Lucy Allen
National Visionary

Born on July 8, 1932 in Vinita, Oklahoma

Plaintiff in the landmark case to restore the rights and status of African American Freedmen recently expelled from the Cherokee nation.

Lucy Allen, a proud descendant of Cherokee and African American forebears, has fought to claim the rightful heritage denied her by the Cherokee Nation. Her successful 2006 legal decision against the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council helped ensure that African Americans with similar ancestry are recognized as Cherokee citizens, even as other Cherokees have dedicated themselves to ensuring that never happens.

Allen with her children

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
The youngest of eight children, Ms. Allen was born on July 8, 1932 in Vinita, Oklahoma to Sedalia Martin and John Landrum, who were African American and Cherokee.  Following high school, Ms. Allen studied computer keypunch in business school and took courses in math, literature, and history at Tulsa Community College in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

She married her high school sweetheart, Robert Allen, in 1952. Together they had three children: Robert, Richard, and Catherine. Throughout his Army career the Allens moved often while being stationed at various posts around the country and in Germany. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ms. Allen worked as a keypunch operator for Southwestern Bell and Sun Oil, and as a lab technician in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Ms. Allen’s parents are listed on the Dawes Rolls, enrollment lists authorized by the federal government between 1899 and 1907 to identify tribal citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes, including the Cherokee. The list determined who could be considered a Cherokee citizen, thus entitled to receive benefits, such as money and land. The categories included “Freedmen” – African American descendants of former Cherokee slaves -- and “Citizen by Blood”.

Allen's Father
Ms. Allen’s parents never referred to themselves, or their children, as Freedmen because they considered themselves Cherokee by blood. Documents indicate her maternal grandmother was five eighths Cherokee and that her father was half Cherokee. However, Ms. Allen was still denied her Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB), the document required to gain Cherokee citizenship and access to benefits. The Cherokee Nation registrar told her that her proof was invalid.

Ms. Allen’s paternal grandfather and parents were landowners. Her grandfather donated some of his land to African American churches; however, other land was taken away. Ms. Allen’s mother tried to recover this land before she died, but racist tactics were used to deny her. Ms. Allen then decided to take on the fight to reclaim her mother’s land and claim her Cherokee citizenship.

In the early 1990s, Ms. Allen received her maternal great grandfather’s application for listing on the Dawes Rolls from the National Archives. She learned that he was the son of Capt. Joseph Martin, a Cherokee slaveholder who owned a 100,000-acre ranch. Yet her application for citizenship continued to be denied. Although descended from a “Citizen by Blood”, her family’s listing on the Dawes Rolls hampers her ability to be considered a “Citizen by Blood”.

Ms. Allen’s husband could also document his blood ancestry, and he fought for recognition. In 1998, when after 46 years of marriage, Mr. Allen passed away, Cherokee Nation registrars still denied his citizenship..

In 2003, Ms. Allen attended a meeting of Freedmen descendants, where she was encouraged to sue the Cherokee. She filed suit against the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, the legislative body for the Cherokee Nation, in 2004. Ms. Allen once again applied for her CDIB in November 2005. To date, she has not been granted her CDIB.

Drawn by Ann Gill
of J.C. Nalle Elementary

In March 2006, Ms. Allen won her suit. In a 2-1 decision, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled that the descendants of the Cherokee Freedmen were entitled to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. Previous suits had been filed by African Americans but Ms. Allen’s was the first successful one.  Her case favorably influenced other Freedmen cases resulting in citizenship for 2800 Freedmen descendants.       

Despite the ruling, the Cherokee Tribal Council maintains that only those with ancestors listed on the Dawes “Citizen by Blood” rolls should be granted citizenship. After several legal steps, the issue of Freedmen citizenship was put up for a vote to all “eligible” voting members of the tribe.  In March 2007, over 76 percent of these Cherokee voters elected to remove Freedmen from the tribe’s citizenship rolls.

Presently, Ms. Allen continues to pursue the fight for her family’s overdue recognition as citizens by the tribe.



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