Lumbee Voices: North Carolina's Lumbee Indians in Literature, Art, and Music
by Glenn Ellen Starr Stilling Note: A shorter version of this text was presented on campus at Appalachian State University in April, 1996, as part of the Humanities Program Council's "Social Forum" series. The notes about visuals represent points in the presentation where books, articles, artworks, photographs, or parts of a videotape were shown to the audience. I have made a few minor updates to the text. Please note: This essay has received only minor updates since 2002. I hope to make major changes and additions within the next few months. —Glenn Ellen Starr Stilling, April 18, 2007
Who and Where Are the Lumbee Indians?
Origins of the Tribe
Tribal Name and Identity
Lumbee History and Activism
The Henry Berry Lowry Period
The Ku Klux Klan Routing and other events
Characteristics of Lumbee People
Indian identity and heritage
Robeson County as Home
Love of the Physical Features of Robeson County
Love of Family
Importance of Religion
Importance of Education
Celebration of Successes of Individual Lumbee People
Who and Where Are the Lumbee Indians?
The Lumbee Indians, with a 1990-census population of 40,500, are the ninth largest tribe in the United States--behind such tribes as the Cherokee (308,000), the Navajo (219,000), and the Chippewa and Sioux (103,000 each). They live primarily in Robeson County, in the southeastern part of North Carolina [Visual 1]. Over 90% of the Lumbee on the tribal roll live in eighteen communities in Robeson and adjoining counties [Visual 2]. The main Robeson County communties are Pembroke, Red Banks, Maxton, Moss Neck, Wakulla, and Rennert. Over the years, the Lumbee have migrated to other areas, primarily for employment. Thus there are sizeable settlements in Cumberland, Sampson, Hoke, Scotland, and Columbus Counties; in Greensboro, Charlotte, Detroit, Baltimore, Claxton, Georgia (between 1865 and the 1920's, to work turpentine and cotton), and a spurious group in Shasta County, north central California called the United Lumbee Nation which claims Lumbee origin. Robeson County is a triracial county. In 1900, Indians were 9.6% of the population. Lumbee people have tended to have large families; and in recent years, Lumbee people who migrated out for work have been returning home. Also, more Indians have been willing to identify as such on the federal census. As a result, in 1990 the county (which is the state's largest, with 949 square miles) was 38.5% Indian, 36.1% white, and 24.9% black. If current population trends continue, Indians will be 50% of the county's population by 2010.
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Origins of the Tribe
The Robeson County Archaeological Survey (1988) established that Indian people have lived in Robeson County for 14,000 years. The earliest written record (from the early 18th century) refers to the Cheraw tribe being along Drowning Creek (the upper Lumber, or Lumbee, River), so recent federal recognition bills have sought to rename the tribe "The Lumbee Tribe of Cheraw Indians" because of the belief that they developed from this Siouan tribe. Noted anthropologist John Reed Swanton, in a 1933 federal report, surmised their descent from the Cheraw, with contributions of blood from the Keyauwee, Eno, Shakori, Waccamaw, and Cape Fear Indians. The other widely known theory about Lumbee origins is that the Lumbee are descendants of Sir Walter Raleigh's 1587 Lost Colony at Roanoke Island, Virginia (now North Carolina) and their friendly Indian neighbors. According to Governor John White, Raleigh left the Colonists to return to England for supplies. When he got back, the Colonists had left; but carved on a tree was an inscription suggesting they had gone to Croatoan, an island belonging to the friendly Indian, Manteo's, people. John Lawson's history of North Carolina (1714) mentions his encounter with some Hatteras Indians on Roanoke Island who said their ancestors were White, could "talk in a book" (read), and often had grey eyes. From this, and from the facts that (1) 41 of 95 Lost Colonists' names appeared among the Lumbee and (2) they spoke Elizabethan dialect, state representative and local historian Hamilton McMillan wrote a pamphlet suggesting that these people, previously referred to as free persons of color, were Indian. In 1885, a state law was passed designating the tribe Croatan Indians and setting up separate schools for them. In 1887, another state law appropriated funds and land for a Croatan normal school (now University of North Carolina at Pembroke). The "Lost Colony Theory" of the tribe's origin was accorded further credence when, in 1891, Stephen B. Weeks published an article in Papers of the American Historical Association espousing and documenting the theory from maps and historical accounts.
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Tribal Name and Identity
Thus Hamilton McMillan's 1885 law gave the Lumbee their first name--Croatan Indians. It also gave them state recognition. Unfortunately the name Croatan came to be used as a racial slur. In 1911, a state law changed the name to Indians of Robeson County. In 1913, another state law changed the name to Cherokee Indians of Robeson County, and in 1953, still another to Lumbee Indians. In 1933 and 1934, federal bills were introduced to name the tribe Cheraw Indians and Siouan Indians of the Lumber River--more about this later. The name Lumbee comes from the Lumber River which, tradition has it, the Indians called Lumbee. This tradition fits with other rivers in the region--the Wateree, Pedee, and Congaree, all Sioux names. In 1956, a federal act named the tribe "Lumbee Indians." Unfortunately, its termination-era language did not afford the tribe true federal recognition. One phrase it contained was, "Nothing in this Act shall make such Indians eligible for any services performed by the United States for Indians because of their status as Indians, and none of the statutes of the U.S. which affect Indians because of their status as Indians shall be applicable to the Lumbee Indians."
