Lumbee Indians of Robeson County Struggle for Equality
My Guide Will desiring to see the Book that I had about me, I lent it him; and as he soon found the Picture of King David, he asked me several Questions concerning the Book, and Picture, which I resolved him, and invited him to become a Christian. He made me a very sharp Reply, assuring me, That he loved the English extraordinary well, and did believe their ways to be very good for those that had already practiced them, and had been brought up therein, but as for himself, he was too much in Years to think of a Change, esteeming it not proper for Old People to admit of such alteration. However, he told me, if I would take his son Jack, who was then about 14 Years of Age, and teach him to talk in that Book, and make Paper speak, which they call our Way of Writing, he would wholly resign him to my Tuition; telling me, he was of Opinion, I was very well affected to the Indians.
THE HISTORY OF CAROLINA
John Lawson, 1718
The Indian, Enoe-Will, in the above quotation was an ancestor of the Lumbees living along the banks of the Lumber River in Robeson County, North Carolina today. His belief in the importance of learning how to “talk in a book” and how to “make paper speak” is one that his posterity have maintained and have struggled for many long years to attain.
The people long ago assimilated part of the White man’s culture while holding on to many of the Indian traditions. This proud and stalwart group is indeed living on the top of a ‘cultural dump’, as the sociologist would call it. The bottom is layered with the history of the first Indians on this continent and the succeeding layers are built from the first English settlement brought by John White to the later Europeans who settled along the eastern shores of the New World.
It is well documented that they are the descendants of John White’s lost colony who traveled long ago down to their present location in Robeson County, North Carolina. For centuries they cleared the land, tilled the soil and built homes modeled after the English. The muster rolls show that some of them volunteered to fight during the Revolutionary War and that two companies were sent to the war of 1812.
These proud and productive people enjoyed the rights and privileges of the country for which they had so gallantly fought. They exercised their right to vote and to be part of the political arena of the time. They believed in education and educated their children in the schools with the Whites.
In 1835, when the constitution of North Carolina was amended, the Indians lost the right to vote and the right to share the schools with the White citizens. The wording of the amendment included the words, “or free person of color” in taking away the right to vote. The words “free person of color” applied to the Indians, who were known as Croatans at that time. They were then unable to vote for members of the senate or house of commons. Pitirim Sorokim, a Harvard sociologist, said that change can be brought about by a traumatic experience. What a trauma!
Until the 1835 amendment these people enjoyed the rights and privileges of the other citizens. Because of the admendment, they were not permitted to attend the schools for the Whites and were forced to attend the schools set up for the Blacks. Many chose not to attend school if they could not have freedom of choice. The experience of being a second class citizen was a tragic set-back to the Indian community.
A few of them who valued education above the racial issues attended the schools for Blacks. Some tried to teach their own families and many others received no formal education at all.
In contrast to the people who fought in the Revolutionary War and who sent two whole companies to the war of 1812, the outbreak of the hostilities between the north and the south found a generation of people who had grown up in ignorance peacefully tilling their little farms along the banks of the Lumber river. Yes, institutions can change people’s behavior without changing the people as Amati Etzione, the sociologist said.
They had grown up in ignorance but were not ignorant of what the confederate authorities tried to do. They were conscripted and sent to work as laborers to build the enormous sand fortifications at New Inlet on the Cape Fear River known as Fort Fisher. These fortifications are said to have been the scene of the greatest naval bombardment of the world’s history.
The system had changed these peaceful law abiding citizens into people who had to be conscripted to fight and then later to be deserters who could see no reason for supporting and fighting for a system that had denied them their rights. Why should people slave in a mosquito infested swamp building forts to protect the people who had only a generation earlier stolen their rights? Their behavior had changed.
They were now deserters hiding out in the swamps near their homes. Often they were just one step ahead of the Confederate troops– fighting to survive and trying to maintain a home for their families against all odds.
The end of the war found a group of Indians still hiding out in the swamps. For a while there was an outlaw gang led by Henry Berry Lowry that roamed the area committing crimes of passion and revenge. He became and still is the hero of the Indians. His reign was one that would not have lasted as long had it not been for the cooperation of the Indian community.
His purpose was to revenge the unjust deaths of members of his immediate family and those of his friends. During this period, times were hard for everyone. He provided food, for many who were in need regardless of race, by stealing from the packed storehouses of the wealthy Whites. This is an example how those in power can change whose who are powerless. These formerly productive people were forced to steal for survival.
Many stories are told about what happened to Henry Berry Lowry. The authorities say that he was killed. The Indians have many stories to explain his disappearance. One says that he was secreted out of the area and lived to be an old man in another part of the country. This hero helped to give back to the people a sense of worth which was so blatantly stolen in 1835.
The North Carolina constitution of 1868 gave everyone who met the legal requirements the right to vote and so after 33 years the Indians were again able to exercise that right. In 1875 the state, after a revision of the constitution, established schools for its citizens. This did not, however, help the Indian citizens because these state schools were segregated.
As Dial and Eliades said in their piece on THE LUMBEE INDIANS AND PEMBROKE STATE UNIVERSITY, “The ten years from 1875 to 1885 can aptly be called the ‘Decade of Despair’ for the Indians of Robeson County. Not only were they denied schools of their own, but were made brutally aware of their lack of identity as a people. They were unacceptable to the White community and too proud to fit into the mould of segregation being shaped for the Negro.”
