Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Thomas LOVE Connection, Blood of Their Fathers

Recently I had been contacted by some Chickasaw LOVE descendants and one in particular took me to task about my grandmother’s claim to be the daughter of Robert Howard LOVE . He stated emphatically that it was impossible for Bettie LIGON to be Robert’s daughter and he had the Dawes Choctaw Freedmen card to prove it. Mr. COLE the self-described Chickasaw Elder exchanged a few pleasantries with me and abruptly stopped communicating on the subject; why, I’ll probably never know.  

Fast forward, the other day I was having a discussion with a research colleague about this and that and that and this when she asked me if I had my DNA tested and when was the last time I went online to look at the results. Unfortunately I had to inform her I had not been to 23andme in quite some time and I hadn’t been to the Ancestry DNA site in an equally long time.

After getting off the phone and all of the guilt she was “trying” to lay on me for not having a GED file loaded and some other stuff that was above my pay grade I decided to go online and take a look at what was at Ancestry and came across an email from someone who was classified as a 4th to 6th distant cousin. This individual wanted to share some information and so I accepted his offer. After looking at some of the possible matches we had in common I wrote him back about my first impressions on what his information revealed.

As I told him, at first blush the surname BENNETT stuck out and because his information indicated they lived in Berwyn, Indian Territory of all the names he had in his family tree, this one might have promise.

Well I received a response and my new DNA relative gave me a little more background on the BENNETT and THOMPSON families; how they were “Chickasaws to his knowledge.” I wasn’t totally convinced this was out connection. It was a start and after receiving this message I went back and took another look at the information in his family tree.

Now I saw the LOVE surname but it was only one and it had question marks after the name Liddie so I really didn’t pay a great deal of attention to it at the time initially. I saw another surname JACKSON and of course we all know what a common name this is! I went back to take a closer look and recalled I wrote an article about this very family some time ago.

Liddie or Lidia JACKSON was a claimant on Equity Case 7071 and on her Dawes card you can plainly see where she was seeking a transfer from the Chickasaw Freedman Roll to the Chickasaw by Blood roll; the phrase “See Petition to transfer” is prominent on those who protested being enrolled as Freedmen.

On the rear of Lydia’s card (Chickasaw Freedman #391) she provided the name of her father who was listed as Ben LOVE, Chickasaw. I also remembered Lydia’s daughter Jennie DAVIDSON, (Chickasaw Freedman #390) being the key person seeking a transfer to the Chickasaw Blood Roll

All of this attention and people suddenly coming into my life in some way is a powerful message that illustrates how sometimes things have a way of emerging to tell the story that people like Lydia JACKSON and Bettie LIGON never had the opportunity to effectively tell during their life time.

Bettie protested her enrollment on the Freedmen Roll until her death and I suspect others like Lydia JACKSON and her daughter Jennie DAVIDSON were determined to be rightfully recognized as Chickasaw citizens. Here we are more than one hundred years later and the blood of their fathers may be the one thing that will ultimately tell their story and justify their final acceptance into the nation their birth?

I’m sure anyone who researches LOVE ancestry already understands the connection I have with my new DNA cousin but for those who haven’t figured it out or may not understand some of the intricacies of blended families of Indian Territory I will do my best to explain it.

Simply put, if it is true that Ben LOVE is the father of Lydia JACKSON and if it is true that Ben’s half-brother Robert Howard LOVE is the father of Bettie LIGON,  as I suspect, that indicate the common ancestor for Lydia’s descendants and Bettie’s descendants  is Thomas LOVE.

From everything I can see I have no other connection through marriage or blood that would indicate any descendants of Lydia JACKSON and I have an ancestor in common other than Thomas LOVE.

Throughout my research of Bettie and the claimants of Equity Case 7071 I never made this connection despite the fact it had been staring me in the face for many years. It never dawned on me to look at the siblings of Robert Howard LOVE for confirmation that Bettie was a LOVE.

So this in my opinion opens up a whole new avenue for research and hopefully cooperation of those who are descendants of the people on Equity Case 7071. I would love (no pun intended) to see more of these descendants get DNA tested and compare their test as well as the records of the Dawes Commission to establish that our ancestor’s claims were valid and the Dawes Commission as well as the tribes went to great lengths to deny thousands of people millions of dollars in land allotments.

One last thing; when I took a look at the common matches between me and my new DNA cousin the results indicated there were two other people who had the same or similar DNA match. One of those individuals I knew as one of my sister’s son and the other was someone related to my new cousin.