Why the emphasis on a proper name? The Lumbee, since 1888, and still unsuccessfully, have sought true federal acknowledgment—more for the pride of Indian identity than for monetary benefits. Identity has been a dominant theme of Lumbee existence, as the remainder of this presentation will show. Adolph Dial and David Eliades, in their history of the Lumbee, The Only Land I Know, stated, "The central fact of Lumbee history is that the people are Indian in origin and social status." Hamilton McMillan wrote that when European settlers reached the Lumber River in the 1730's, they found a "large tribe of Indians, speaking English, tilling the soil, owning slaves and practicing many of the arts of civilized life." Adolph Dial, in his 1993 book, The Lumbee,states that his people "have lost or forgotten the language and many other aspects of their ancestral culture. In the eyes of many non-Indians, the Lumbee consequently appear to be less 'Indian' than some other groups (p. 22)." The strength of stereotypical views of Indians, and the power, during several periods of Lumbee history, of prejudice against any nonwhites, have caused the Lumbee to investigate their origins, seek a good tribal name, fight for federal recognition, and assert--sometimes violently--the fact of their Indianness. Again, to quote Adolph Dial, the Lumbee "refuse to accept others' narrow definitions of Indianness. They know that the way a person looks or behaves does not make him or her a Lumbee. Instead, they know that their Indianness lies in what they share--a love of their Robeson County home, a special history and heritage, and, perhaps most important, a certain way of viewing the world born from their unique past (p. 23)." I will elaborate in a few minutes on these characteristics Adolph names. But what convinces me--besides knowing the people and seeing the strength of their belief--(having lived in Robeson County for 4 1/2 years and returned frequently for visits) is the sheer volume of writing about the Lumbee. I listed, in my book, a selection of over 1,400 items, ranging from brief newspaper and magazine articles to literary works, scholarly journal articles, government reports, theses and dissertations, videotapes, and books. The archaeological evidence is strong. Also, many noted anthropologists, including John Reed Swanton, William Sturtevant, Raymond Fogelson, Guy Benton Johnson, Karen Blu, Gerald Sider, and Jack Campisi define the Lumbee as Indian. William Sturtevant, general editor of the Smithsonian Institution's revered Handbook of North American Indians, testified at a 1988 Congressional hearing on one of the many recent federal recognition bills. He said, "It is clear that the Lumbee have those characteristics that identify an Indian tribe (p. 86)." He adds, "Anthropologists over the last 100 years have agreed, everyone that has looked at the Lumbee case, that they are an Indian tribe . . . . I think one could say that anthropologists, as a profession, view the Lumbee as an Indian tribe (p. 22)." Gerald Sider, in his 1993 book Lumbee Indian Histories,states, "None of the 'reasons' usually given for contestibility of Lumbee identity could withstand even a few hours' close examination; all are social and cultural conditions that are widespread among Native Americans" (p. xxii). I will elaborate in a few minutes on the characteristics anthropologists name.
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Lumbee History and Activism
First I want to tell you a little more about Lumbee history. Lumbee people have suffered many of the same discriminations African-Americans have endured in the South. I will mention just a few. The earliest was the revised North Carolina Constitution drafted in 1835, which stated that no free negro, free mulatto, or free persons of mixed blood shall vote, bear arms without a license, or serve in a militia. These restrictions, in Robeson County, came to be applied to the Lumbee. Not until 1868 and 1875 were voting and officeholding restored. Between 1887 and 1941, a series of state laws was passed setting up separate schools for the Lumbee in Richmond, Scotland, Sampson, and other neighboring counties. There were even laws establishing separate quarters in the county jail, county rest home, and state hospital for the insane. In 1917, a state law decreed that the mayor of Pembroke (the Lumbee population center) would be appointed by the governor (thus always white). This was not repealed until 1945. In 1937, an article in the Robesoniandescribed the new Rowland movie theater. It had 478 seats (338 for whites). Whites sat on the main floor, Indians and blacks in separate sections of the balcony. Whites and Indians went in separate main entrances; blacks went in a side entrance. Indians did not serve on juries for forty years--they were deliberately not chosen until a letter of complaint was sent to the Robesonian and a petition given to the presiding judge in 1937. Not until around 1950 would North Carolina colleges (other than University of North Carolina at Pembroke) accept Lumbees as undergraduates. Not until 1953 could UNCP graduates attend North Carolina graduate programs. In 1934 the first Lumbee ran for public office (constable of Fairmont). In 1954, the first Lumbee was elected as a county official (Lacy Maynor, judge). In 1958, the first Lumbee was elected county commissioner. In 1963, the first Lumbee was elected to the Robeson County Board of Education. In 1973, Henry Ward Oxendine became the first Indian legislator in North Carolina. Not until 1989 did an Indian become Superior Court judge in North Carolina (Dexter Brooks).
Now, I would like to describe some incidents from Lumbee history showing activism. It has taken activism as well as persistence, help from the churches, sympathetic political leaders, and pressure from organizations outside the county to achieve the gains just mentioned.
