Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Whimsical Tombstone Tuesday

Located in Union Cemetery in Brentwood, California is a special section devoted to children who died early in life. One can only imagine the pain of their parents and how the tragedy of losing a child so young.

However, there are a few of the grave sites that have a whimsical character about them that I find uplifting and noteworthy. 

Standing in the middle of this section is for the lack of a better word, obelisk with plaques of what appears to angels. 

Rogelio CRESPO

Joshua BLACK

Sunday, August 21, 2011

This Week in Indian Territory

Times Record (Blackwell) August 25, 1898 p6 c3
As we have seen just this week, leaders among the Five Slave Holding Tribes have a record of violating the rights of their adopted citizens.

The Choctaw Freedmen took their protest to the Department of the Interior in 1898; fast forward one hundred and thirteen years a similar fate is visited upon the Cherokee Freedmen descendants.

The actions of the "Chief Who Shall Not Be Named" stacked the Cherokee Supreme Court and when he lost the most recent election the same Supreme Court ruled "The Chief Who Shall Not Be Named" gets a "do over!"

This all comes before another election not unlike the one in the Choctaw Nation in 1898 where Freedmen and their descendants were denied the "right of suffrage." In this case, the Cherokee Freedmen descendants have been convieniently removed from citizenship so they can't effect who will be Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Just more proof, people who don't know their history are bound to repeat it!

Cherokee Freedmen Citizenship Terminated

Friday, August 19, 2011

Secret Schools In Indian Territory?

Recently I was intrigued by the title of a post on Facebook "Secret School Preserved in Chickasha." It turns out that the title referred to a story on a local television station in Oklahoma City about a segregated and "secret"  school for blacks in Indian Territory which later became the state of Oklahoma.

The more I watched the video the more I became intrigued by some delicious irony and what could possibly be a clever edit job by the television station that produced the segment.

I have to believe the producer of this segment may have edited the segment in such a way to say something that is arguably untrue.

Anyone who researches Indian Territory or Oklahoma history should know; the probability of "secret schools" is misleading at best.

Following the Civil War, former slaves of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole ALL sought to educate their children and they were very upfront and open about it. It was not uncommon for them to seek the help of the Indian Agent in securing the services of teachers for their children's education, especially in the Chickasaw Nation. In 1876 Agent Rogers sought to purchase a building for the express purpose of making it a Freedmen school.

In the Creek Nation, former slave and Civil War soldier Sugar George; a Creek citizen, petitioned the Creek council for funding to construct a "segregated school" for the children of Creek Freedmen.

Indian Journal April 24, 1878 p5c2

In the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen community there were men like David Franklin, Simon Love, King Blue, Charles Cohee, Nathan Cochran, Richard Brashears and many others who saw the value of education for their children and put their money, time and effort in securing that education.

Senate Document 157 55th Congress, 1st Session pp34-35

Senate Document 149, 55th Congress, 1st Session

Senate Document 101 55th Congress, 3rd Session p.8
Clearly, the idea that there were "secret schools" in Indian Territory or the state of Oklahoma can be shown as inaccurate by the ample amount of documentation available.

The only remains of the Dawes Academy Berwyn, OK (now Gene Autry, OK)

I suspect the video footage was edited to appear to say secret schools. The woman the statement is credited to never made the statement. In my opinion she was speaking about the antebellum era when educating slaves was prohibited and done in "secret."

One of the positive points of the segment was the proposed plan to preserve a school building that existed during Oklahoma's segregated past. It is not clear from the video if this school existed before statehood which if it was, preservation of the building should be a priority by the state and the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Unfortunately the comments I read after viewing the video segment tended to be negative in nature and fixated over the three hundred thousand dollars that was needed to convert the school into a museum.

  • "What? $300,000??? Who you trying to scam, you rotten liers?(sic) There is no way!"
  • "I'm glad the school or any part of our history has been preserved for that matter but they need 300.00 for what exactly. It looks like everything is intact and in good shape so I'm a little puzzled at why the money is needed. Put the school on Americas roadside attractions, Google it. Pretty sure it's free and then ask for donations as people come to see it."
  • "I think the school is an important part of history but I think 300,000 would be better spent. Maybe some scholarships for college, maybe some donations to the local food banks so that people can get help with food. Museums cost money to visit so only those with extra money will see it. come to see it."
However, there was one individual who had the insight to look past the $300,000 and see the value in preserving the schoolhouse.

