The Tushka Lusa Institute; a “lost” Freedmen Academy
Six miles east of Talihina Oklahoma, buried somewhere underneath a century or more of brush an overgrowth, the remains of the foundation of Tushka Lusa Academy can still be found for those who are willing to seek it out.
Tushka Lusa, whose translation means "black warrior" can be called one of the long forgotten schools on the western frontier. This school was the one institute established by the Choctaw Nation for the children of their former African slaves.
As an almost unknown part of our history, the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek Nations were all slave-holding nations before the Civil War. Following the Civil War, along with the rest of the nation, they were required to release any slaves they owned.
For most, the slaves were almost considered extended family. While they were still bonded to their owners, they enjoyed more freedoms than slaves owned by white owners.
In an effort to bring those former slaves into the nations, freedmen academies were established, such as the Tushka Lushka Academy.
Freed in 1866 and formally adopted as citizens into the tribe in 1885, the former slaves would wait many years before their final fate would be decided and major changes brought to their lives. It would be almost a decade before steps to begin formal education for Choctaw Freedmen children would unfold. But in the years after the Civil War, the Freedmen remained in the nation with no legal status, but most chose to live where their parents and grandparents had lived and died because it was the only place that they knew as home. There was no place in the United States to go, and Indian Territory was what they knew and it was where they remained.
In May 1883, the Choctaw Nation passed the law that finally made the Choctaw Freedmen legal citizens, and in the summer of 1885, the actual process of registration began. This was met with great concern, as many Freedmen had begun farming and cultivating dozens of acres of land individually, and there was great fear that their land would be reduced to a mere forty acres. And they wanted education so badly for their children. Neighborhood schools had begun to appear, but these schools provided basic education. A high school was strongly desired by the Freedmen, so that their children could also have a chance to grow and prosper.
Historian Angie Debo noted that in 1891, the Choctaw Nation "went beyond the obligation assumed by the act of adoption, by establishing a colored boarding school.”
The original name of the school was Tushka Lusa Institute and was called such when it was originally approved by the Tribal Council to establish the school. Provisions were made however to only allow for thirty or so students at Tushka Lusa. The other officially sponsored schools in the Choctaw Nation allowed for 100 students at Jones Academy for boys and 100 students at Tushka Homa Female Institute.
Once approved funds were set aside, and a superintendent was appointed for the new school.
Over seven thousand dollars were approved in early 1892 for the new school.
Henry Nail a Choctaw Freedman was appointed to run the school in the spring of 1892 and he submitted the first report to the Choctaw Nation in the fall of 1892.
The general sentiment was that the school was progressing well and that students were pursuing in earnest their studies.
In his report, Henry Nail was gracious and was certain to express appreciation to the officials of the Choctaw Nation for going beyond was expected in providing this school for Choctaw Freedmen.
Henry Nail quickly settled into his role as the superintendent of Tushka Lusa and frequently sent letters and reports to the school. When fund was needed for additional provisions, he also sent additional requests to the Nation. From the tone of his letters, he was given the necessary provisions to run the school efficiently. The relations between the school administration and the Choctaw Nation, also appear to have been amicable. The reports submitted by Henry Nail were accepted and approved without dissension.
Not much is known about the Tushka Lusa Academy. Most of the history behind the academy has been lost to history; however, it was noted as being the only Choctaw freedmen school of its kind.