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The Henry Berry Lowry Period
[Visual #3] Perhaps the most significant and influential is the Henry Berry Lowry period, 1865-1874. At first the Lumbee sided with the Confederacy. But the Confederacy started constructing Fort Fisher to protect the important merchant port of Wilmington. A yellow fever epidemic in 1862-1863 killed many slaves working on the fortifications. Slaveowners complained, so free persons of color, like the Lumbee, were conscripted. Many, including Henry Berry Lowry, hid in the swamps to escape conscription. They could be, and were, shot for evading military service. Union soldiers who escaped from Confederate prisons, and runaway slaves, did the same. This period was known by the Lumbee as "the starving times." The Lumbee were plundering white plantation storage bins and smokehouses to stay alive--sharing with poor blacks and whites as well. A group of white men called the Home Guard enforced conscription (sometimes viciously), dealt with the stock-plundering, saw to it that Indians didn't have firearms, and flushed out escaped white soldiers. Over a complicated series of accusations and incidents regarding thefts and conscription, the Home Guard shot Henry Berry Lowry's father and brother while he watched from hiding. Henry Berry and a group of supporters promptly stole a large quantity of rifles (purchased for the local militia) from the Lumberton courthouse and began an eight-year war to avenge the deaths. Henry Berry Lowry's tri-racial band also, Robin-Hood-like, robbed plantations, often showing up at dinnertime and dining with their hosts before carrying off the plunder in a mule and wagon. They stole two safes (one from the Sheriff's office and one from a large company), leaving them empty on the main street in Lumberton. Henry Berry Lowry escaped from jail twice. He and his band were outlawed in 1868--meaning anyone could kill them for the reward. The reward for Henry Berry Lowry climbed to $12,000, the largest offered in the 19th century except for Jesse James and Jefferson Davis. Federal troops and federal detectives were brought in. Henry Berry Lowry and his band killed 18 men, including the county sheriff. These men were leaders of posses sent to hunt them down, members of the Home Guard that killed Henry Berry Lowry's father and brother, and bounty hunters. The band's escapades received coverage in the New York Times and in Harper's Magazine [Visual #4]. The New York Herald sent correspondents to Robeson County, and an edited collection of their reports was published in book form in 1872. Henry Berry Lowry was never captured. He disappeared in 1874. Henry Berry Lowry inspired five books, three plays, the outdoor drama Strike at the Wind!,and a movie script. The period accounts for a selection of 60 entries in my bibliography.
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The Ku Klux Klan Routing and other events
Another significant incident of activism that received widespread publicity was the Lumbee routing of the Ku Klux Klan in early 1958. An Indian woman living in a white neighborhood started dating a white man. The Klan planned to show power to the Lumbee and advertised a rally at a farm near Maxton. Lumbee leaders made public statements of resentment, and local officials tried--unsuccessfully--to get it called off. On the night of the rally, 150 Klansmen showed up--as did 1,500-3,000 white, Lumbee, and black spectators--some armed. When the speech started, there was a war whoop. Shotguns fired, the stage light bulbs were shot out, and the loudspeaker was disabled. The Klan members ran. No one was hurt except one photographer, who was grazed when his camera was hit. The news coverage, which included this photograph in Lifemagazine [Visual #5], was so great that the Lumbee, for a time, operated a public relations office in Pembroke to handle inquiries.
Robeson County, until March of 1988, had five--sometimes six--school districts, which helped to perpetuate segregation. A law referred to by Indians as double-voting allowed town school district members to vote for county school board members (the county school district was 60% Indian) but not vice versa. Thus it was almost impossible for Indian school board candidates to get elected. The Lumbee struggle against this policy finally resulted in a successful class action suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1975.
In 1970, Robeson County imposed an HEW-mandated school integration plan. The plan bused Indian students long distances, displaced Indian teachers, grouped Indian and black students together (resegregation), and--most importantly--took Indian children away from their hard-earned home-area schools. Five hundred Indian children sat in at their old, community schools from August, 1970 through June, 1971--the longest school sit-in in U.S. history.
[Visual #6] Old Main, the first brick building on the University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus, constructed in 1921, was scheduled for demolition in 1972 to allow the construction of a performing arts center on the site. Indians protested, because the building was for them a symbol of Indian heritage and achievement. The school was built, through much local expense and labor, to serve as a teacher-training school for the Lumbee. Lumbee protests against the demolition involved rallies, petitions, poems, fliers, threats to leave the Democratic party, and involvement of the National Congress of American Indians. The building was burned on March 18, 1973 (possibly by local Indians). As a result of Lumbee influence, federal and state funds were allocated to renovate Old Main; it was rededicated in February, 1980. It now houses UNCP's American Indian Studies program as well as the Native American Resource Center, an Indian museum.
On February 1, 1988, two Tuscaroras (a much smaller Indian group in the county) took employees of theRobesonian newspaper hostage for ten hours. They did so in protest of numerous problems and racial injustices in the county: police brutality against Indians; the killing of Jimmy Earl Cummings, a Lumbee, by white Sheriff's deputy Kevin Stone with few repercussions; out-of-control drug trafficking; seventeen long-unsolved murders of minorities; poor jail conditions; documented inequities toward minorities in the court system; and Indians and blacks clustered in low-paying jobs. The incident and its aftermath received massive publicity. As a result of this attention, dramatic changes occurred in the county's attention to race relations.
[Visual #7] In 1988, Lumbee activist Julian Pierce, an attorney who established Lumbee River Legal Services and worked to create a nonprofit health consortium for the poor (among his many achievements) started a campaign against white Robeson County district attorney Joe Freeman Britt for a newly-created, supposedly minority Superior Court judge's position. There had never been a Lumbee Superior Court judge in the county. Pierce was murdered on March 27, 1988. When the election was held, Pierce's name was still on the ballot; and he outpolled Britt. Britt filled the position, so a third minority judgeship was created in 1989. Lumbee attorney Dexter Brooks was appointed to it.
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Here are just a few examples of Lumbee achievements. In 1971, the Lumbee Bank (now Lumbee Guaranty Bank) became the first Indian-owned bank established in the United States. Brantley Blue was the first Indian appointed to the Indian Claims Commission. Lumbee professor and historian Adolph Dial was one of only five Indians to serve on the American Indian Policy Review Commission. Dial also started the American Indian Studies program at UNCP and served on the North Carolina legislature. Lumbee attorney Arlinda Locklear was the first Indian woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. [Visual #8] The Lumbee have had their own weekly newspaper, the Carolina Indian Voice,since 1973. Lonnie Revels has served on Greensboro's City Council. There have been two Lumbee college presidents--Joseph Oxendine (who served from 1989-1999, was, oddly enough, only UNCP's second Indian chancellor) and Dean Chavers (who served as president of Bacone College, Muskogee, Oklahoma). Lumbee artist Lloyd Oxendine is curator of American Indian Community House Gallery/Museum, the first gallery of contemporary Indian art in the United States. Rose Marie Lowry, in 1990, was elected the fist Indian president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. Dr. James G. Jones, who has an endowed professorship at East Carolina University's medical school, was the 1988 Indian Physician of the Year and has been president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dennis Lowery, who runs Continental Industrial Chemicals, Inc. in Charlotte, with around 167 employees and $59 million in annual sales, was the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce's 1993 Entrepreneur of the Year. His is supposedly the nation's largest Indian-owned corporation. James Thomas is managing partner in Maguire-Thomas, which was the nation's largest commercial contractor in 1992. His personal net worth was over $40 million.
