The Supreme Court’s decision throws light on the Creek Freedmen, who were once black slaves of the Creek Nation. Once they were freed following the Civil War, the former slaves built Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma
By Frederick H. Lowe
Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring 3 million acres of land Indian Territory in Oklahoma traces its history back to Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forcibly removed from their native lands in Alabama and Georgia so hundreds of thousands of acres could be given to white farmers.
The explusion is known as “The Trail of Tears,” which involved the relocation of estimated 100,000 Native Americans, forcing them to relocate from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Historians estimated that as many as 15,000 men, women and children died on their way to the first Indian reservations. The Trail of Tears was more than 5,043 miles. The tribes driven off their land were Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Choctaw, mixed race people and African slaves.
The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision in a case titled McGirt v. Oklahoma ruled that a large swath of land in Oklahoma, including Tulsa, remained part of the reservation even after Oklahoma became a state.
“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government at its word,” Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. Gorsuch was joined in his opinion by Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Beyer.
Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh voted against the ruling.
“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new land in the West would be secured forever,” Gorsuch wrote.
Following the ruling, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation issued the following statement.
“The Supreme Court today kept the United States’ sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation. Today’s decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries. We will continue to work with federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure that public safety will be maintained throughout the territorial boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.”
Muscogee (Creek) Nation is the fourth largest Indian Tribe in the country.
After the Civil War, the Creek Nation, whose members fought both for the Confederacy and the Union, freed black slaves under a new treaty in 1866 with the federal government.
The former slaves, now known as Creek Freedmen, settled in Tulsa , Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, where they established a significant concentration of black-owned businesses known as Black Wall Street. In one of the nation’s worst race massacres, whites destroyed Black Wall Street and murdered 300 of its residents burning their homes and businessness.
In 1979, Creek Freedmen were forced out of the tribe. Lawyers for Creek Freedmen filed a lawsuit to get them re-admitted to the tribe. In 2018, Creek Freedmen filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd, the United States Department of the Interior and Secretary Ryan Zinke. The lawsuit alleged that under Article 2 of the Creek Treaty of 1866 between the United States and Muscogee Creek Nation that Freedmen and their descents regardless of blood status shall enjoy all the rights of Native citizens. The lawsuit charged the Muscogee Creek Nation and its federal benefactors perpetuated race-based discrimination against the Creek Freedman.
In May 2019, a lawsuit from the descendants of black slaves who were once owned by members of the Muscogee Creek Nation and who are seeking citizenship in the tribe has been dismissed, with a federal judge ruling that they should go through the tribe’s own legal process first. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, D.C., dismissed the Muscogee Creek freedmen descendants’ lawsuit this week seeking citizenship in the Creek Nation the Tulsa World reported.
The lawsuit charged that the Muscogee Creek Nation has spent the last four decades denying citizenship to the Creek Freedmen by rewriting its tribal constitution and citizenship regulations with the blessings of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The titled case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court involved Jimey McGirt and Patrick Murphy. Murphy, a Creek Indian, had been convicted of murdering George Jacobs in rural Oklahoma. His lawyers argued the federal government could prosecute him, but federal law barred Murphy from being sentenced to death because he was an Indian.
McGirt, a Seminole Indian, was convicted in a state court of sex crimes against a child within the Creek nation. His lawyers argued that only federal authorities are entitled to prosecute him, not state officials.
Andrew Jackson forced Indians from their land before he was elected the nation’s seventh president from 1829 to 1837.
U.S. Congressman Davey Crocket of Tennessee vehemently opposed Andrew Jackson for forcing Indians off their lands. This was never mentioned once on Walt Disney’s television show.
Jackson, Mississippi, is named in honor of Andrew Jackson. Recently, the City of Jackson has either removed or plans to remove his statute, placing it in a less prominent location.