  • "If they spend some of the money developing this museum it may be able to be used to recieve (sic) donations and admission revenu (sic) to then provide scholorships (sic) and so on. Creating a possibility to recieve (sic) far more than ($)300,000."
First and foremost, this is a historical site that is an important part of the history of Indian Territory, the state of Oklahoma and the tens of thousands of blacks and Indian Territory Freedmen descendants who have a unique and little known history among the states resident's, as well as people throughout the country.

How shortsighted of the other three people who commented and failed to realize by preserving this building and converting it into a museum it has the capability of generating more revenue for the state and community of Chickasha where they plan to develop the museum.

A curator, along with many other fields of employment would become immediately needed to maintain the facility. The museum could become a repository for the history of the Indian Territory freedmen who lived in and near Chickasha and therefore generate tourism to the area when those same families have their reunions in or near the area.

Oklahoma has an obligation to preserve ALL of it's history but for a long time the state has appeared to be more inclined to minimize the presence of blacks before statehood who lived and were enslaved by the so called Five Civilized Tribes. 

It also offers an opportunity for the Chickasaw Nation to demonstrate some responsibility in preserving the history of their nation by preserving a schoolhouse of their former slaves who were never adopted into the nation, which brings me to the delicious irony in this entire saga.

The $300,000 figure just happens to be the same amount of money that was to be provided to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation as part of the Treaty of 1866 if they adopted their former slaves.

The former slaves of the Choctaw's were adopted as citizens and were able to provide some education for their children but the Chickasaw Freedmen had to fight constantly to get their children educated because the portion of the $300,000 that could have helped them fund a school was denied them. Perhaps this is an opportunity for some fence mending?


The Choctaws and Chickasaws, in consideration of the sum of $300,000, hereby cede to the United States the territory west of 98° west longitude, known as the leased district, provided that the said sum shall be invested and held by the United States at an interest not less than five per cent., in trust for the said nations, until the legislatures of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations respectively shall have made such laws, rules, and regulations as may be necessary to give all persons of African descent, resident in the said Nations at the date of the Treaty of Fort Smith, and their descendants heretofore held in slavery among said Nations, all the rights, privileges, and immunities, including the right of suffrage, of citizens of said Nations, except in the annuities, moneys, and public domain claimed by or belonging to said Nations respectively, and also to give to such persons who were residents as aforesaid, and their descendants, forty acres each of the land of said Nations on the same terms as the Choctaws and Chickasaws, to be selected on the survey of said land, after the Choctaws and Chickasaws and Kansas Indians have made their selections as herein provided ; and immediately on the enactment of such laws, rules, and regulations, the said sum of $300,000 shall be paid to the said Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in the proportion of three-fourths to the former and one-fourth to the latter—less such sum, at the rate of one hundred dollars per capita, as shall be sufficient to pay such persons of African descent before referred to, as within ninety days after the passage of such laws, rules, and regulations shall elect to remove and actually remove from the said Nations respectively.

And should the said laws, rules, and regulations get be made by the legislatures of the said Nations respectively, within two years from the ratification of this treaty, then the said sum of, $300,000 shall cease to be held in trust for the said Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, and be held for the use and the benefit of such of said persons of African descent as the United States shall remove from the said Territory in such manner as the United States shall deem proper—the United States agreeing, within ninety days from the expiration of the said two years, to remove from said Nations all such persons of African descent as may be willing to remove; those remaining or returning after having been removed from said Nations, 'to have no benefit of said sum of $300,000, or any part thereof, but shall be upon the same footing as other citizens of the United States in the said Nations.

Teacher's Report Dawes Academy 1904 Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory

It would be interesting to see what the value of $300,000 in 1866 would be in 2011 dollars? Somehow I think the state of Oklahoma as well as the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations would be providing a stimulus to the economy of the area and making good on a treaty provision that is not well known by citizens in the two nations or the citizens of Oklahoma.