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Characteristics of Lumbee People
Here are some characteristics of the Lumbee that have been noted in the literature and that I have observed--followed by some themes that appear in the scholarship as well as in literary works, art, and music concerning them:
(1) The first and foremost, as we have seen, is Indian identity and heritage. Karen Blu expressed this well, near the close of her book: "Their identity has done more than allow the Lumbee to survive--it has been an active, motivating force enabling them to flourish" (The Lumbee Problem, p. 235).
(2) Robeson County as Home : Lumbee people who move away, however long they have been away, still consider Robeson County "home." They ask each other, "When have you been home?" They return home--when the job situation there is better, or because they finished their degree, or because they didn't like wherever they had moved as much as "Old Rob." There is even an annual Lumbee Homecoming festival in Pembroke. This began in 1970. One function of the festival is to help Lumbees outside the county maintain the tribal affiliation required by tribal membership guidelines.
[For some basic statistical and economic information on Robeson County, check the Robeson County Statistics page]
(3) Love of the Physical Features of Robeson County , especially the land and the river: Robeson County is the largest county in the state (949 square miles); it is nearly level to gently sloping, with elevations ranging from 60 to 250 feet. [Visual #9] Agriculture is probably still the chief economic activity. There are 1,500 farms, and 72% of them are less than 180 acres. The important crops are tobacco (59% of crop income), soybeans, cotton, corn for grain, and wheat. [Visual #10] The climate is humid subtropical--long, hot summers and short, mild winters. There are violent rainstorms in summer and sometimes tornadoes in spring (I remember well the 1984 tornadoes which hit Red Springs and did $10 million in damage). Robeson is a sunny county; there is sunshine over 50% of the day in winter and 70% in summer. The county is rural; 77% of housing units are classed in rural areas. [Visual #11] The Lumber River (which the Indians called Lumbee, meaning "black water") is officially designated a small blackwater stream. It runs for 58 miles through the county. Its tributaries (including Big Swamp, Ashpole Swamp, and Back Swamp) drain most of the county. It's called a blackwater river because the water is tea-colored; it absorbs tannic acid from the vegetation in and around the river as it moves slowly through the swamps. The river is mostly narrow, slow, and meandering--rarely over 10 feet deep. It rises in the Sandhills of Moore County and moves southeast through Richmond, Hoke, Scotland, Robeson and Columbus into South Carolina, where it becomes the Little Pee Dee. It was designated a North Carolina Natural and Scenic River in 1971. In 1989, a 115-mile section was named a state park. In September 1998, 81 miles of the river were added to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system. [Visual #12] Laurel oak is the most common vegetation along the river--but there is also a lot of gum-cypress swamp, with cypress trees, tupelo gum, swamp gum, sweet gum, and willow oak. Fish are plentiful, as are beaver.
(4) Love of Family : [Visual #13] Throughout their history, many Lumbee have had large famiies; and family (especially extended family) is very important to them. [Visual #14] There is very close, frequent contact--some of my friends saw or talked to their mothers or siblings every day. There seemed to be a high tolerance of the behavior of people in the family, because they were family (this was noted in a doctoral dissertation). Often, family would give other family members land for a trailer or house and even help them build it (we see this often in mountain people, as well). Family would sometimes move in with other family members for awhile, or take care of their children for awhile. There are a few common surnames that are distinctly Lumbee--some were on the list of Lost Colonists. Oxendine, Locklear, and Brayboy are perhaps the most unusual. It is important for Lumbee people to connect each other up with their family, and many are related (however far back). Adolph Dial was fond of saying that when two Lumbee meet, within about five minutes they will have connected each other to someone they know or to distant kinsmen. I've witnessed these exchanges many times.
(5) Importance of Religion: Lumbee religion is primarily Protestant. One study has documented Lumbee Methodism back to 1787. Church membership and participation are very strong forces in Lumbee life. The Lumbee created two Indian church conferences--the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association (founded around 1880) and the Lumber River Conference of the Holiness Methodist Association. Bruce Barton documented 104 Lumbee churches in 1984; there are undoubtedly more now and have been more in earlier years. Ministers are highly revered. [Visual #15] Prospect Methodist Church, with 603 members in 1990, is purportedly the largest Native American church in the nation. When a sizeable number of Lumbee people move to another city, they often tend to settle in a particular section or neighborhood. They also establish a Native American church; this happened in Baltimore, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Charlotte, and Claxton, Georgia. The churches have been a strong force in community outreach, helping meet basic survival needs and achieve social justice. Lumbee ministers have started a couple of gospel television programs (and one entire station). The lead singer of the Lumbee gospel group Carla and Redemption is an announcer on a gospel radio station.
(6) Importance of Education : Some of the most revered Lumbee people, beside ministers, have been teachers and school administrators. The Lumbee strove long and hard (as we heard in a recent speech at Appalachian State University by Rosa Winfree) to establish their own schools public schools; to establish what became University of North Carolina at Pembroke (originally a teacher-training or normal school for the Lumbee) [Visual #16, Visual #17], to gain admission to other colleges in the state and then to graduate programs, and to gain representation on the county school board. The Lumbee were instrumental in the long struggle to merge the county's five school systems (1988), so that resources would be pooled and education improved for all races. As individuals, they strive to get college degrees for themselves, to keep their children in public school, to see that they get what they need from the schools, and then to send their children to the best college they can afford, taking advantage of programs for gifted minority students.
