Monday, April 25, 2011

Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church & Cemetery

“Established approximately 1869 in Milo, Oklahoma by Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen under the leadership of Banks Stevenson, the church was commissioned by Rev. Sam Burns, a white preacher.”

"Jehovah was a small ten foot by twelve foot one-room log house with a dirt floor, peg benches and kerosene light. The church began with a small congregation but continued to grow in membership which required relocation to a larger house of worship about one and one fourth mile east of the original location."
Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church (Old Sanctuary) From a book produced by the church 1990
Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church became the spiritual home for many Indian Territory freedmen and their descendants. The congregation included many who would later be recognized as citizens by blood of the Chickasaw Nation.

When Jehovah was moved to its present day location it was led by Pastor Rev. R.J. Jackson, an “Indian preacher.” At the time of this final relocation there were three deacons who were original Dawes enrollees; David Stevenson, Caesar Stevenson and Mose Taylor. The church now owns the land on which the church stands, land given to the congregation by the Indians.

Caesar Stevenson (Photo Courtesy of Evelyn Norwood)

It is said one of the few schools in the Chickasaw Nation that allowed Indian children and Black children to attend school together was established at Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church. Education during this period was intended to educate a child up to the eighth grade.

Report Card of Eliza Stevenson (Courtesy of Evelyn Norwood)

Eliza Stevenson (Courtesy of Evelyn Norwood)
Eliza Stevenson was a student at the school located at Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church, her family like others in the community had a history that began before statehood. Her great grandmother and name sake Eliza Nero/Dyer came to Indian Territory from Mississippi as a slave of Nancy Smith.

Eliza Stevenson was born in 1909 and was not an original Dawes enrollee like her mother and many of her other relatives that were active members of Jehovah Baptist Church.

Years later, Eliza’s daughter Evelyn Brown would attend this same school and walk six miles just to catch the bus that would take her to the school at Jehovah.

The church and school was a vital part of the community during the days of neighborhood schools. Although the school no longer exists, the memories remain for the few students who began their academic careers at Jehovah, like Evelyn Brown-Norwood.

There have been many church ministers over the one hundred and forty-two year history of Jehovah Baptist Church among them several were formerly enslaved in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. Not all of the ministers survived to become enrolled as Freedmen of the Choctaw or Chickasaw nations but research has been able to identify those who did.

Rev. Andrew Franklin
Banks Stevenson who was the initial minister at the founding of the church did not survive to enroll as a freedman in 1898. However it appears several other men were enrolled as children or young adults that later became ministers of Jehovah.

Men such as Edd Shannon (Chickasaw Freedmen card # 500,) William McKinney (Chickasaw Freedman card # 510,) Levy Stevenson (Chickasaw Freedman card # 422,) George Roberts (Choctaw Freedman card # 1172) and Rev. Andrew Franklin all appear to be original Dawes enrollees.

It is evident the men and women who descended from former slaves had a sense of community and were determined to build institutions that educated their children, and provide a spiritual foundation for the population surrounding Jehovah Baptist Church.

The list of “First Deacons and Trustee Board” is another example of how the former slaves in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations rose to the challenge of firmly establishing this institution in their community and is probably a good reason why it exist today.

Among that first group who served on the Deacons and Trustee's Board were Chickasaw Freedmen including Eddie (Edward) Abram; card # 699, Lovard Abram; card # 478, Lyman Pickens; card # 496, Mose Taylor; card # 512 and Eli Stevenson; card # 583. The Choctaw Freedmen who were a part of that initial group of deacons included Caesar Stevenson; card # 34, and David Stevenson; card # 579.

Edward Abram

Amanda Abram

Throughout the history of Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church it becomes easy to see the long history of African and African-Native people who were members of this old and venerable church. The history is based in the people who worshiped within those original log walls. They developed a thriving community despite not being citizens of the Chickasaw nation or the United States until 1907.

The surnames of Indian Territory Freedmen survive with their descendants who have maintain the church and it's traditions. These men and women survived slavery and Jim Crow in Indian Territory and later the state of Oklahoma. Jehovah remains like it's congregation a survivor to be cherished and preserved.

Surnames of members today. Abram, Brown, Franklin, Gaines, McGee, Harris, Pickens, Shannon, Stevenson and Taylor are just a few of the families that lived in Indian Territory prior to Oklahoma statehood and contributed to the history of Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery; making it a vital part of Choctaw and Chickasaw history as well as the history of Indian Territory and Oklahoma.

