The American Scholar: How the Black Creeks Lost Their Citizenship
Chickasaw freedmen file dossier on subdivisions at Tishomingo (WP Campbell Collection/Oklahoma Historical Society
Chief Creek Cow Tom was born around 1810 along the west coast of Florida. He survived the Trail of Tears, served as an interpreter between the Creeks and the U.S. government, and earned the title of Mikko, or chief, for his leadership of the Creek refugees during the Civil War. In 1866, he served as an adviser during the nation’s treaty negotiations with the United States government. This treaty, in addition to outlawing slavery in the five First Nations party to it, granted full Creek Nation citizenship to Black Creeks who had been accepted into the community after marriage or had previously been enslaved by their Indian owners. Mikko Cow Tom was one of those Black Creeks. Upon his death in 1874, he bequeathed his considerable possessions, including flour mills, cattle, and land, to his family, along with Cree citizenship and a degree of social notoriety extremely rare for a black family of the time. But in 1979, the Creek Nation expelled its black members and refuses to this day to recognize their citizenship. In his new book, We refuse to forget, Caleb Gayle, journalist and professor at Northeastern University, tells the complex story of the Creek Nation’s continued consideration of identity.
Go beyond the episode:
- by Caleb Gayle We Refuse to Forget: A True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity and Power
- Read Gayle’s 2018 article on The Damario Solomon-Simmons lawsuit against the Creek Nation to restore Black Creeks citizenship
- Salomon-Simmons lost the casebut in 2017, a US judge ruled that Cherokee Freedmen had the right to belong to the tribe (a decision on Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation reaffirmed in 2021)
- You can search for the Dawes rolls, which lists those accepted between 1898 and 1914 as members of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes. The Dawes Commission, pictured below, notably used the quantum of blood and race to define membership, which sometimes varied within the same family.
The Dawes Commission, photographed in 1904 in Tishomingo (Oklahoma Historical Society)
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