When I first saw that information it threw me because I couldn’t imagine who this fourth person was and how they fit into the puzzle. BUT if I’m correct this is a whole new ballgame!

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Recently I received an email through the Find A Grave website from someone who called themself “Chickasaw Elder.” In the email they felt the need to tell me my great grandmother Bettie was in fact not the daughter of the man she knew as her father to her dying day as a Chickasaw Indian named Robert Howard Love.

Let me back up a bit, the first email I received seemed innocent enough; Chickasaw Elder at first made a “suggestion” regarding the memorial I established for Bettie Ligon at:

This was the original email I received with some editing for clarity,
“Hello, I am not asking for any changes. My Question is do you know of any decimation for Bettie Ligon being the daughter of Robert Howard love. Any help you may offer would be most welcome. I have been using Chickasaw Loves and Allied Families by Marie Garland King as source info when doing research “
Chickasaw Elder

Why this individual was interested in Bettie was not clear but I attempted to respond to the inquiry as best I could within reason until I could determine their true interest. When I attempted to respond via Find A Grave I discovered C.E.’s email had been disabled so I found another method of responding and sent this email.

“Not sure if you are the person that sent me an email about Bettie Love-Ligon but you failed to supply me with an email to discuss your question. Also your message capability is disabled on Find A Grave so I couldn't respond on your page “
This was the follow-up email.

Mr. Terry for some reason this was sent to another family member. Please use this e-mail address . I am the Chickasaw Elder you are referring to .
I come from a very well-known Chickasaw /Choctaw family . My great aunt Martha Bynum. She was the wife of Overton” Sobe” Love.
Robert Howard Love uncle of husband of 2nd great grand aunt                                                                                                                                              He was not the father of Bettie Ligon

I can send to you several Ligon family members that you maybe interested in .Respectfully  Robert was not the father of   Bettie Ligon

Since this was the first time I can recall someone from the Chickasaw Nation engaging me in a discussion on the genealogy of the Love family I had to bite and responded again hoping to conduct a meaningful conversation about each other’s research and discoveries in hopes I could receive some answers about Robert Howard Love and his connection to my great grandmother Bettie. So I responded with this email:

I'm intrigued how much you have on the LIGON family members you refer to and how you are certain Robert Howard Love was not the father of Bettie Love-Ligon.

I am familiar with some of the surnames you mention that are related to your family's history BYNUM, COLBERT and others, I am also familiar with the Marie Garland book and have a copy of it given to me by an employee at OHS about a hundred years ago.  :-)

Quite frankly you are the first Chickasaw that has attempted to engage me in a conversation about this history and I truly appreciate the gesture; however I would really like to know how you are definitive Bettie was not the daughter of Robert Howard Love?

Hope to hear more about your history and what you can contribute to the record of Bettie Love-Ligon.
Well it was not long before Chickasaw Elder revealed himself with a name and sent me this little reply:

I am not certain nor definitive your words that Bettie was not the daughter of Robert Howard love.  I just can not find any documentation for it. I am aware that this was not uncommon for slaves during this time in tribal history.  In fact my Indian family Bynum, Harkins, Johnston, Thompson,Love and Colbert had many slaves they often took their owners last name. Some were placed in the will of their owner sad but true. One example would be John A Bynum my 4th great grandfather         
beloved wife Tennessee - one negro woman Kisnader and her four children: Emaline, Isaac, Charles and Rebecca; household and kitchen furniture Beloved sons Turner Bynum and John R. Bynum - negro man Jeffery, man Isaac, woman Amy and her daughter Jane, a girl Patience, boy Booker, boy Josiah.

This does not indicate the above were family members . In Bettie’s case she may have been family but respectfully without documentation it’s pure conjecture at this point. I have done research on the Ligon family Only because they married into the Duty side of my extended family. You maybe interested to know that Chickasaw LT Governor Jefferson Keel has several Ligons in his direct family line.


John Cole

It was beginning to appear my friend was deliberately being vague so I decided to engage in a more in-depth and meaningful conversation with hopes I could get something of substance on his belief Robert Howard Love was not the father of Bettie. This was my response:

Greetings John,

I'm sure you are aware that because Chickasaws held people of African and African-Native descent as slaves the institution and laws that it was predicated on did not specifically generate documentation that would establish the child of a slave and their owner or any other Chickasaw for that matter. The laws of the tribe strictly forbade miscegenation between "Chickasaws and any one of Negro descent."