I think it is important to end this article on what was probably one of the most important institutions in the church and community; the Senior Missionary Society. The society is one of the best examples of former slaves working to help one another and their community. Present day members of the church should be proud of their history and heritage and we can only hope they will continue in the noble traditions of their ancestor’s.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

“Equal Justice Under Law” The Children of Fletcher Frazier

In 1868 almost four dozen leading men among the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen met to send a message to the Congress of the United States. Among the early leaders fighting for the citizenship rights of the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen was someone that appears to be possibly the most unlikely of individuals. His name was Fletcher Frazier and he was a Chickasaw citizen by blood.

Of all of the men who placed their X on Senate Document 82 (40th Congress, 2nd Session,) it appears only Fletcher Frazier could write his name in 1868. The fact that he was listed as the secretary of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen’s Association probably attest to the fact the freedmen wanted to make sure there was a record of their actions.

What intrigues me most about Fletcher Frazier is the fact he was a recognized citizen of the Chickasaw Nation! To my knowledge there are no records that indicate an abolitionist movement among the Chickasaw Nation. Clearly in 1868 when this document was presented before the Congress of the United States there was one man who supported the idea of citizenship for the former slaves of Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians.

Here is a man who knew Richard “Dick” Brashears and Watson Brown two notable freedmen leaders and former slaves. There had to be a risk for what Fletcher Frazier was doing because we know when Richard Brashears spearheaded a conference of freedmen in Skullyville one year he was arrested for his actions; a fate that could have easily been visited upon Frazier.

What is more intriguing about Fletcher Frazier is he was supposedly in direct violation of Chickasaw Nation laws which “forbid the intermarriage of any negro with a Chickasaw Indian by blood.”

I have not discovered a document in the Choctaw Nation that stated the same law, but the practice of defining people by the race of their mother while excluding the paternity of their father was used to justify enrolling African-Choctaw children on the Choctaw freedmen roll by the Dawes Commission.

M1650 1896 Application for Citizenship Caldonia NEWBERRY # 111

If there was such a prohibition on intermarriage Fletcher Frazier was in violation for years as were others in the nation but apparently there were no penalties other than the penalty affecting the children from such a union. This penalty took the form of “non-Indian” status; without the benefits of citizenship.

Fletcher Frazier was indeed married to a Chickasaw Freedwoman by the name of Sookey and together they had at least two children I’ve identified. To my knowledge all of their children and descendants have been identified as Chickasaw Freedmen; not as Chickasaw citizens as was their patriarch, Fletcher Frazier.

1890 Census Chickasaw Nation

One of the most remarkable trends I’ve noticed in the issue of citizenship and identity regarding someone with African-Native descent was the manner in which children of similar circumstances would somehow become citizens while children like those of Fletcher and Sookey Frazier remained on the Freedmen Roll.

In every case I’ve seen to this point, when a child has an Indian father and “freedmen mother” if that father was alive during the Dawes enrollment process, his children would make it to the “citizen by blood” roll. If that child’s father happened to be deceased, the children would be placed on the freedmen roll; again maintaining the ridiculous concept that “a child’s race is determined by the “race” of the mother!”

As we see in the case of Jesse and Dora McGee’s children, all of “their” children became citizens by blood in the Chickasaw Nation because Jesse was alive to fight for his children to become citizens. In the Choctaw Nation, Morris Impson fathered children by a Chickasaw freedwoman named Lucy who was married to Morris. She was not given the privilege of an intermarried spouse like “white women” and she was not placed on the “citizen by blood” roll like so many whites with only the designation they were “I.W.”

In the Dawes Jacket of Randies Frazier is in my opinion one of the rarest documents to survive the Dawes Commission. Not many of the cases where an individual had a Choctaw or Chickasaw father was there actual testimony to support it other than the rear of a Dawes Card (M1186.) 

Despite the cards clearly indicating someone had a Choctaw or Chickasaw father with the designation; Chick. Ind.  or Choc. Ind. there are no oral testimonies to support that information in the record. However, remarkably in Randies file there is some corroboration that his father was a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and Fletcher Frazier was indeed a Chickasaw Indian!

M1301 Randies FRAZIER Chickasaw Freedman card# 1343
In contrast, the children of Morris and Lucy Impson became citizens by blood of the Choctaw Nation because Morris was alive to fight for his children’s right to citizenship. 

The same thing happened in the Chickasaw Nation for the children of Dora and Jesse McGee; they received citizenship ONLY because their father was alive to fight for their rights as “citizens by blood.” Remember, this is the tribe that specifically forbade the intermarriage of anyone of negro descent with a Chickasaw by blood!

