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!

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