African American, American Indian and Latino Connections
Report on the Tuskegee Conference
By Katarina Wittich
In early December 2001 a group of us were invited to speak at the pre-conference to the 59th Annual Professional Agricultural Workers Conference at Tuskegee University in Alabama. This is a brief account of that trip.
The theme of the conference was LAND, COMMUNITY AND CULTURE: AFRICAN AMERICAN AND HISPANIC AMERICAN/LATINO CONNECTIONS. The subject of the pre-conference was African American/Native American connections, with a focus on the Black Seminoles. The chairperson was Bennie J. McRae of LWF Communications. Presenters and their subjects were:
Sharon Heist from Deming, New Mexico spoke about the distortions of Native American and African American History in traditional history books and the need to look at that heritage from a more truthful perspective. She also spoke about the Navajo Tribe of Arizona and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head,
Beverly Gray from Chillicothe, Ohio spoke on African American/ Native American connection in Southern Ohio and their parallels with the Black Seminole experience.
Katarina Wittich from New York City gave a presentation on the history of the Black Seminoles with a focus on the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts.
Rosetta Finney from Wewoka, Oklahoma, Chairperson of the Dosa Barkus Band of the Seminole Nation spoke about Black Seminole history, the Trail of Tears, and the current political situation in the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma.
Paulina del Moral from Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico gave a presentation on history of the Mascogos/Black Seminoles in Coahuila, Mexico and their current destitute situation due to the many years of drought.
Izola Warrior Raspberry from St. Louis, Missouri and Brackettville, Texas, a descendant of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts spoke on Black Seminole life growing up in Brackettville Texas, and on the disgrace that there is no marker or memorial for the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts at Fort Clark in Brackettville and her family's attempt to establish a memorial to the Scouts on Fort Clark.
George Harper from Anchorage, Alaska, gave a presentation on Blacks in Alaska.
The pre-conference took place on Saturday December 1st and Sunday December 2nd. The conference was on the 3rd and 4th. Panelists Rosetta Finney and Paulina del Moral were invited to participate in an interactive roundtable on African American, Native American/Native Alaskan, Hispanic American/Latino connections facilitated by Refugio I. Rochin, Director, Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives, Washington, D.C. Other participants in the roundtable were Ramon Gutierrez, Quintard Taylor, Roberto Suro, Rudy Arredondo, Rocio
Aranda-Alvarado and Ralph Christy.
During the round table, Paulina Del Moral gave a brief presentation on the plight of the Mascogos in Coahuila, Mexico. They are descendants and relatives of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts and members of the Black Seminoles who returned to Mexico when the U.S. Government did not fulfill its promise to give them land. The Mascogos are currently facing extreme economic hardship due to many years of drought in their area of Mexico, which is entirely agricultural.
Paulina's presentation was extremely moving. It was backed up by a passionate statement by Izola Warrior Raspberry, a descendant of several of the scouts, that the Mascogos are her people and deserving of help from the United States. It was then proposed by Rudy Arredondo, President of the Hispanic Organizations Leadership Alliance, that Tuskegee University should adopt a resolution demanding that the Mascogos should be given American citizenship so that they can cross the Mexican/American border with freedom and work on either side of the border if they need to. This proposal was heartily supported by the audience as well as by the roundtable.
To the great delight of the panelists, the resolution proposal was accepted by Tuskegee University and was announced at the closing banquet on Tuesday night. The resolution is as follows:
RESOLUTION OF THE 59TH ANNUAL PROFESSIONAL AGRICULTURAL WORKERS CONFERENCE (PAWC)
Tuskegee University, Alabama
December 4, 2001
WHEREAS, Black Seminoles were fugitives from slavery and free Maroons and expelled from Florida to the Indian territory of Oklahoma from where they fled to northern Mexico and settled in Coahuila and are known as the Mascogos;
WHEREAS, the Mascogos community is now isolated, disintegrating and in dire need due to an eight-year drought in the region of northern Mexico where Coahuila is located;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the participants of the 59th Professional Agricultural Workers Conference (PAWC) held at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, on December 2-4, 2001, request that the appropriate delegation in the U.S. Congress accept the responsibility for righting this travesty of justice by taking the necessary steps to recognize the Mascogos of Coahuila, Mexico, as citizens of the United States.
LET IT FURTHER BE RESOLVED THAT this resolution be brought to the attention of the Mexican government by Paulina del Moral, as an envoy of this PAWC, asking that the issues and needs of the Mascogos be recognized and resolved to their satisfaction.
The resolution will be presented by Tuskegee University to the appropriate members of Congress in 2002. Paulina Del Moral will also present a copy of it to the Mexican Government. Lorette Picciano, Executive Director of the Rural Coalition, has offered to help shepherd the resolution through Congress, as she is familiar with how these things work. Katarina Wittich and Paulina Del Moral will monitor its progress with her and present her with documentation as to why the Mascogos should be given citizenship. We are very proud of this
resolution and hope it will succeed.
On a lighter note, the panelists enjoyed themselves immensely on this trip. We were a diverse group with a lot to learn from each other and a shared sense of humor and purpose. We were wonderfully hosted by Tuskegee University where we stayed at the Kellogg Center and were invited to some special occasions every night. Saturday there was a performance of Pamyua, a Native Alaskan acapella quintet. On Sunday we attended a Christmas program featuring the famous Tuskegee University Choir, and a reception afterward. On Monday and Tuesday there were luncheons and dinner banquets. In between seminars and eating we also explored the wonderful George Washington Carver Museum next door to the Kellogg Center.
We were equally hosted, with inimitable Alabama style, by Jerry McRae, brother of Bennie McRae and a prominent Tuskegee citizen. He arranged for us a wonderful trip to Tuskegee's famous Moton Field, future home of the Tuskegee Airmen Museum, where Colonel Roosevelt Lewis, U.S. Air Force - Retired,
conducted an in depth tour of the field, and we were regaled with stories of Tuskegee in it's early years by Mr. Ed Crowley, a 94 year old local citizen and raconteur.
Jerry also took us to visit Mr. Glenn Drummond, a local historian and caretaker of the archives for Macon County. The fingers of many of the panelists were itching to dig through those archives, but there wasn't time for more than a brief look. Mr. Drummond took us out to Uphapee Creek near the birthplace of Osceola and the burial place of his great grandfather, James McQueen. Mr. Drummond kindly provided us with an informative article that he has written on the subject.
In all, the trip was a great pleasure and very productive. Our only regret was that there was not enough time to visit other historical sites in the Tuskeegee area.
The panelists decided to form an association: Voices From The Shadows, which will be dedicated to bringing forth the history of peoples who have been ignored by
traditional historians. We are also hopeful that the Tuskegee resolution will be successful in Congress and make a substantial difference in the lives of the Mascogos.
But most of all we are grateful to Mr. Bennie J. McRae, Jr. for bringing us together so that we can learn from and support each other in our work to make sure that all American voices get heard.