These are just a few examples that illustrate how the laws of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation were not equal. They illustrate how the United States through the Dawes Commission did not fulfill it’s fiduciary responsibility and provide “equal justice under law” as is written over the entrance to the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately we don’t have an image of Fletcher Frazier, he died before 1898 evidently and with his death other details of his life remain a mystery. He does leave a legacy of being a leader among his people, which included the men and women who were enslaved among the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians. 

His descendants should be very proud of what he attempted to accomplish during his life. Fletcher Frazier like the other leading men of his time simply wanted his wife and children to live in a nation that provided them the protection of their rights and privileges in the nation of their birth. Sadly it appears the citizens of the Five Slave Holding Tribes have buried these ideals with their ancestors?

Photo of Supreme Court
Property of Terry Ligon 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Akers Township & Ardmore, Oklahoma ~ The Blending of People & Culture

It has always been an observation of mine that in Akers Township and Ardmore, Oklahoma the people known as Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen became absorbed into the life and culture of the people who were enslaved In the United States and migrated to Indian Territory.

The Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes for the most part ostracized their former slaves despite the Choctaw Freedmen having been adopted as citizens in the nation of their birth. When you include the migration of southern whites who brought with them attitudes that included Jim Crow laws, it is not surprising to see the former slaves of Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians begin to forge family ties with the former slaves who came to Indian Territory in hopes of securing land and establishing a home following their “emancipation.”

I have been fortunate to have a copy of the Douglass High School Alumni Directory that provides the history of a segregated school and its history not long after Indian and Oklahoma Territories became the state of Oklahoma in November 1907. When I first saw my cousin's copy of the Douglass Dragon’s Alumni Directory the surnames of the men and women were names I was familiar because of my research of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen.

Lately I’ve been having conversations with the descendants and some of the actual alumnae of Douglass and it made me take another look at the alumni directory for names and photos of people who might be an original Dawes enrollee or at the very least, a descendant of an original enrollee!
2001 Ardmore Douglass Historical Digest p3

Unfortunately the majority of Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen descendants resided in what the locals call the “country,” we will not see a large number of original Dawes enrollees as Douglas Alumni but through the years there will be many of their descendants who became alumni.  The first group of alumnus appears in the 2001 Douglass Historical Digest.

2001 Ardmore Douglass Historical Digest Class Rolls 1919-1969 p2
Out of this group of graduates, none appear to be original Dawes enrollees. Again the Chickasaw and Choctaw original enrollees and their children had not migrated to the more “urban” setting of Ardmore and continued to educate their children in the rural area at schools established at churches like Mt. Olive, Jehovah Baptist and Dawes Academy on the land of Calvary Baptist church where only the steps to the school remain.

Calvary Baptist Church and steps of Dawes Academy Berwyn, Oklahoma
Photo courtesy of Joyce SETTLES
The history of the southern part of Oklahoma is important to understand the blending of families and reinforcing the fact that people of African and African-Native descent did not establish their presence at the time of the land rushes of the 1880’s as the history of Oklahoma and Indian Territory tends to be told.

During the 1880’s with the influx of blacks from the United States you begin to see a slow evolution of blended families with the blacks who had been enslaved by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations.  The Indian Territory Freedmen held ten’s of thousands of acres when Oklahoma became a state in 1907; with the increase of blacks migrating and marrying Indian Territory freedmen many began to migrate to Ardmore for jobs, marriage and education for their children. In the class of 1923 we can identify at least one individual who appears to be an original Dawes enrollee; Mary Ann SHANNON; Chickasaw Freedman card # 503.

Chickasaw Freedman Card# 503 front

Chickasaw Freedman Card# 503 reverse
2001 Ardmore Douglass Historical Digest Class of 1923


We see in the 1900 census the SHANNON family was living on part of their allotments in what became known as Akers Township. It clearly illustrates the father of Mary Ann was a farmer and owned the land on which he farmed, providing for his large family. As with most of the former slaves of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen, educating their children was very important.

The blending of rural and urban Oklahoma, freedmen and “state Negroes” is an important part of the states history as well as the history of Black America, it is well documented and deserves to be taught in the schools of Oklahoma. This story is important because most people are unaware blacks were held as slaves by the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee and Seminole Indians. This little known fact means people have come to accept that so called African-Americans did not arrive in the state prior to the 1880's or Oklahoma statehood.

The class of 1923 which included Mary Ann SHANNON is a vital part of Oklahoma's history, the history of the Chickasaw Nation and the history of African-American's as a connection to the history of both!