(7) Celebration of Successes of Individual Lumbee People : This theme shows up in literature, art, and music (as we'll see). It also appeared frequently in the newspaper articles (especially the Carolina Indian Voice) that I looked at for my book and in materials produced by the Title V Compensatory Indian Education Program. It is exemplified by the awards given out during Lumbee Homecoming each July 4. The list of firsts I went through earlier is actually much, much longer. The Lumbee have, for many years, recorded firsts--from the minor (such as the first Indian licensed chiropractor in North Carolina-1993) to the very significant (establishing the first Indian-owned bank in the nation, 1971; and the first Native American legislator in North Carolina--Henry Ward Oxendine in 1973). They also celebrate the wide range of areas in which Lumbee people have excelled. I mentioned several earlier, and will mention more as I continue.
(8) "Meanness" : Karen Blu sees this as linked to pride in being Indian. It includes a sensitivity to insult, a quickness in reacting to it, a willingness to stand up for themselves, and a tendency to settle issues, when necessary, with fighting or violence. This "meanness" is usually only manifested when there are attacks on the Lumbees' Indian identity (as we saw during the Henry Berry Lowry era, the Ku Klux Klan routing, and theRobesonian hostage-taking). It is usually aimed only at whites. There has, of course, been Indian meanness against other Indians--fights, cutting, shooting, or verbal threats. The characteristic of "meanness" goes back as far as 1753, when a military surveyor stated that people living on Drowning Creek shot at him for coming onto the land they were occupying, incomprehensibly to him, without paying rents or having patents.
(9) Cohesiveness : This "sticking together" is exemplified in several ways: settling in the same area of cities outside Robeson County (such as Baltimore); marrying within the tribe; forming political parties and church conferences; and fighting problems and discriminations as a group (for example, the school sit-ins to oppose desegregation and the Save Old Main movement).
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First, I intend this discussion to be a survey, highlighting the types of literary works that have dealt with the Lumbee and the themes these works illustrate. For critical analysis, I recommend three excellent articles (The Lumbee Indians: An Annotated Bibliography items 352, 382, and 384) by Robert W. Reising, an English professor at University of North Carolina at Pembroke who teaches a course dealing with Lumbee literature.
Over the years there have been more literary works involving the Lumbee written by non-Lumbees than by the people themselves, although this trend appears to be changing.
The first theme I want to discuss, analyzed in depth by Reising's article in MELUS, is Henry Berry Lowry. Three Carolina folkplays featured this Lumbee folk hero. Paul Green's 1922 play, The Last of the Lowries,was the first play produced by the Carolina Playmakers. This group was founded at UNC-Chapel Hill by Frederick Koch to produce folk plays generated by his playwriting course. The Carolina Playmakers performed folkplays throughout the state and region. Two other Carolina folkplays dealt with Henry Berry Lowry: One was William Norment Cox's The Scuffletown Outlaws (1926). Cox grew up in the Robeson County town of Rowland. The other was Clare Marley's Swamp Outlaw (1939). Marley taught for some time in Robeson County schools. A 1940 novel by John Paul Lucas and Bailey T. Groome, The King of Scuffletoun,was based on stories told to Groome by Henry Berry Lowry's brother, Sinclair. A 1974 novel by Jeff Fields called A Cry of Angels has a major character, Em Jojohn, a Lumbee, who late in the novel recalls Henry Berry Lowry by using his formidable fighting abilities to resolve a political situation in Quarrytown and end the oppression of the town's residents of all races.
Another trend in Lumbee literature has been pageants or plays dealing with Lumbee history which were written more for performance than as literary works. [Visual #18] The first was a pageant written by Dakota Indian linguistic anthropologist Ella Deloria, called The Life Story of a People. It had a cast of 150 Lumbee people and was performed--with very favorable and enthusiastic response and lots of local and regional press coverage--in 1940 and 1941. Deloria, who was the aunt of Vine Deloria Junior, was employed by the Farm Security Administration to spend time living in the Pembroke community, study the Lumbee, and write and direct a community pageant about their origins and heritage. Her advisor at the time was Franz Boas. The pageant ranged from aboriginal times, through the Henry Berry Lowry period, to the present. The last surviving daughter of Henry Berry Lowry attended one of the presentations, and one of Henry Berry Lowry's rifles was used as a prop. Incidentally, people have searched through the years for a copy of the script, but it has never been uncovered. I have even corresponded with Vine Deloria Junior about this. He made several unsuccessful trips to Robeson County searching for it. A copy of a portion of a rough draft of the script has been discovered and can be viewed, or a photocopy obtained, from the Dakota Indian Foundation (see item DELO001).
Kate Rinzler, who was in Robeson County working, I believe, in an educational position, perhaps funded by Title V Compensatory Indian Education, produced a two-act documentary in 1988 called "The Miracle of Maxton Field"--based on interviews with people who witnessed the 1958 Ku Klux Klan routing. She also produced a children's play, again based on oral history and set in the 1920's, called "Going Seining," about Indians seining for subsistence.
The idea for an outdoor drama based on Lumbee history surfaced as early as 1963 in a proposal from University of North Carolina at Pembroke chancellor English Jones. Originally, Paul Green was involved in writing the script, but finally only Randolph Umberger's name appeared on it. The first performance of Strike at the Wind! was July 2, 1976. The play deals with the Henry Berry Lowry era, features many Lumbee actors, and was performed each summer in an amphitheater in the Lumbee settlement of Red Banks. (There was a hiatus in its performance for a couple of years; but the play resumed production in summer 2006.)
