October 26, 2004

The Freedmen: James Coody Johnson


The Freedmen: James Coody Johnson … KEYWORDS:James Coody Johnson freedmen black indians black creek freedmen black indian leader freemen who lived with Indians creek indian history Oklahoma Freedmen African-Native people green peach war Seminole Freedmen

A significant number of Afro-Americans were sold, escaped or fled from slavery and eventually settled in the West, where they were adopted by Indian tribes and accepted into the tribal structure as equals. Many even assumed roles of leadership. Sugar T. George a.k.a. George Sugar was born in approximately 1827, as a slave in the Muskogee Nation. James Coody Johnson was one of the most influential modern era African Americans in Oklahoma history.

He graduated from Howard University in the 1880’s and shortly afterwards began a law practice in Wewoka, in the heart of the Seminole Nation.

Coody Johnson was actually a Creek Freedman, but his home was Wewoka, and as an attorney, he represented many of the Freedmen from the Seminole community, a large number of whom lived in or near Wewoka. In addition, his parents were also of Seminole ancestry. He had been enrolled in an earlier census in the town of Arkansas Colored, but his professional life was spent in Wewoka.

His father was Robert Johnson, who had once been a slave of the Seminole John Jumper. His mother, Elizabeth Johnson was from Arkansas Town.

During the period of the Dawes Enrollment and land allotments J. Coody Johnson represented many Seminole Freedmen in various land claims. Some of these cases were argued before the U.S. Supreme court. Before Oklahoma Statehood in 1907, Johnson was president of the Negro Protection League. He also led the protests against the Jim Crow laws that were being established for the new emerging state of Oklahoma. His outspokenness and his leadership made him a strong leader in the Black Seminole community. He was known not to be timid when confronting injustices extended to black Oklahomans, and his tenacity earned him high respect in the Nation, and in the state of Oklahoma.

After statehood, he constructed the Johnson building in Wewoka where his law office operated, and later the first black owned petroleum the Black Panther Oil Company operated from there. James Coody Johnson continued throughout his lifetime to support the Black Seminole population in Wewoka.

He buried just north of Wewoka in an African Seminole cemetery. His headstone is a dignified white marble monument that is the strongest monument in the cemetery. Nearby some Seminole graves lied underneath small houses built over them, now beginning to crumble over the years, due to the passing of time. Coody Johnson’s memorial stands ever strongly, pointing out to passers by that the site is a burial ground, of quiet dignity. His stone stands as strongly as his reputation.

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