The idea that there would be documentation for something that would allegedly have a Chickasaw violate tribal law would be enough of a deterrent to prevent someone from declaring their paternity in a written document.

Having said all of that you need only look at the 1860 Slave Schedule for Arkansas and see there were numerous anecdotal evidence of "mixed race children" in the Chickasaw Nation. Furthermore and too the point, Bettie Ligon represented approximately 2000 other individuals who claimed to have a Choctaw or Chickasaw ancestor and as you say, they didn't have the documentation of their ancestry despite their claims.

I think it a little to simplistic to argue a point that on the surface is built with a certain disingenuous need for documentation when practically everyone on the Dawes by Blood roll did not have "documentation" of their birth and ancestry. The criterion was based solely on what tribal elders/members/family established based on marriage (which was "allegedly" prohibited between a "Negro" and Chickasaw.)

As I recall Bettie was born in 1865 and her father Robert Howard Love died circa 1889 and as you say there is no record (that I have been able to locate) that has him claiming her as his daughter but there is a wealth of documentation of Bettie making a claim that she was his daughter. One of the witnesses to this was Robert Howard Love's servant Simon Love, who stated he heard Robert Howard Love in fact did claim Bettie as his daughter. Clearly that would be hearsay but you see the predicament of someone like Bettie trying to prove their ancestry in a climate that was adverse to such a claim, especially during the enrollment period when Bettie would have been entitled to 320 acres of land as opposed to the forty given to "freedmen."

Since you have done research on the Ligon line I would be interested to know which Ligon family in particular you are referring to. There were a few in Indian Territory that were enrolled on the Dawes Rolls but I have only identified two families in the Chickasaw Nation and they were on the freedmen rolls and not related as far as I can determine.
The other Ligon family that I'm familiar with that may be who you are referring to came out of Cooke County, TX near Gainesville and they were part of the (don't hold me to this one I don't have my notes in front of me) Dr. Steven S. Ligon (not sure of first name.) He came to TX by way of MO & KY as I recall and there was a Bettie Ligon in this family though not the same person.

John I know it is practically impossible for anyone who had an ancestor on the freedman roll to claim ancestry as a Chickasaw but it is (in my opinion) disingenuous to argue  about "documentation" when there was little ever produced as in Certificates of Birth and the like in 1830, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, and even 1900. For many people the Dawes Rolls may be the first documentation of birth. It was not until Oklahoma became a state and a few years later that "official" vital records were created. So I see that argument misleading and one that if applied to everyone descendant on the Dawes Roll would have a few people being stricken as we speak.

Despite all of that and all of the prohibitions on miscegenation I'm sure you would not be surprise to know that there were many (no numerous) cases of mixed "marriages" that resulted in African-Chickasaw children. I could name many who are on the rolls today despite there being laws that would have/should have prohibited this.  John you know as well as I do that the determinate reason for them being on the rolls today is they had a female ancestor who was "recognized" (not documented) as a "Chickasaw by blood" and that is the main reason their descendants are on the rolls today.

I'll have to check on that reference you made about Kissander BYNUM I recall there may have been some of her descendants that claimed Chickasaw ancestry, but don't quote me.I haven't had my head in these records for a while so forgive me if I'm a little rusty on the history. It has always intrigued me about the manner in which people viewed this history especially those in the nation because there is from what I see a different slant on what is and isn't part of the history and how it is accepted or rejected as part of "tribal history."

I lost a dear friend last year 83 years young who was an enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and I miss our discussions on this history and her particular view. She was the grand daughter of a woman who had a father on the freedman roll and a great grandmother who was "recognized" as a Chickasaw. Again, that recognition came from the only documentation being on a payroll, it didn't document paternity or maternity. In other words the Chickasaws like the other tribes practice the antebellum tradition of determining the so called race of an individual on the so called race of the mother; they in fact ignored the contribution of the father and made all sorts of "reasons" to justify basically disowning their own people because of racial prejudice.

It is my opinion what continues today when the idea that there is no evidence or documentation to establish paternity when that documentation would have been rejected if the father were Chickasaw and the mother someone of "African" ancestry. Quite frankly it is a bogus argument built to deceive.

I attached some documents from a file that was an affidavit given by Simon Love for an Application for Chickasaw Citizenship in 1896 by Bettie Ligon. You may find it interesting.

