Choctaw and Chickasaw Treaty gave them the choice of being adopted into their nations or expelled by the federal government and settled elsewhere.

Fast forward to the present day, the attitudes of 1866 remain relevant today. Of the five tribes, only the Cherokee Nation granted full citizenship and rights to their freed descendants, and only in recent years after a lawsuit reached the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Seminole Nation received a backlash in 2021 after initially refusing to provide Covid vaccines to descendants of freedmen. They also give freedmen citizenship cards that read “voting benefits only,” even though they use the freedman population in their federal funding allocation.

seminole nation

The back of a Seminole Freedman ID card. He says freedmen only have the right to vote. / Provided.

Descendants of freedmen seek equal rights and recognition

For freedmen descended from the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, who fully supported confederation, the discrimination was even more severe. The Choctaw nation refused to recognize their freed descendants.

“When I was younger, it wasn’t talked about much. My parents were just trying to survive like a lot of our families,” Michael Dean, descendant of Choctaw Freedmen, told the Black Wall Street Times.

Dean is a descendant of Native Africans and Choctaw and Chickasaw citizens. His third great-grandmother Mahala was enslaved in Mississippi and brought to Indian Territory on the deadly forced march known as the Trail of Tears or “The Trail Where We Cried”.

“My second great-grandmother Julia Ann Jackson, when she was a teenager, was assigned to be a plantation cook during the Civil War,” Dead added.

Black Choctaw Freedman Julia Ann Jackson

Dean said he knows many other Chickasaw and Choctaw of African descent who come from liberated people who were denied all rights and tribal membership.

“Although I have yet to apply for formal membership in my tribe due to these types of discouragements. I hope the wisdom of our collective ancestors will prevail and that we will make collaborative efforts to formally re-establish our kinship as a Chickasaw/Choctaw Nation with diverse backgrounds but a common heritage,” Dean said.

The federal government takes action for equal rights

Last year, Rep. “Auntie” Maxine Waters (D-California) warned tribes that discriminate against their darker-skinned relatives that federal funding could be withheld. Yet, so far, the threat has not been followed by action.

For its part, the Cherokee Nation has taken significant steps to right its past wrongs to Freedmen.

On May 12, 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland approved a new constitution for the Cherokee Nation which explicitly ensured the protection of freedmen’s rights and citizenship, NoDoc reported.

“We encourage other tribes to take similar steps to meet their moral and legal obligations to freedmen,” Haaland said.

Notably, the Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chuck Hoskin Jr., named one of the main descendants of freedmen, Marilyn Vann, to the Environmental Protection Commission of the tribe. This is the first time the tribe has seen a descendant of freedmen serving in a government position. The chief appointed after losing his election for a council seat. The board eventually approved his appointment to the Environmental Protection Commission.

Yet the descendants of the Freedmen continue to seek justice within the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) nations.

On July 1, 2021, Choctaw Chief Gary Batton wrote a open letter announcing a move to consider Choctaw Freedmen joining, NonDoc reported.

“Today we reach out to the Choctaw Freedmen. We see you. We hear you. We look forward to a meaningful conversation about our shared past,” Batton wrote.

Still, for Choctaw Freedmen descendant Angela Walton-Raji, the announcement rings hollow because no action has been taken to address the issue. Speaking to the Black Wall Street Times, Walton-Raji said that while the Chickasaw Nation immediately broke the 1866 treaty, three of the tribes signed and complied with the 1866 treaties fairly quickly.

“The Cherokee Nation did it, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation did it, the Seminole Nation did it. It took 19 years for the Choctaw Nation to finally give citizenship to freed people, who never left,” Walton-Raji told the Black Wall Street Times.

“I mean, they’re Choctaw, a lot of them had been fathered by natives, some of whom enslaved them and some of whom just had children with them.”


The Black Wall Street Times has contacted the Choctaw Nation for comment. Please follow us as we continue to cover the descendants of the Freedmen.

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