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October 19th, 2011
11:12 PM ET

Black Cherokees' hard-won right to vote

By John Stremlau, Special to CNN

Editor's note: John Stremlau is vice president for peace programs at The Carter Center in Atlanta and a Cherokee election observer.

Atlanta (CNN) - The Cherokee Nation had difficulty electing its principal chief, so much so that members called in the Carter Center to observe the most recent vote and judge whether it was free and fair. We normally observe elections only in politically troubled countries abroad but believe that the contentiousness and fundamental voting rights issues at stake - and not just for the Cherokees - justified this exceptional mission.

Simmering beneath the election process all along has been the crucial issue of voting rights for the former slaves known in the tribe as Freedmen, who are Cherokee citizens of African origin and who have had to fight in the courts to be able to vote.

Read John Stremlau's commentary

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Filed under: Black in America • Politics • Race
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. RBee

    I believe they may be descendents of the escaped slaves and freemen who went west and were adopted into the tribes there. Some of them may be African American or African American/Cherokee at this point. I don’t know what Cherokee law specifically states regarding the right to vote in their elections, but it probably says something along the line that a person must be able to show genetic descent from Cherokee ancestors.

    The Cherokees were not their owners. They were their saviors. These slaves and former slaves went west and found a society that accepted them as friends and equals, not as a lesser people. They joined or were adopted into the tribes. Yes, some of them may indeed have been captives and slaves, but captives who were later given the choice to join the tribe as equal members. Even though genetically, they are African American, they don’t necessarily identify themselves as African American, they identify themselves as Cherokee who just happen to be of African American descent. See the difference?

    November 12, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. horse fox fish

    Black Cherokees. Sounds cool.

    November 12, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ana

    I don't understand wanting to be identified with your slave owners and why would African Americans want to vote in the Cherokee elections if they don't have Cherokee blood? I think that African Americans should find pride in their own heritage and move on in mainstream America where anything is possible and not limit themselves to a Cherokee tribe who obviously do not accept them.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • horse fox fish

      Ana. Isn't it kind of ironic 'you' telling Cherokee/African Americans they should find pride in their own heritage and move on in mainstream america...? What are your credentials in this case?

      November 12, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Shawn

      Ana you obviously don't know what your are talking about. I will end it there.

      November 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |