An academy for Freedmen
Oak Hill Industrial School in 1905 was established for freed people, formerly enslaved by the Choctaws, near today’s Valliant in Indian Territory.
Per the 1866 treaties signed after the Civil War, the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations were supposed to provide education to the people it had formerly enslaved. The Chickasaw Nation never did this, but the Choctaw Nation’s historic affiliation with Presbyterian missionaries garnered collaborations to build schools to serve African American youths. Along the old road between Ultima Thule and Doaksville near the Red River (today’s Valliant, McCurtain County, Oklahoma) Oak Hill Industrial Academy was established in 1869 with funding by the Presbyterian Church for the education of freed people in the Choctaw Nation. The first terms as a real boarding school occurred nearly two decades later, in 1886, after the Choctaw Nation enrolled freed people as citizens in 1880 and African Americans demanded schools of their own as they were denied access to the academies at Spencerville, Armstrong, and Wheelock.
Initially, Oak Hill students met in the old log cabin of Robin Clark, a Choctaw Freedman, where studies focused on religious instruction and basic literacy (Clark’s log cabin had been initially built by Chief Leflore in the 1850s). Gradually, buildings and land were donated to the school by native black teachers.
This 1901 USGS map shows Oak Hill Academy, a prominent feature east of Fort Towson along the old military road.
The Presbytery recruited Anglo teachers, many from Pennsylvania, to expand instruction in academics. The main focus continued to be on mechanical education in farming and home economics. While this sounds practical, it was also a paternalistic denial of African American advancement. Though in his 1914 book about the academy, Robert Elliot Flickinger recognized discrimination and mistreatment of African Americans, he also wrote that one of the school’s goals was to “prevent sloth.”
Oak Hill Industrial Academy became a self-sufficient farming complex in which the crops, honey, and milk raised by the students helped to sustain the institution. In 1912, the school was re-named to “The Alice Lee Elliot Memorial School” to honor the wife of a donor from Indiana. As one of very few high schools for African American students in southeastern Oklahoma, the Oak Hill Industrial Academy/ Alice Lee Elliot Memorial School closed in 1936 when the Choctaw Nation moved to a public but nonetheless segregated school system.
Today, a historical marker at Valliant cemetery commemorates the academy, but there are no physical reminders of the school left on the surface.
Read more about Oak Hill Academy in this very informative blog post: http://african-nativeamerican.blogspot.com/2011/02/remembering-oak-hill-academy-for.html
Students pose in front of Oak Hill buildings. The large buildings in the front served as dormitories and classrooms. On the left sits the academy chapel. Between the chapel and dormitory is a two story, log cabin; perhaps this is Robin Clark’s cabin, a Choctaw Freedman who used his home (the home of former chief LeFlore) as a make-shift school when Oak Hill was first opened as a school for freed people.
Questions this blog post might generate:
Choctaw Freedmen donated buildings and taught the first classes at Oak Hill. However, when the Presbyterian Church begins to manage the school, white teachers were recruited from far away (and most lasted only a year) and hired instead. What happened to the black teachers? Why did the church do this?
How does the state purpose of the school —to prevent sloth —reflect racism?
Why did the Choctaws segregate black students from native students? White students, with special permission, could attend academies like Armstrong and Wheelock, but not black students.