His response to this was very interesting to say the least. I read and re-read my response and for the life of me I don’t know why he felt I implied he was being a bigot? Yet he feels the need to go there with some interesting folks as his references, especially former Oklahoma Speaker T.W. Shannon who I share some ancestry.


I received your e-mail it was very well written and to the point. Well done. Now let’s establish some ground rules. First if you are implying that I am being a bigot, I suggest you contact TW Shannon, former Oklahoma Speaker of the House, a Black Chickasaw and a Close and Trusted Friend, also JC Watts Former US Congressmen and the Pastor who gave the Sermon at My Mothers Funeral.

Next, I did not set the rule of law for the Chickasaw Nation at the time they were written. I think Dawes Commission and Tribal Elders did. I believe all of your concerns have been addressed in court (The Cherokee Tribe) comes to mind. As far as Bettie is concerned here is what I have from Ancestry.
Here are some links at

 John Cole

As you can see this was not going well as I had hoped but I find it “interesting” that someone would only look at the Dawes Records and conclude that was the entire story that established an ancestor, my ancestor’s genealogical history.

Like I said in a response, I have viewed practically EVERY Choctaw and Chickasaw Dawes Card, Freedmen AND by Blood to the point a lot of these names I know like the back of my hand. Yet Mr. Cole suggests that because the ONLY records (he knows about) are the Dawes Commission enrollment cards.

He has taken one aspect of this story and concluded without a doubt there is no possibility that Bettie was not the daughter of Robert Howard Love. He has evidently never seen her Certificate of Death where the informant declared Robert Howard Love to be Bettie’s father. Mr. Cole has probably never heard about Equity Case 7071 where Bettie and approximately 1600-2000 people claimed to have an ancestor who was Chickasaw by Blood only to be placed on the Dawes Freedmen Rolls that Mr. Cole bases his argument on as “Proof” that a person like Bettie had no documentation of who her father was.

I would like to think Mr. Cole took the time to look at the Congressional Record Serial Set to see the volume of material that attempted to address the issue of citizenship by blood in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations only to be forgotten in the history told by those two nations when people like Mr. Cole rely just on Dawes Records as proof someone fathered by a Chickasaw during the ante-bellum period of their history “had no record” of what their identity may actually be.

I’m not sure what his intentions were but he does give himself away when he pretty much concludes by more priceless misdirection when I responded with the following response:

What research have you done regarding Bettie Love-Ligon to motivate you to approach me with this subject and your conclusions? I don't see what you hope to accomplish with this determination and you had to have some idea I would reject your thesis.

I was simply Asking for your Help to complete My family Tree NOTHING More THEN That !
It is very unfortunate that people can’t have honest and frank discussions about the history of slavery among the Five Slave Holding Tribes and understand that a lot of what transpired needs to be researched, analyzed and put in its proper perspective.

As I said before, there may never be the kind of documentation that Mr. Cole seeks to satisfy his point that someone may have Chickasaw blood that did not get enumerated on the Dawes by blood rolls. He and the citizens in the nation need to be honest about their complicity in the travesty of not recognizing the children of Chickasaw males who had a mother of African or African-Native descent.

Let me conclude with this little tidbit. Recently I came across an astounding document that was brought on behalf of a son of Robert Howard Love, by a white woman seeking recognition as a Chickasaw by blood. Clearly there was substantial documentation of this child being the illegitimate son of Robert Howard Love, documentation that in some ways mirrors the documentation of Bettie but it went further.

This documentation demonstrated clearly that Robert Howard Love declared this child to be his even out of wedlock and while he was married to another woman. The documentation established the Love adopted the child as his son leaving him with 640 acres of land with instructions to have him educated.

However there was one aspect about this case that was very revealing. The first page to the file was a question of law; and that was whether the Chickasaw Nation recognized an illegitimate child of a MALE Chickasaw as a citizen by blood!

The conclusion that was issued established without a doubt citizenship by blood was inherited whether by the father or mother, IT DIDN’T MATTER! If you had a Chickasaw ancestor by blood, YOU WERE CHICKASAW!

What was more astounding was the decision was based on a judgment by Robert Howard Love’s own brother Sam Love, who was the District Judge at the time of the ruling over a citizenship issue involving land and Robert Howard Love and someone Robert argued was not a Choctaw citizen based on being an illegitimate child.

“Love denied that Mrs. Roff was a legitimate child and she was not entitled to citizenship. The district Judge, to the best of my recollection, was Sam Love, full brother to Bob Love. He said the rule was, didn’t make any difference how they were Indians, whether by lawful marriage or not if they proved up any Indian blood were entitled to all of the rights of citizens and over-ruled Bob Love’s motion and went to trial.”