The most recent pageant was spearheaded by Scott Meltsner, a recent graduate of Brown University, and funded by North Carolina Arts Council, with contributions from several Robeson County entities. Called the Robeson County Indian Play Project, it used group scripting by Barbara Braveboy-Locklear, Karen Coronado, Hayes Locklear, Hatty Ruth Miller, and others. Twenty Lumbee actors performed the play, called "Listen to the River," in April 1993.
Another trend which I noticed immediately was the use of Lumbee characters, themes, and settings as an element of local color. It also seems that many of the writers who employ the Lumbee in their work have North Carolina, or even Robeson County, ties. Here are some examples. (1) Waldron Bailey's 1916 novel, The Homeward Trail (see item 285),set near the end of the Civil War. In this work, a young mountain boy falls in love with the daughter of Henry Berry Lowry, who by then is the 50-year-old chief of a Croatan Indian settlement. Bailey was a North Carolina businessman and outdoorsman. (2) Gerald W. Johnson, also a North Carolinian, wrote a 1930 novel, By Reason of Strength (based on his own family's migration from Scotland to America). In a minor episode, the main character, Catharine White, goes to Scuffletown (an old name for Pembroke) and uses medicinal herbs to treat a smallpox epidemic among the Croatan Indians. (3) A 1964 young adult novel by Gwen Kimball, The Puzzle of Roanoke, involves a teenaged library assistant who helps a wealthy man establish a connection between the man's great-grandmother and John Cheven of the Lost Colony. They visit the Robeson County farm of a Lumbee actor in The Lost Colony. (4) North Carolina writer Manly Wade Wellman wrote a 1951 juvenile novel, The Haunts of Drowning Creek,in which two boys take a canoe trip on Drowning Creek (the upper part of the Lumber River) hunting confederate gold and run into some Lumbee Indians. [Visual #19] (5) A 1990 Harlequin Historical novel, Stormwalker (by two writers, Dixie Browning and Mary Williams, who have lived in North Carolina), features one of the first Lumbee, an Indian named Stormwalker who is the son of a Hatteras chief and a White woman and was born on the island of Croatoan.
We have seen the trend of literary works reflecting or dealing directly with events in Lumbee history. There have been poems and songs with do this, in addition to the longer works already discussed. The Ku Klux Klan routing quickly inspired a couple of poems--one called "The Charge of the Lumbee Indians." It also inspired a ballad by folksinger Malvina Reynolds, called "The Battle of Maxton Field," which she performed on an album and which, I am told, was also performed by the Limelighters. Another example is on your handout--the poem "As the Wind Changeth--A New Name." This poem was written by a Lumbee using the pen name The Diamond Kid. His real name was Carlee Hunt. Submitted to the Robesonian newspaper on February 14, 1934, it gently pokes fun at tribal leaders' search for a name that will convince others of what his people had known all along--their Indian heritage and identity. "Hamilton Mac" is Hamilton McMillan, the state legislator who got the Croatan bill passed in 1885. "Cherokee" was the name passed into law by North Carolina in 1913. "Dr. Swain" refers to John Reed Swanton, the anthropologist whose 1933 federal report said the tribe was descended from Siouan tribes, most prominently the Cheraw and Keyauwee. Some copies of his report include a handwritten note that "an accurate designation would be 'Siouan Indians of the Lumber River.'" This note caused a flurry of activity in the U.S. Congress. Two factions among the Lumbee were battling for federal recognition. A bill was introduced to recognize the Indians as Cheraw--but it was superseded by a bill, and hearings, for the name Siouan. At the same time, a different faction wanted to introduce a bill for federal recognition (they already had this as state recognition and tribal name) as Cherokee Indians of Robeson and Adjacent Counties.
We have already seen the trend of writing projects--funded by Title V Compensatory Indian Education or other agencies--which produce literary works by or about the Lumbee. This trend seems to be increasing. Some of the writing produced by these projects illustrates themes noted earlier: (1) Robeson County as home, and (2) Indian identity.
[Visual #20] Barbara Braveboy-Locklear, who for several years administered the Indian Education Resource Center for the Robeson County schools and is now a private consultant on topics involving the Lumbee and other North Carolina tribes, has been involved in several of these projects. Her credentials are numerous, and her knowledge level extensive. She has been speaking and writing about her people for many years. In 1992 she conducted a writing workshop for 18 Native American women, funded by Z. Smith Reynolds and the North Carolina Writers' Network. A selection of the materials they wrote was published in Pembroke Magazine, a literary "little magazine" published annually at University of North Carolina at Pembroke. One of your handouts is her essay, "Land of the Lumbee." Note the many references to the Robeson County landscape--the river, the swamps, the plants used for food and medicine, and the wildflowers among the cornfields (I've seen this many times). Notice also her statement, "I do not care to live any other place." This is a deep, abiding belief for many Lumbee people.
Another project, called Lumbee Voices, collected poetry and prose written by 41 Lumbee high school students. The project was conducted by Ben Turner, a recent graduate of Appalachian State University, and Jeff Currie as part of their Indian literature course at UNCP in 1993. They edited the writings, grouping them into categories such as Stereotype, Identity, Heroes, Nature, and History. You have one fine example, "The Indian Way," as a handout.
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Attention for Lumbee artists has been relatively recent, and only a handful have received the notice they deserve, particularly beyond the local or state level. Lumbee art has been nurtured by these factors: (1) the annual selection of a painting by a Lumbee artist for auction to raise funds for Strike at the Wind.Gloria Tara Lowery's painting, "Spirit of a People" (depicting Henry Berry Lowry) was auctioned by $10,000. (2) the commissioning of artworks by Title V Compensatory Indian Education and, occasionally, by Lumbee individuals. (3) exhibitions sponsored and publicized by the Native American Resource Center, an excellent museum at University of North Carolina at Pembroke--particularly since Dr. Stanley Knick has been curator.