Additional Notes:

See, "My Life And an Era" by Buck Colbert Franklin (father of John Hope Franklin) who details how his father paid for the education of the children in his community out of his own pocket.

For more articles on Indian Territory schools see:

Education For Creek Freedmen

Evangel Mission, School For Creek Freedmen

Jehovah Baptist Church

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Word Up Wednesday: Legacy of Napoleon Davis

This photo is an image of the former Creek Freedmen Shrine built by Napoleon Davis, a Creek Freedmen Descendant. The shrine was built by Mr. Davis with the majority of work done by his own hands. 

Photo courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji

His vision was to erect a building that would house the artifacts and history associated with the Creek Freedmen and from all accounts the building was an engineering feat for one man to erect.

Photo courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji

Unfortunately following Mr. Davis' death his property became abandoned and subsequently his children sold the property. During that time the building was allowed to deteriorate and the new owner gutted the interior.

Photo Courtesy of Debra Jane Seltzer

It would have been the ideal facility for preserving the history of Creek Freedmen and their descendants had someone reached out to preserve the legacy of Napoleon Davis.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Whimsical Tombstone Tuesday

It is always a pleasure to photograph a cemetery and come across a grave site where someone has taken a "different" approach to decorating a loved one's final resting place.

Clearly the majority of people take a serious attitude about what is within the bounds of "good taste" and "dignified" but for those few who follow a different drummer; I'm eternally grateful for the joy you provide me as I walk the grounds and occasionally come across a grave to see where someone had a different point of view.

Who knew John Hancock was into convertibles?

One of my favorites; a homemade headstone, priceless!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: The Joys of Documenting a Cemetery 2

Last week I received a request for a photograph of a headstone in my local cemetery (Union Cemetery, Brentwood, CA) through the Find A Grave website. Unfortunately by the time I could respond to it someone had already claimed the job.

Because I was planning on doing some work at the cemetery anyway I wrote an email to the woman who claimed the request and inquired if she had taken the shot and volunteered to do it if she would allow me.

In a matter of minutes she responded to my idea and informed me she wouldn't be able to get to the cemetery before Sunday so we agreed I would have the honor of fulfilling the photo request.

I got all of my gear together and took off to the cemetery but when I got there to ask for the location of the gravesite one of the caretakers informed me someone had been there earlier in the morning asking about the same headstones.

I surmised that there was a third individual who wanted to take this photograph and they were "jumping the claim!" Undaunted because my original purpose was to canvas the cemetery and systematically shoot headstones throughout the cemetery the caretaker gave me a ride to the site and I shot the headstone anyway since I was given permission by the original person who claimed the request.

I noticed the area where the two headstones were located had some interesting monuments and decided I would put in an hour or two documenting the plot of gravesites. I wasn't sure if someone had already done it but I've learned over the past year most people will shoot a few stones and I could still provide other people with a photo of their ancestor's burial site if I just took the photos and worried about if I'm duplicating them later.

Sure enough when I got back home, the "claim jumper" uploaded her photos but I felt it only right that I should upload mine because I was given permission and therefore had a responsibility to complete the task.

The next day I received one of the greatest rewards a person could ask for when the woman who requested the photo's sent me a thank you letter.

Hello Terry,

"I wanted to thank you for taking the beautiful photo's of my brother and sister's headstone for me. They are great, so clear just wonderful; you do great work and I am sure there is a special place in heaven for people like you that do such nice things for others.

Gene was killed in a boating accident at the delta and Caren had had cancer for a couple of years. She was also the harbor master at the marina where he was killed. I live in Merced and it is hard for me to get out there with work and taking care of my 86 year old mother so do no i appreciate what you done for me"

Debi Potts
A lot of times we forget how gratifying it can be just to give of ourselves and our time. With Debi sharing the history of her family and how much it meant for her to have those photos I'm glad I took the time to follow through on that request. 
I'm also reminded that I must continue to document the Union Cemetery whenever I get some free time.