This is why the Dawes Commission and the tribes abused the system that would have recognized the litigants in Equity Case 7071 their rightful claim to citizenship. They were held to a degree of proof that the majority of children of enslaved women could never produce and was not present in their Dawes enrollment “summations.” It is also this kind of proof that citizens in the tribes today rest their case on, if a person appears on the freedmen roll then that “proves” they don’t have “Indian” blood. 

I tell you, the more I try to get away from this stuff they keep trying to pull me back in...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Finding Your Roots #In Search of Our Fathers

Going into this week’s episode of Finding Your Roots I wanted to approach viewing the series from a different angle as I watch each episode. With many of the programs similar to this the central theme is based around the genealogy of celebrities.

I asked the question is this the element of the programs that make them successful? At the various shows core is basic genealogy that those of us who conduct research are familiar, nothing new! However there must be something that make these programs viable and have advertisers, sponsors and various donor foundations contributing what I have to believe are sizable sums of money to keep them on television.

With this week’s show “In Search of Our Fathers” the basics of genealogical research didn't change from one guest to the other and the fact that all were celebrities with different backgrounds the other thing that was compelling to their story in my opinion was the fact each knew very little about their father and until approached by Professor Gates, they didn't seem motivated enough to conduct research on their own to satisfy any curiosity they had on their father or their paternal ancestors.

This made me consider even more how much does this attitude pervade our society? We all have people in our own family who may not have as intense an interest in the family genealogical history and they go on to have “successful” lives without this knowledge.

Yet what we saw last night with the new found knowledge of their fathers each guess was emotionally touched by the information. What is it about us as people that we resist knowing our ancestors yet have in the back of our mind the need and longing to know that history that in many cases was never told to us as we grew up?

As a “family historian” I’m keenly aware of the various fields of study that go into thoroughly researching genealogy; census records, geography, law, computer science, graphic arts, photography, writing, research, library science and the list goes on with the many disciplines old and new that help me become a “good” researcher.

That should not be an adequate reason for these people to accomplish so much in their lives and still have that void of who their ancestors were and what their lives were like. Certainly we saw that lives circumstances made them gaining knowledge challenging.

It had to one of the major causes for Courtney Vance’s father taking his life, not knowing who his birth mother and father were? It had to wear on Stephen King that his mother did not mention his father after he left them when King was such a young age. With Gloria Reuben having a father who was elderly when she was born, she had to have felt robbed of his presence as a child growing up.

Despite all of the adversity of their childhoods all three thrived but clearly had a void that was healed just a little bit when provided with just the smallest bits of their father’s stories. So again, what is it that makes these shows, these stories so compelling to watch when all it is is basic genealogy?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Segregated History Day in Oklahoma

I was having a wonderful discussion with a colleague this morning concerning an upcoming event presented by the Oklahoma Genealogical Society. On the surface this would appear to be a nice event that is being supported by the state institution known as the Oklahoma Historical Society and the federal institution we know as the National Archives and Record Administration located in Dallas Ft. Worth, Texas.  

You throw in a little as a supporter an active participant with some special emphasis on the so called Five Civilized Tribes and one would have a feeling that the history of Oklahoma and Native Americans has some significant to these institutions and deserve to have their unique history represented with tours, storytelling and some actual cultural events that represent the true history of Indian Territory as well the state of Oklahoma.

Clearly the events planned seem well thought out and with fees for the events, tours and various learning sessions; it is not an unusual undertaking unless you are a descendant of a Indian Territory Freedman.

As hard as I looked there was not one mention of the freedmen in the history of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory or the state of Oklahoma in any of the syllabuses for the weekends programming.

If the event is by a genealogical society for “Oklahoma” and they are using taxpayer institutions to conduct these events, why are not all of the state’s citizens being represented in this program and to the point, why not the genealogy and history of the former slaves of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians who seem to have a major role in the event?

It is almost like the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma Genealogical Society, and the National Archives are participating in the perpetuation of a segregated history of the “Twin Territories” and the state of Oklahoma.

Clearly the freedmen have a genealogy and history that runs parallel to the five tribes because they were an integral part of the tribes from the infamous “Trail of Tears” to the Civil War, through the period before statehood and up to today, yet there is no mention of this history to the point that makes you wonder if the history of the freedmen is being ignored, marginalized or segregated from the true history and genealogy of Indian Territory, the Five Civilized Tribes and the state of Oklahoma.