The Lumbee artist who has gained the most acclaim, over the longest period of time, has been Gene Locklear. [Visual #21] Locklear, who grew up on a farm in Pembroke, played professional baseball for ten years--first minor league with the Cincinnati Reds, then major league with the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees. He retired from baseball in 1979 to pursue an art career. His work is in the White House, Smithsonian Institution, various art museums, governors' mansions, and the personal collections of 150 pro athletes, celebrities, corporate CEOs, and political and other public figures. His specialties are Native American themes (as you just saw) and sports art. He was the NFL Super Bowl artist in 1988, and in 1992 was commissioned the Official Artist of the NFL. In the last few months he did a life-sized poster of Michael Jordan and presented it to him. His work has been immensely popular in Robeson County and elsewhere--in fact, Title V Compensatory Indian Education and others have commissioned his work, including a large painting called "Henry Berry Lowry and the Lumbee River." It does, however, evoke stereotypes of Plains Indians.
Another example of Gene Locklear's work is the poster of Harold Collins on the table. Collins commissioned the poster. [Visual #22] Collins is an amazing guy, both personally and athletically. He's a powerlifter who runs a gym in the town of Pembroke. His nickname is Chief Iron Bear. He twice won the American National Powerlifting contest; he won a gold medal at the 1993 World Powerlifting Championships, and in 1994 was the world bench press champion, pressing 705 pounds. The photograph you saw was from April, 1994, when Collins placed in the Guinness Book of World Records for pulling five tractor trailer cabs (weighing 86,560 pounds) 51 feet at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. This was a new world record for pulling weight without assistance. Collins travels around the country and the world talking about the importance of fitness (especially to youth) and about his Native American identity. He does a great deal of work for charity. In January he did another truck pull to raise funds for St. Jude's Children's Hospital.
Lumbee educators like Barbara Braveboy-Locklear and Hayes Locklear (who now has a florist shop and sells Lumbee arts and crafts), as well as museum curators, are being called upon by the public and the artists and craftspersons themselves to help find, make accessible, support, and develop Lumbee arts and crafts. One approach they are taking is to encourage artists and craftspeople to incorporate themes and materials that research and oral history confirm as being Lumbee. [Visual #23] Hayes Locklear, for instance, designed the regalia you see in this photograph of Miss Lumbee, Miss Indian USA, and Little Miss Lumbee. He studied written records back to the 1800's and concluded that at that time, Lumbee women's clothing would have basically been European style. The hair would have been worn much like Navajo women, with a bun at top and bottom. The quilt he incorporated into the dress is the Pine Cone pattern (unique to the Lumbee). He used other Robeson County materials as well--a chinaberry necklace; a ball of cotton twine in the pocket; and a headdress resembling a war bonnet worn by the Pamunkey, Piscataway, and Catawba in earlier periods but revived by the Lumbee during the Red Man Lodges of the 1930's and 1940's (there are existing photographs which show this). This candidate for Miss Indian USA, for her talent, tied tobacco and talked about its importance to Lumbee women. Artists and craftspeople, with this kind of encouragement from educators, are working with gourds (which documentation shows were used by the Lumbee as utensils in the past), weaving baskets, and making jewelry from natural materials such as chinaberries and pumpkin seeds. Educators such as Hayes see that the accelerated move, in recent years, for federal recognition, and the research it has necessitated, have caused an inner seeking among Lumbee artists and craftspersons. They are rediscovering and reviving Lumbee ways and traditions, especially the natural environment of Robeson County, and incorporating this into their work, rather than echoing stereotypes of Plains Indians, as was widely done ten years ago.
Another trend in Lumbee art--which we saw in literature as well--is the use of events from Lumbee history. There are many paintings dealing with Henry Berry Lowry. These can be seen at the Native American Resource Center at University of North Carolina at Pembroke, at the Indian Education Resource Center just down the road from UNCP, in local newspaper articles, and even reproduced in restaurants in Robeson County. There are also paintings dealing with the election of the first Lumbee sheriff, the important figures in Lumbee education, and [Visual #24] the Ku Klux Klan routing. Notice how this painting incorporates the photograph we saw earlier from Lifemagazine.
Another Lumbee painter who has received attention since about 1989 is Karen Coronado. [Visual #25] Her work was featured in a one-woman show called "The Spiral Dance" at UNCP's Native American Resource Center in late 1994. Her 31 works included acrylic and oil paintings, painted gourds, and works incorporating leather and bone. Her style is contemporary. The exhibition received very favorable comment and lots of interest from students, the general public, and art professors--even though the general public in Robeson County has been slow to accept contemporary art. Coronado was one of eight women chosen from 500 emerging Native American women artists for inclusion in a 1992 book called Women in American Indian Society. The book, by Rayna Green, was published by Chelsea House.
Hatty Ruth Miller's work, like Karen Coronado's, is contemporary. She is 45. Her mother is Lumbee. She spent half her life in California and half in Robeson County, where she now lives and works for the Public Defender's Office. She is self-taught. Her paintings are sold at Mother Earth Galleries (Hayes Locklear's florist shop, which I mentioned earlier). Hayes notes that he has received more negative comments about her contemporary style than about other Indian works he sells--but he has also sold more of her works than anyone else's. Here is a quotation from Miller: "In the process of my work, I aim to evoke the seemingly silent memories of my ancestors. Our past, from the beginning of time, can seem to be held in a closed box, where no light exists and one cannot see or touch it; yet we know it is there. When in truth, I believe that our ancient past exists in unspoken memories and is brought to life in the color, tone, texture, and shape of our lives."
