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James Coody Johnson (1864-1927)

One other name and personality of color that you may never see in your mainstream textbooks is James Coody Johnson. He was an African Creek lawyer, politician and entrepreneur. He was also a leading voice for inclusion of African Americans both before  and after Oklahoma statehood. Johnson was the son of Robert Johnson, the African Creek interpreter for the Seminole nation and his mother was Elizabeth Davis (Johnson), daughter of Sarah Davis. Coody was born in 1864 at Ft. Gibson, where his mother had gone for protection as a refugee during the Civil War. He received his early education at the Presbyterian Mission north of Wewoka. Later, the Seminole nation sponsored his education at Lincoln University in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Johnson returned to the Indian Territory in 1884 after his graduation and hired on as a cowboy with a cattle company. For the next year and a half, he rode the range in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas as one of the many Black cowboys in the west. After the death of his father in 1886, James Coody returned to the Creek country, He used his bi-lingual abilities and education to secure a job as interpreter for Judge Isaac Parker (the hanging judge), who presided over the Federal District Court for Western Arkansas, which at the time, had jurisdiction over the Indian Territory.

After studying law under Judge Parker and being admitted to practice in the federal courts, Johnson was one of the few Freedmen accorded dual citizenship in both the Creek and Seminole nations and acted as the official interpreter for the Seminole nation as well as an advisor to Seminole Chief Halputta Micco. He also became a leading figure in Creek politics, serving in the House of Warriors for several terms and serving on many official delegations to Washington during the allotment period. Johnson was also a tireless advocate of full citizenship rights for African Anericans after Oklahoma entered the Union as a “jim crow” state in 1907. James Coody Johnson died at his home in Wewoka, Oklahoma in Frbruary 1927 at the age of  63.

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