Truly remarkable when you stop and think about it, when you see there is a session on the Dawes Commission records, it is a fact that a good portion of those records pertain to people of African and African-Native descent. How in good conscientious can these institutions and fail to specifically include this portion of the population in this program?

What, do we have to do, conduct our own segregated program of bus tours and genealogy sessions to become a part of the history of Indian Territory and state of Oklahoma? Instead of calling it Ancestry Day in Oklahoma they should call it Segregated History Day in Oklahoma. 

At some point the tribes, NARA, OHS, and Ancestry will have to come to the conclusion, there were people of African and African-Native descent involved in this history and their story deserves as much attention as everyone else!

...or do we have to do it ourselves?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Forty Acres and a Mule!

“I’ve spent much of my life searching for the stories of the African American peoples; I’ve always wanted to tell their story” Henry Louis Gates

As I watched Episode 3 of “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” I was reminded of the Naked Gun movie and the scene where explosions are going off, cars are being demolished and all kinds of havoc are going on when the main character of the movie parts the crowd and deadpans, “move along people there’s nothing to see here.” If you have ancestors that lived in Indian Territory, watching this program would be like the Naked Gun, no reason to watch, just move along, nothing to see…

Having said all of that, there was considerable attention given to the proposition of former slaves owning their own land and an emphasis was placed on the Sea Islands for their farming of the  a special blend of cotton and the fact that these blacks had the opportunity to grow this cotton on their own land.

I find it increasingly difficult to say good things about Dr. Gates and his so called “searching for stories of the African American people.” Episode three dealt with the issue of General Field Order # 15 issued by General William Tecumseh Sherman granting the proverbial forty acres and a mule to the emancipated slaves.

Map of Indian Territory Located at Fort Smith, Arkansas Museum
If the producers had taken the time to research the history of “The African American peoples” they would have EASILY discovered thousands of former slaves working land of their own and a treaty that granted these former slaves anywhere from forty to one hundred and sixty acres of land for every man, woman and child that was enslaved or a descendant of a former slave in the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek or Seminole Nations.

Following the Civil War the Five Slave Holding Tribes agreed to treaties in 1866 that emancipated their slaves; adopt them into the nation of their last slave owner as a citizen and provide them with land to become self sufficient.For the thousands of African Americans formerly enslaved in Indian Territory, they would have the ability to farm land that “state Negroes” could only dream about.  

The idea that a complete and thorough history of “African American peoples” is being presented with this program has been increasingly disappointing. Evidently, the idea of former slaves owning and farming their own land and developing all black towns while facing long odds and southern hostility did not occur for the former slaves of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians.

I have to ask the question why?

The struggle for civil rights among the Indian Territory freedmen is extensively documented in government record after government record from the Congressional Record to the Supreme Court; again, why is this history being excluded as part of African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross?
House Executive Document 207 42nd Congress, 3rd Session

If the producers and Professor Gates were dedicated to presenting the “stories of the African American peoples” he most certainly should have been aware of the rich stories about survival, protest and political intrigue that existed in Indian Territory following the Civil War. The Five Slave Holding Tribes fought on the side of the confederacy to protect their institution of chattel slavery.  Yet there was not one word concerning this history and the African Americans in Indian Territory affected by the war and it’s aftermath.

For the record, there is no way Dr. Gates can claim ignorance to this part of “African American history. In another made for television program he produced; Dr. Gates presented the genealogy of actor DonCheadle who is, in fact a Chickasaw Freedmen descendant. During the course of his presentation to Cheadle, Gates was quick to point out the one person who had some connection to Native Americans had no discernible “Indian blood” in his DNA; rightfully so, but to dismiss this history as a vital part of African American history is without a doubt problematic and incomplete.

Chickasaw Freedmen Dawes Card#729 Mary Kemp ancestor of Don Cheadle's
At this point I have absolutely no confidence the history of African Americans and their descendants who survived slavery among the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians will be presented in this six part program; African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. As I look at this last night was a perfect opportunity to present the history of Native Americans involvement in the Civil War and the land acquired by thousands of African Americans because despite General Field Order #15, these were probably the only former slaves that received at least forty acres. How the program missed that is beyond belief.
Land Allotment Land Description for Mary Kemp Ancestor of Don Cheadle
Mound Bayou was touted as an example of what former slaves could do when allowed to live alone in an all black town providing for their family's. It is remarkable not a word was mentioned about the multitude of "all black towns" in Indian Territory. 

