Congressman John Lewis Betrays Black Cherokee Freedmen
Submitted by Dr. Ron Daniels on Tue, 09/22/2009
by Dr. Ron Daniels
Deep ties of blood and history bind African Americans and Native Americans. But a great injustice was done to the Black Freedmen of the Cherokee Nation, who were stripped of the right to vote. Black Congressman John Lewis rubbed salt in the Freedmen's wounds by honoring tribal Chief Chad Smith, the man who engineered the disenfranchisement, an act that “was tantamount to expelling” Blacks from the tribe.
“Thousands of Black Cherokee Freedmen were stripped of the right to vote.”
I visited YouTube the other day and was absolutely stunned to see the venerable Congressman John Lewis addressing the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma as the Keynote Speaker for their National Holiday gathering in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. There stood Congressman John Lewis, the man who was beaten unmercifully as he fought for the right to vote to be restored to African Americans, heaping praise  on Chief Chad Smith, the man who engineered the disenfranchisement and defacto expulsion of thousands of Black Cherokee Freedmen from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO). The Congressman pledged to the Chief that the "Trail of Tears," where Cherokees and other Native Nations were removed from their ancestral homeland in the Southeast and forced to relocate to Oklahoma, would never happen again. He talked of being moved by scenes in the Museum in Tahlequah depicting the suffering and horrors of the forced march to Oklahoma. The problem is apparently the good Congressman did not see faces of people of African descent who also traversed the Trail of Tears as slaves of the Cherokee. Perhaps, in his understandable quest to identify with the historical plight of Native people, he was totally ignorant of the enslavement and oppression of Africans by the "Five Civilized Tribes," the Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee, prior to the Civil War.
“Perhaps Congressman Lewis was totally ignorant of the enslavement and oppression of Africans by the "Five Civilized Tribes.”
Historically there has been a strong affinity between Red and Black, Native people and Africans. In virtually every class I teach in the social sciences at York College/CUNY, I remind my students that every person who lives in what has become the Untied States of America is the beneficiary of the dispossession of the indigenous people, Native Americans. I remind them that the two most damaging stains on the American character are the dispossession of Native people and the exploitation of enslaved Africans. A bond of blood and solidarity was forged among Africans and Native Americans when various Native Nations harbored runaway slaves and often accepted them as full members of their communities. Indeed, the Seminoles are comprised of runaway slaves and contingents of disaffected Natives who came together to create a nation. Historically, there was a tremendous amount of intermingling between Africans and Native Americans, so much so that the majority of African Americans have some Indian blood in their lineage.The African influence on Indian country is also clearly evident when you see the faces in Tribes like the Lumbee of North Carolina and Massapequa of Connecticut.
Read the full essay