This first painting evokes Native American images through the feather in the woman's hair and the sharp, gaunt angles of her face. To me, it speaks more strongly through the words written underneath--"I walked across a frozen lake"--about a woman who, after emotional pain, is willing to transcend the numbness which follows pain and open her heart and feelings to a man once again.
The second painting suggests Native American regalia with the bold design behind the Indian's head. It also makes me recall a statement by Adolph Dial: The Lumbee know that the way a person looks or behaves does not make her or him Indian. But for the Lumbee, the central fact of their history is that they are Indian in origin and social status. This painting of Hatty's, to me, represents this centrality of Indian identity for the Lumbee; this shows the way they view themselves.
The painting (again by Hatty Ruth Miller) I have here [Visual] resonates both Robeson County and Lumbee themes in several ways. The dark blue recalls the Lumber River; the brown vertical, the flatness and clay soil of Robeson County; the white spots, the bright sunniness of Robeson County's climate; this green shape, a turtle--frequently seen in the Lumber River; the red vertical, Indianness; the cross shape, the importance of church to the Lumbee; the circle, the interconnectedness of things in Native American spirituality.
The range of Lumbee arts and crafts extends far beyond painting. The works of many of theartists I'm going to list can be seen at the Native American Resource Center at UNCP, and at the Indian Education Resource Center. Timothy P. Locklear and Harold B. Locklear are working in ceramics. Evelyn White is carving in soapstone. Mike Wilkins does wood and soapstone carving. Mary Bell makes baskets. Lela Brooks, of the Saddletree community, at age 85, recently won a North Carolina Folk Heritage award for intricate crocheted works, such as tablecloths, that she has been making since childhood from white cotton tobacco twine.
Another area of artistic representation of the Lumbee is photography. The Lumbee have been of interest to photographers since 1929, when the Robesonian reported that Doris Ulmann visited Pembroke to photograph the area's Indians. Ulmann is best known for her photography of Appalachian people, and her portraiture of the New York literary, theatrical, and medical community. You have already seen a photograph by National Geographic photographer Steve Walls. It was part of a photographic essay on Lumbee elders in a magazine called Northeast Indian Quarterly. Roger Manley, who writes about and photographs outsider art (among other things), did a wonderful series of 49 photographs of Lumbee people and their ways called "Scattered Feathers." These were on exhibit at the Native American Resource Center in January. In 1994, Mark Wagoner did a series of photographs called "Pathmakers: North Carolina Native American Women of Distinction." Some of these were published in the 1995 Pembroke Magazine I mentioned earlier. A very significant exhibition, from which there are four items on loan on the table, is called "Recollections: Lumbee Heritage." It showed at Charlotte's Mint Museum of Art between January and March of 1995, and then at University of North Carolina at Pembroke. For this exhibition, photographs taken between 1870 and 1945 were collected from Lumbee people by the Museum staff. The photographs concentrated on Lumbee family life, social gatherings, farm work, and religious and spiritual ceremonies. Then, Lumbee photographer David Oxendine made parallel photographs of these same themes in 1994. The Mint Museum staff, the Native American Resource Center, and Barbara Braveboy-Locklear did field research to document the early photographs that were submitted. There were a total of 40 photographs. Barbara gathered oral histories to expand upon the photographs through panels that accompanied them and through gallery walk-throughs which she led.
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I will discuss music only briefly and am consciously omitting (but not denying the importance of) the music and dance of pow-wows.
Church and gospel music have long been important among the Lumbee. A masters thesis was done in 1943 on Lumbee singing conventions, which were gatherings of groups of singers from the area churches of one denomination to sing religious music. The records of the singing conventions of the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association were meticulously kept in ledger books by their secretary, Lacy Maynor.
Now I want to turn to another type of music which I'll call educational music. [Visual #28] Willie French Lowery recorded an album in the 1970's called Proud to Be a Lumbee. Willie spent many years singing this and other songs about Lumbee history for school children in Robeson County. He also won an award for the album from the North Carolina Federation of Music Clubs. He earned the Raleigh News and Observer's "Tar Heel of the Week" tribute in 1979, after he had written the score for the outdoor drama Strike at the Wind!. In 1993 (the more recent photos you see) he started a studio, Soundsation, in which he and others will record gospel, country, or rock music. Lowery produced another album--consisting, once again, of educational songs aimed at young people, called A Tribute to Old Main. Here is part of a song from that album, called "Wheel of Life," which mentions the process, and people involved, in constructing the first school building which evolved into University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Gospel music is very popular among the Lumbee, and there are a number of groups which travel to various churches, community centers, and events to sing free of charge. A studio was recently established, Triple R in Pembroke, to record tapes for these groups to sell so they could recoup a little of their traveling expenses. Some groups, such as the Pierce Family, have been singing for many years and have recorded several albums and tapes. One of the Pierces wrote the song "Thinking About Home" a few months before Julian Pierce's death. It includes a verse about death and family members dying--so the Pierces recorded an album with this as the lead song, dedicating the album to Julian. The photograph of Julian you saw earlier was from that album. Here is a song from one of their tapes, Exquisite. The song is called "I want Us to Be Together in Heaven." It's very representative of their music and that of other Lumbee gospel groups.
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Glenn Ellen Starr Stilling
Librarian and Professor
Belk Library and Information Commons
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608
Text written on April 21, 1996
Minor updates and revisions on June 8, 1999, April 6, 2002, and April 18, 2007
This page was updated on May 6, 2008 1:56 PM
Copyright © 2007, Glenn Ellen Starr Stilling. This document may be reproduced only if this copyright notice is reproduced with it.