When you look at the history of all black towns in Indian Territory and later the state of Oklahoma, you see towns from Bailey to Wybark with many of the citizens there former slaves and their descendants along with former slaves of the United States settling in during reconstruction to establish a place where they could worship, raise a family and provide the necessities of life to survive and prosper. Why there hasn't been any mention of these African Americans is a mystery to me; especially since Professor Gates has prior exposure to this very history.

The freedmen of Indian Territory who were enslaved by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians rebelled during their enslavement and some found their way to military locations where the Union Army was stationed to volunteer to fight to secure their freedmen as United States Colored Troops. These men came back to the Territory to become some of the leading men in the territory to continue their struggle for equal rights, citizenship and a share of the land that a few short years earlier they had been enslaved. 

Senate Document 82 40th Congress, 2nd Session p5

There were many men who survived the Civil War in one capacity or another when the war was over these former slaves manifested the leadership skills necessary to serve their community during the struggle to equal rights as citizens in the nations of their birth.They became interpreters, lawmen, farmers, and civic leaders their efforts should be recognized as contributions to the history of African Americans.A few of them survived and lived to be allotted land by the Dawes Commission circa 1898-1914.

Bynum (Byington) Colbert, Franklin Bartlett, Richard (Dick) Stevenson, Stephen Colbert, Nathan Cochran, Smith Brown, Isom Flint, Richard (Dick) Brashears, Watson Brown, King Blue and Isaac Alexander all lived to teach and train a younger generation of leaders like Charles Cohee during the difficult transition from enslavement to citizenship. 

Civil War pension file Isaac Alexander Courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji

Bynum Colbert Index to Civil War Pension file Courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji
Charles Cohee photo courtesy of Evelyn Norwood

If forty acres of land is the benchmark for progress it was in full effect in Indian Territory. 
The transition from slave to freedman was seen in full effect in Indian Territory. 
The ups and downs of Reconstruction was seen in full effect in Indian Territory. 
Dealing with lynching and Jim Crow was seen in full effect in Indian Territory.

What does it take to recognize this history of African Americans on the other side of the Mississippi River? 

What is the problem with recognizing the history of the African Americans just north of the Red River?

Indian Territory Freedmen and their descendants could borrow a phrase from Harriett Tubman, "Ain't I African American?"

This blog post is part of a collaboration of posts being shared by a group of bloggers who are part of the African American Genealogy Blogging Circle. We are sharing our own personal family stories, as the series air on PBS. 

The Bloggers are:
Nicka Sewell Smith (Who is Nicka Smith)                               

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Timelines Cross Many Rivers

Slavery is not a shame on me!” Vincent Brown Ph.D

I am struck by the use of timelines to tell the story of "African American history" and how they can illustrate so many points along the “Many Rivers” we have crossed. The first time I was made aware of timelines was a presentation given at the genealogical society I have been a member since it’s founding; African American Genealogical Society of Northern California.

Don’t ask me who gave the presentation and I apologize to the woman that did, however her lesson was not lost on me. As I continue to view the program “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” it is apparent the producers and historians are utilizing this technique to tell the complex history of blacks in America.

What has puzzled me (to some extent) is not what is being offered as historical events along this timeline but what I would consider a history that is just as interesting and vital in telling a more complete story of African Americans and their history on the American continent.

Episode two opened on the timeline of 1781 with the story of ElizabethFreeman aka Mum Bett, a woman who filed suit for her freedom because she believed she too was entitle to the “pursuit of happiness” as was expressed around the dinner table she served.

The timeline was used again to illustrate the point in time when in 1786 Richard Allen purchased his freedom and moved to Philadelphia where he would eventually found the African Methodist Episcopal Church. As the program pointed out, the church he attended previously segregated the congregation and reminded Allen that freedom did not mean “equal.”

The date on the timeline of 1800 illustrated a couple of things that are of great significance; the introduction of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney and the establishment of Natchez, Mississippi as the second largest slave market in the United States at the time at Forks of the Road, MS.

These timelines were particularly interesting to me because in a very brief passing moment I heard the narrator mention the “Indian Removal” I’m sorry; the Native American removal during this period of time and was perplexed why this was used as a footnote to African American history.

