Brought to Indian Territory in the 1830’s Black Choctaws arrived with the Choctaw Indians as slaves. Prior to removal the Choctaws had been exposed to Africans in their native homeland of Mississippi. Slaves were a part of the European culture to which the Choctaws would later adapt. Slavery would be one of the institutions the nation would adopt. Chief Moshulatubbee had slaves as did many of the Europeans who married into the nation.
The only family of distinct free status in the Choctaw Nation at the time of removal was the Beams family, children of Nellie Beams. Though their status was later challenged by their half Choctaw siblings who sought to sell them for profit, their recognized status as free Choctaw citizens was noted by their fellow citizens. A full account of the saga of this family is found in the Journal of Negro History 1976. Slavery remained in the Choctaw Nation, till 1866, when the Treaty of 1866 signed in Ft. Smith, Arkansas requiring that The Choctaws release their Africans from bondage.
Most “Freedmen” remained in the nation, and began new lives as citizens among their fellow compatriots. Much discussion arose in the nation after the signing of the Treaty, and many in the nation had pressed to have the Freedmen removed from the Choctaw Nation. However, a majority of the Freedmen remained steadfast, determined to remain in the land of their birth, as law abiding Choctaw citizens. After discussion, debate, and years of political strategizing, in 1885, the Choctaw Nation finally adopted their former slaves as citizens into the nation. Their status would give them a legal right to remain and no longer to be considered as intruders in the land of their birth.
Prominent persons arose from the Choctaw Freedmen. Henry Crittendon, would become a leader in the education community, at the time of the establishment of the Choctaw Freedmen Oak Hill Academy. In the area of law enforcement would emerge persons such as Rufus Cannon, and the noted Squire Hall, who would serve the Territory as Marshall and deputy sheriff, respectively. Leaders would also surface to become spokes persons for their communities, and would speak through their leadership in the Choctaw Freedman’s Association.
In 1885, after adoption of the Freedmen, the first official census of the Choctaw Freedmen was taken. Names, ages, names of former Choctaw slave owners were recorded, in addition to the amount of personal property amassed by each family.