Monday, January 16, 2012

"I have a dream that one day...the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."

Angela Walton-Raji & Colin Kelley
A Choctaw Freedman Descendant  and an enrolled Choctaw who descends 
from the Choctaw slaveholder of her ancestors
(Source: Photo taken by Tonia Holleman in her home in western Arkansas)

I met the descendant of the Choctaw slaveholder of my ancestors in 2010. Two years ago, this month will mark the anniversary of my meeting with a man who found me. I received an email from a gentleman living in Oklahoma who saw my name in an historical journal.  His letter was brief and to the point. He was a descendant of Nail Perry.  

I was stunned. I knew that name--Nail Perry had contact with my ancestors--my ancestors who lived in the Choctaw Nation.  Same and Sallie Walton had lived in Indian Territory as slaves.  Sallie, my gr. grandmother was a person whom I knew in my lifetime, and I had loved her for she was the face of kindness, wisdom and love in my tender young years.  I was 9 years old when she passed and hers is a face that still smiles at me from the old photographs in my home.

Sallie Walton, Choctaw Freedman
Source: Personal Family Collection

But Nail Perry---this was different. I knew his name from family records. When I found the family file in the Dawes Records, his name appeared. He testified at the Dawes Commission interview on behalf of Sam and Sallie Walton, and he spoke about Sallie's mother being a slave in his family.

Partial Testimony of Nail Perry in front of Dawes Commission
National Archives Publication Number: M1301 Choctaw Freedman File No. 777

Nail Perry's name appeared in other family documents between the 1880s and 1900s. 

So back in 2009 when I received the email from Mr. Kelley. We exchanged emails and since that time, we have spoken several times.  And in 2010, while I was on a trip to western Arkansas, he drove to pick up another cousin and they both came to meet me.  Mr. Kelley arrived with documents, and we shared records, and talked.  Our meeting was a pleasant one, and we have a relationship that continues to this day. 

Meeting Nail Perry Descendant Colin Kelley
Photo taken by Tonia Holleman

I think about that meeting often, and I am especially appreciative because it was he who found me. There are many stories of African Americans who have met the descendants of slaveholders. This meeting however, was historic---it is probably one of the first meetings of a Native American slaveholder descendant who on his own initiative, reached out to one whose ancestors were enslaved in his family. We did meet, and yes, history was made on that day.

On this day that we honor a man who had a dream that such meetings were possible, I think that not only are such meetings possible, but so are so many more good things possible! I am so glad that Dr. King had a dream and  he expressed his dream to the world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Treasure Chest Thursday: Two Sheets of Paper

Source: Personal Collection

As  child I would often look at the old plat map above and simply wonder what it was and why it was saved. It existed for decades between the pages of an old family bible, folded and carefully tucked in between the pages.  It was the only document that was in the family that actually had my gr. grandmother Sallie's name on it. Years later I would eventually come to appreciate this simple piece of paper and how it told a story.

My great grandmother Sallie Walton, was born in the Choctaw Nation in 1863 and she died in 1961 at the age of 98. Hers was a long life well lived. She left only a few things behind. There were a handful of photographs, an old family Bible and some hand made quilts. 

But the old family Bible held the most, for it left some clues about her history and her past both on the pages and also between the pages.  

Sallie Walton  1863-1961

The old plat map above was always found neatly folded between the pages in the old bible. And when I was a child I would often pull the Bible off the shelves, unfold it stare at the words "Choctaw Nation" stamped on it, and wonder what her early life was like.  

I would not realize for many years that this small plat map would be the only original piece of paper that we had with her name on it. So what could be learned from what she left behind? Well, there were clues--right there on that sheet. The sheet was a plat map, and it pertained to property. The document illustrated her ties to the land, and to the Choctaw Nation. 

Closer Image of Plat Map

The document also had her name written clearly on it:

The only document that bore Sallie's name was this old plat map

A second piece of paper, was also kept between the pages of the old Bible. This was a small sheet from a tiny table with the letters and numbers almost faded into the yellowed sheet would also hold information for me.
Small slip of paper with hand-written note also found in the family bible.
Source: Personal Collection

Written in pencil, and fading into the yellowed pages were a few words. Sallie's was name followed by a few numbers and a reference to someone's age, presumably hers. The name was barely legible, "Sallie Walton" followed by some numbers--3-9-4-8.  Or was it supposed to be 3-7-4-8?  It was hard to tell. But what did the numbers mean?  This would remain a mystery for three decades.

In 1991, on a trip to the National Archives, I began the search for my gr. grandmother's history.  There, within a set of records known as Dawes Records, I found a document with the family name. 
Dawes Card, Sam & Sallie Walton
Source: National Archive Publication M1186, Choctaw Freedman Card 777
(Document can also be found on Fold3 as Image:  260|225730220)

This document was an Enrollment Card made in application for a land allotment with the Dawes Commission. Sam and Sallie Walton made their application in 1899.  On that card much information is recorded, but upon examination of the card something was familiar:

The number 3748 was Sallie Walton's Dawes Roll Number

There was the number--3-7-4-8.  It was the number inscribed on the small piece of paper. The family's application was approved and that number was her official Dawes Roll number! That was an aha moment!!  Of course she never wanted to forget the number--it was the number that made her eligible for privileges as a citizen in the Choctaw Nation and most importantly, the number that also made her eligible for a land allotment.  

It all made sense--it was folded neatly in the family Bible, because it was important. The Bible had names and dates of her children, it contained information on her second marriage, it reflected the deaths of loved ones, and it also held her precious Dawes Roll number. 

So I began to study the documents. I always thought of the document reverently, because like a hand from another dimension, that red arrow on that plat map was the compass pointing to a part of the family's past. 

And on the bottom of that page, her name would appear. For many years, this was the only document that we ever  had with her name written upon it.

Bottom portion of plat map

Long after her death, these two pieces of paper held the keys that unlocked parts of  her past. I appreciated the fact that she kept them, even if decades later, she no longer held the land. I would frequently look at these documents and study them, and they would often be on my mind. It was finally these two pieces of paper that nudged me to see if I could document more of the family's history, and if these documents would lead me to something about our history. They did.

Something made my gr. grandmother Sallie hold on to those documents as if she wanted someday someone to know that she had a tie to the land and to the Nation and that this was a part of her life. I am so glad that she did.

By the time she died in 1961, Sallie no longer held the land, and she died in Arkansas. But she left behind the precious items that mattered. 

And as simple as a small piece of paper might be, these two pieces of paper opened doors to the family history.