In the state of Mississippi, next door to Alabama, just south of and west of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and good old Florida the “Native American” removal, the brainchild of no other than the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, (you know him, of the Declaration of Independence;  fame “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Somehow this timeline of events did not warrant including with it, the history of antebellum slavery among those same “Native Americans” who would be “removed” to Indian Territory circa 1830-40’s and would carry with them possibly Africans and African descendant people purchased at Forks in the Road Mississippi is incredible. I would suggest this history belongs on the same timeline of African Americans in the United States.

NARA Record Group 75 M234 Roll 148, frame 134

This nonchalant mentioning of the Indian removal dismisses thousands of people who descend from men and women who were brought west from places like the Carolina's, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida, who had a long history of being enslaved by Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians. I am at a lost as to how this continues to be no more than a footnote in African American history?

It is ironic; these people of African descent literally had to cross the largest river (Mississippi) in the country to get to Indian Territory and they would in time create some of the wealthiest “Indians” in the country based on slave labor.  

Episode two mentioned the second middle passage was the buying and selling of slaves to the Deep South; I guess when it came to Indian Territory they could technically say it wasn't “the deep south.” But even today Oklahoma (formerly Indian Territory) is referred to as “Little Dixie" and I'm sure in the upcoming episode on the Civil War the fact the Five Slave Holding Tribes fought on the side of the confederacy.

It seems to me that if the origins of the Five Slave Holding Tribes began in places like Mississippi (Choctaw), Alabama (Chickasaw), Georgia (Creek), Carolina’s (Cherokee) and Florida (Seminole) then the slaves held in bondage among these “tribes” warrant more than a footnote? Clearly before the Five Slave Holding Tribes were being removed during the 1830's and 40's they were residing in a place where the institution of slavery was rampant and they were willing participant and all we heard was "the removal of Native Americans?"

Prior to the Civil War, the 1860 Arkansas Slave Schedule was produced with the enumeration of slaves in Indian Territory. The one time I saw any indication of the fact that slaves were held in bondage during this program was the map illustrating the spread of "King Cotton" from the Atlantic coast and the deep south through what was Indian Territory (for those who are not aware, it’s that unique shaped state just about Texas.) IF the producers of this show knew that much, they seem to be remiss in the telling of this story; YET! I'm holding out hope that this oversight is corrected before we reach episode six….

The emigration roll of 1842 compared to the 1860 Arkansas Slave Schedule illustrates just how Jackson Kemp increased his wealth in eighteen years. There were other wealthy Native Americans who derived their wealth from enslaving people of African descent; including but not limited to the Love and Colbert families in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. "Rich Joe" Vann in the Cherokee nation was rich because of slavery and this was repeated throughout the five tribes but you wouldn't know that by watching African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.

As we can see, according to the same timeline utilized in Episode Two of African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, there is another story of enslaved people of African descent living seemingly in a parallel universe; suffering the abuses, dehumanization and degradation that exist throughout the American continent. Unfortunately it appears their story has been lost on the producers of this documentary and that is disturbing considering the number of black voices with doctorates providing historical commentary.

I would humbly suggest the producers may have overlooked scholars who have published volumes on the history of Indian Territory and the institution of slavery. I would begin with Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. author of several books on Indian Territory and arguably the dean of historians on this subject.

Another excellent source of Indian Territory history would be my friend Dr. Jesse T. Schreier (yes, I’m biased but his work is worthy of reading.) Dr. Claudio Saunt has been teaching and writing about Creek freedmen and the Creek Nation history for quite some time and he deserves recognition as someone with valuable insight into African Americans enslaved by Native Americans.

There were many experts utilized that write about African American women’s interest during slavery and there are many women who can provide insights into the experience about the women of Indian Territory. Dr. Celia E. Naylor, has been writing on Cherokee Freedmen for years and recently I was delighted to engage in an online radio broadcast that showcased the work of Dr. Barbara Krauthamer; Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South.

I first met Dr. Tiya Miles in 2000 at a conference she was instrumental in organizing called “Eating From the Same Pot” at Dartmouth University. Dr. Miles was named as a MacArthur Genius Award recipient in 2012 and I’m sure capable of providing some critical information concerning the history of African Americans who were enslaved by Cherokee Indians.

Perhaps it’s “time” to present ALL  African American History?

Throughout the series, the African American genealogists and family historians listed below will weigh in on each week’s episode through the lens of their experiences as researchers, the stories of their ancestors, and the implications of the moments of African American history presented on family history research. 

Here’s the list of esteemed writers: