DURANT – Someone at the book launch for Schools for the Choctaws said to the editor Joy Culbreath, “I know it was a labor of love.” To which, Culbreath smiled, her eyes squinted, and she nodded.
Almost 100 people, mostly family, longtime friends, and co-workers, were in attendance Tuesday at the Choctaw Events Center when Culbreath and co-editor Kathy Carpenter shared their experience of working on the book for the past few years.
Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. told of the support by Chief Gary Batton and the tribal administration for the project. Recognition, thanks, and congratulations were extended to many in the audience, and to some unable to attend that day.
“We know that Choctaws have great respect for education, and this book launch today is a chance to honor that part of our history,” said Stacy Shepherd, Executive Officer of Member Services for the Choctaw Nation, and emcee of the event.
Culbreath serves as director, and Carpenter, assistant director, for the Choctaw Nation’s Education Special Projects. This particular project came unexpectedly to Culbreath because of the friendship that had developed with one of her favorite instructors – Dr. James D. Morrison, history professor and dean – when she was a student at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant.
“Dr. Morrison was a great teacher,” Culbreath said.
After his passing in 1977, Morrison’s sons gave Culbreath a manuscript that their father had completed, but never officially published. It was the story of the educational endeavors of the Choctaw people from their ancestral home in Mississippi to their settlement in Indian Territory and the establishment of the early Choctaw schools.
In the 1970s, Morrison had gathered the information, written the manuscript, and typed it up on a manual typewriter. After that, it lay mostly untouched – and unknown – for 40 years.
Culbreath, who was Executive Director of Education for the Choctaw Nation, passed the newly acquired papers on to the tribe. Eventually, she and Carpenter began to research the manuscript further, “seeking, verifying and restoring old photographs, having maps redrawn, and rebuilding the document into a digital file…”
The result was an impressive book of history, Schools for the Choctaws by Dr. James D. Morrison, printed by Choctaw Print Services, and available through The Choctaw Store.
“Two of those schools, Goodland and Jones Academy, are still standing today,” Culbreath said.
In their research, the editors discovered many things; two hit pretty close to home.
“I did not know that the Clark side of my family was Choctaw. In fact, there was a quarter-blood added to my family history.”
Another thing that came to light said Carpenter, was that theirs was not the only manuscript out there.
“We thought we had the only copy,” she said. But, in fact, several photocopies had been made of Morrison’s original and were distributed to college and public libraries.
While there is much for the co-editors to feel good about, perhaps none is more satisfying than to know that finally, as their artist statement reads, there is “justice to Dr. Morrison’s meticulous research about Choctaw schools before and after removal. The Choctaw leaders involved and the Missionaries who left their comfortable lives to live and work among the Choctaws. Their dedication led the Choctaw Nation to be a Christian nation.”
Schools for the Choctaws by Dr. James D. Morrison and edited by Joy Culbreath and Kathy Carpenter is available at The Choctaw Store, 1882 Hwy 69/75, Colbert, OK 74733, and online at choctawstore.com. Cost is $34.99 for paperback; $64.99, hardback. For information, call 885-865-7854.