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The first meeting, conducted by the Choctaw Freedmen, it was the privilege of the author to attend was their annual Farmers Institute, held in Forest Presbyterian Church on Monday, Jan. 1, 1905. Others had been held in other places during previous years but this was the second annual meeting in the Forest Church, and it was called the county institute of Fort Towson county. It was their own original method of endeavoring to make a pleasant and profitable observance of Emancipation Day.
On this the first historic occasion the meeting was conducted by Johnson W. Shoals, president, in a very dignified manner. An interesting annual report was read by the secretary, James G. Shoals, Fidelia Murchison read an essay on gardening and Elsie Shoals-Arnold, one on making and marketing butter. The author indulged in a short address and other addresses were delivered by Simon Folsom, Lee V. Bibbs, Charles Bashears and Mitchell Stewart. The principal address however, was by Isaac Johnson, one of their number living along the north bank of Red river, who had learned the teacher’s and speaker’s art in Texas.
He seemed to be at his best and discussed good morals, agriculture and the destiny of the Choctaw Freedmen, with so much native wit and humor, we felt well repaid for the long, wearisome journey to the place of meeting.
The meeting consisted of one long session, called a forenoon meeting, and at its close, it fell to our lot to accept an unexpected invitation to enjoy an old-time picnic dinner, which was soon spread on the backless benches in the Church. Isaac Johnson was chosen as the new president and he has continued to serve in that capacity.
The meeting the next year was held in this same place and commencing Jan. 1, 1907, they began to be held at Oak Hill Academy.
The meeting held at Oak Hill on Jan. 1, 1907, had some features worthy of special mention. It was the first occasion, when the meeting included the sessions of two days, or any effort was made to have an exhibit of the products of the garden and field. McCurtain county, though not yet organized had been established, and the officers took more pains than usual, to invite the farmers in all parts of the new county to participate in its discussions. It was the first time, that an effort was made to have a special lecturer from the Agricultural College and the young people at Oak Hill, trained to supply the needs of the occasion with vocal and instrumental music. It was very gratifying to note the increased attendance and interest.
For this occasion, Miss Eaton prepared an artistic design, with grains of corn of different colors, for the center of the decoration over the speaker’s stand, that attracted the attention and called forth the admiration of all. It consisted of a large tablet having a representation of a large broadly branching oak tree on the summit of a little hill, having a canopy of bright stars over it and the words “Oak Hill” in the form of an arch near its lower branches. Over the tablet was the word “Welcome” and over the ends of it “Happy New Year.”
The entire program had been previously arranged, so that all the addresses and discussions might form a part of the course of instruction, in agriculture and animal husbandry to the students. All the proceedings proved interesting and instructive to them. In furnishing the vocal and instrumental music, which formed a very pleasing feature of each session, they were enabled to participate in a way that was very profitable to them, and entertaining to others.
Among those who participated by addresses, on topics previously assigned, were Isaac Johnson, James G. Shoals, Rev. W. H. Carroll of Garvin, Rev. R. E. Flickinger, Adelia Eaton, Malinda A. Hall, Bertha L. Ahrens, who also served as organist, Solomon Buchanan, who also served as pianist, John Richards of Lukfata, Noah Alverson of Lehigh, whose lectures on raising corn and cotton were worthy of special commendation, Rev. Samuel Gladman of Parsons, Martha Folsom of Grant, R. H. Butler of Bokchito and Charles Bibbs.
Illness prevented the attendance of W. S. English, director of the state college.
One of the resolutions adopted was as follows:
“That we note with great pleasure the manifest increase of interest in this session of the Farmer’s Institute, on the part of the superintendent, teachers and students of Oak Hill Academy and of the people generally, there being a good local attendance and a larger representation than ever before of interested farmers and speakers from other parts of the surrounding country.”
At this meeting it was decided the annual membership fee shall be for men, twenty-five cents; and for women, ten cents.
Second Oak Hill Institute
The closing day of the second observance of Emancipation day by a two-day Farmer’s institute at Oak Hill Academy occurred January 1, 1908. Among the new speakers were Rev. Wiley Homer of Grant, Rev. William Butler of Eagletown and Jack A. Thomas. Isaac Johnson and James G. Shoals served as president and secretary and were again re-elected. Prof. C. A. McNabb of Guthrie, Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture, promised two addresses, but failed to arrive. The resolutions included a memorial to congress for the establishment of postal savings banks and a parcels post, both of which were established a few years (1912) later. They also included the following one in regard to the Mexican boll-weevil that during the previous four years had nearly ruined the cotton crop.
“In order that we may do something practical in the way of checking the ravages of the boll-weevil, we encourage every one raising cotton in this section, to plow up and burn as early as possible each fall, all the old cotton stalks, which principally furnish their fall and spring food supply; and as far as possible to avoid planting cotton in the same ground two years in succession.”
The record of these two Farmer’s institutes at Oak Hill Academy, and of three preceding ones at Forest Church, by the Choctaw Freedmen during the period of the Territorial government, is of historic interest, since these annual institutes preceded any similar meetings, by the other folks, in that section of the country. This observation is true also of the three summer normals held at the Academy, during the months of October in 1905, 1906 and 1907; and of the first Oak Hill Chautauqua, held July 4, 1907.
Short Course In 1912
For 1912 the institute was held on the last half day of a three day short course in agriculture and animal husbandry conducted by Prof. E. A. Porter and Mr. R. L. Scott, expert farmers at Hugo; assisted by Prof. J. W. Reynolds of Muskogee, the superintendent and Rev. W. H. Carroll.
In 1913, when the first opportunity was afforded ministers in California to attend a short course in agriculture, lasting one week, at the state university farm, it was attended by five hundred pastors of Churches, representing twenty denominations. This fact, as an expression of the trend of public sentiment, is noted with a good deal of interest.
Isaac Johnson, (B. 1859) organizer and president of the Farmer’s institute, 1905 to 1912, is a native of Hopkins County, Texas, and in 1865 located near Clarksville. In 1876 he married Anna Wilson of the Choctaw Nation, who died in 1880. He then went to school in Texas and, receiving a certificate in 1889, taught school there four years. In 1893, ’94 and ’95 he taught successively at Forest, Lukfata and Eagletown, I. T. In 1894 he married Winnie Durant and again located along Red river, south of Valliant, where he is widely known as one of the leading farmers and stock raisers.
The people of the community in which he lives, under his leadership, on January 1, 1897, began to observe Emancipation Day by holding a Farmer’s institute, a kind of social meeting, that afforded an opportunity for a number of them to make short addresses, on any topic of public or general interest, and all to participate in the enjoyment of a picnic dinner. He enjoys the distinction of having served as president of this organization a number of years before any similar organization was effected in McCurtain County.
The reasons for the general observance of New Year’s day as a legal holiday seem eminently appropriate, for the attention of the people is seldom directed to them. There are several good reasons worthy to be remembered.
It was on January 1, 1863, that President Lincoln issued the memorable proclamation that emancipated the slaves in all the states, then at war against the general government. The number of the persons accorded freedom was about four millions.
This event, considered from the standpoint of the number of people affected, was even greater than the Declaration of Independence, for the latter resulted in the freedom of only a part of the people, and their number was one million less than the number set free in 1863. In 1790, when the first census was taken, fourteen years after the Declaration, the entire population was not quite four millions and of that number 697,624 were left in a state of slavery.
That “all men are created free and equal,” is a fundamental principle of the Declaration, but, for more than four-score years, it was regarded as true of only a part of the people. It was not realized by the other part of the people that was gradually increasing from one to four millions. For them there was but one law and it was, “Servants obey your masters.” This was the only rule of conduct for the Negro. Under it he became socially “a curiosity.” He had no laws or ceremonies regulating marriage; and if such ties were formed, they were liable to be broken at any time, by their sale to other and different owners. This rule did not regulate his moral, economic or political life, for he was not recognized as a person or citizen, possessing these faculties and functions. It did not prevent him from worshipping his Creator, but this was done in an ignorant way, that served more for entertainment and amusement, than the development of morality and piety.
After the lapse of a half century, he has not yet been wholly emancipated from these illiterate and low social conditions; but he is approving and pursuing the better way, as he learns from the Bible, “what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.”
The Emancipation proclamation thus affected the destiny of more persons than the Declaration of Independence, and it marks the beginning of the era of universal freedom; when all the people could unite in saying, America is the “land of the free,” as well as the “home of the brave.” It also effected national unity, by completely removing the one great cause of previous political dissension. It prepared the way for America to be the home of a happy and united people, knowing no north or south, east or west. In these great facts of national importance there are found good reasons for the annual observance of Emancipation day, as a legal holiday, as well as the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.