Sequoya

I have spoken a number of times about the Hall of Fame in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., which is also called Statuary Hall. Forty states have two representatives in the Hall of Fame, seven states have one representative, and there are a total of 87 statues. Eighty-three are men, eighty-two white men and one Indian. There are four women, a scientist, a social reformer, an educator and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement.
Among the men who have been honored are one artist, two inventors, four doctors, five educators, seven missionaries (three Catholic and four Protestant), two orators, one humorist and numerous generals, statesmen and governors.
Today I will talk to you about the solitary Indian represented by having his statue placed in The Hall of Fame. He was honored by the state of Oklahoma. Can anyone give me his name? Sequoya, a Cherokee Indian, born in Georgia around 1775. Sequoya had no educational advantages. As far as can be determined, he never attended any kind of school. He never learned to read or write English. But this man invented a phonetic alphabet for the Cherokee Indians who had no written language.
Sequoya’s alphabet contained 85 symbols or letters, and it took him twelve years to complete this tremendous task. The Federal government under President Andrew Jackson rounded up most of the Indians in the Eastern half of the United States and forced them to move to the Indian Territory which is now the state of Oklahoma. Sequoya moved west with his tribe, the Cherokees, and settled in the Indian Territory.
There he printed the first newspaper in any Indian language. He also printed parts of the Bible with his new alphabet. He was voted a silver medal by his tribe for his literary accomplishments and was also selected by his fellow tribesmen to represent the Cherokee Nation in Washington.
When the statue of Sequoya was unveiled in the Capitol, the Honorable Dick Morgan, a member of Congress, was the main speaker, and he had this to say about the occasion:
The placing of a statue of Sequoya in Statuary Hall is a very fitting and appropriate recognition of the Indian race. His fame rests upon his achievement in inventing an alphabet for the Cherokee Indian Nation. Like all inventors, Sequoya succeeded in his invention by industry, perseverance, and concentration. After accomplishing this great work, he endeared himself to his people through his devotion to service in teaching them how to read and write. Sequoya, without education, without intellectual training and during his life having been associated with an unlettered people, with all of these handicaps, he still made for himself a place in the history of our nation.
Sequoya also had other honors conferred upon him. If you have ever been to the far west and visited some of the great forests of redwood trees, these tremendous trees that sometimes grow over 300 feet tall and as big around as a water tank, then you know that these are Sequoya trees named for this unique and brilliant Cherokee Indian. There is also Sequoya National Park in California that contains within its borders thousands of these great trees. This park was also named for this plain and humble man who contributed so much to the wellbeing of his people.
The story of the Cherokee Nation is one of tragedy and sorrow. Through trickery and force, the Cherokee were uprooted from the mountains they loved and marched to the flatlands of Oklahoma by order of President Jackson. If you would like the complete story, I suggest you travel to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, a part of which is a Cherokee Indian reservation. There you can visit a Cherokee village and see the tremendous production of the longest running play in American history. It is called “Until These Hills’ and the actors are mostly Cherokee Indians. It is worth a trip to North Carolina.
But here is an unusual twist to this story. The other statue in the Hall of Fame representing Oklahoma is that famous cowboy humorist Will Rogers who was also of Cherokee Indian descent.

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