The saga brings us to 1885 which was the beginning of the change that brought this proud people out of the darkness of ignorance into the twentieth century with the hopes and aspirations that only education and their own schools could provide. In 1885 the North Carolina Legislature passed an act that related only to the Robeson County Indians.
The legislation was sponsored by the Honorable Hamilton McMillan of Red Springs, North Carolina, the representative from Robeson County. It had two purposes: (1) The Indians of Robeson County and their descendants would “be designated and known as the Croatan Indians” and (2) They would have for the first time their own school system for the Indians of Robeson County. The separate schools could be run by the Indians themselves having committees of their own choice. How wonderful! There is no record of a school for the next two years. How was a school to be funded and supported? Where could they get teachers? There had not been opportunities for education for fifty years! Only a small number had enough education to teach others.
In 1887 another bill was passed establishing the “Croatan Normal School” for the Indians of Robeson County. This bill carried with it more details such as who the trustees would be, the ownership of school properties, and the location of the school. This ‘great act of humanism’ was followed by the stipulation that unless the Indians had found a site and constructed a building by the next session of the General Assembly the act would be repealed.
The Act provided a sum of five hundred dollars for the purpose of buying the land and erecting a building on it.
One acre of land was purchased from Rev. William Jacobs for eight dollars and the building was erected for a total cost of one thousand dollars. Much of the labor and lumber were donated and the balance of the money needed was provided by conscription from both the White and Indian communities. That building was the beginning of what has grown into the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
It is a symbol of an identity restored to a proud and long-suffering people who in spite of adversity have made a niche for themselves as citizens of this country and who are proud of the rich history that only they can call theirs.
The bill of 1887 gave them access to the opportunities that this country offers. It was the beginning of a struggle for equality, quality, and self worth that was to continue for many years. The first teacher in this school was the Rev. W.L. Moore who had given two hundred dollars of his own money to erect the building. He began teaching in the normal school in the fall of 1887 with an enrollment of 15 students. In 1889 the legislature raised the appropriation to one thousand dollars and pledged that amount of support annually years.
The school was called a normal school but there were no courses offered beyond the seventh grade for many years. In 1905 the Rev. D.F. Lowry received the first diploma issued by the school almost twenty years after its inception. This was a culmination and a beginning for the people who had always been the best road builders and farmers in the area.
The people who for generations had fought for what was rightfully theirs; The people who were willing to work hard to have the best for their families and the community; The people who wanted to build a school system that would replace “forced ignorance” with quality education. This would be a giant step toward breaking down institutions that did not recognize the rights of all human beings.
Mr. O.M. McPherson, a special Indian agent dispatched from Washington, D.C. to study the Robeson County Indians, said in his report to the 63rd Congress: “I might say here that in my judgment, the children of these Indians, as a rule, are exceedingly bright, quick to learn from books, as well as from example, and are eager to obtain further educational advantages than are now open to them.
If the reverse were true, there would be little encouragement to furnish them with higher institutions of learning when they were incapable of taking advantage of their present education; but I believe the more ambitious of their youth to be eager to attend higher institutions of learning than those now provided.” This he presented in the hopes that the government would see fit to provide some funds for providing a quality education for the Indians. The government was sympathetic but said that it was already responsible for such a large number of Indians both on and off the reservations that it could not possibly provide help for this another group.
Instilled with the value of education and the determination to provide a quality one for their people, the early educational leaders taught for very little pay and encouraged school attendance. In 1909 the present school site was purchased and the legislature appropriated $3,000 for a new building. Two years later the name of the school was changed to Indian Normal School of Robeson County.
In 1912 the school had its first high school graduate, John A.B. Lowry, who later became a physician and moved to Virginia. The name was again changed to the Cherokee Indian Normal School of Robeson County in 1913 and in 1915 there were two more high school graduates.
The second building erected on the present site of what is now Pembroke State University was a girls’ dormitory built in 1916. In 1923 a third building was completed and became affectionately known as “Old Main”. Judge L.R. Varser of Lumberton, North Carolina sponsored a bill in 1921 in which the legislature appropriated the $75,000 needed for the erection of the structure.
In 1918 the faculty was enlarged and new high school courses were offered. At this time vocational training was added for both boys and girls. The school was still not graduating a class every year and in 1922 the fourth graduate of the high school finished.
In 1924 the high school was given a standard rating by the State High School Inspector and it also graduated seven members, the largest number up to that time. From that time until 1939 when the high school and normal school were separated, there was a large graduating class each year.
In 1935 the Cherokee Indian Normal School was offering two years of college work in addition to the normal school work. During the previous six years a new home economics building was erected and provisions provided for sports. The new buildings were built on additional land that was purchased.
In the period between 1935 and 1940 a department for the teaching of the deaf was established and dropped after three years of operation. A gymnasium, which was large and modern for its time, was erected and still stands to remind, people of the inevitability of change. Along with the physical changes on campus came an increased enrollment and the need for enlarging the teaching staff and the addition of a full-time librarian. In 1938 the first three-year college and normal diplomas were awarded much to the delight of those who had struggled for so long for that special day.
The high school and college were separated in 1939 with the college remaining in its present location and the high school moving to a site off campus. The faculty was further expanded and the fourth year of college work was added. It was now a standard four year accredited college and in June, 1940 graduated its first class having five members.
Again in 1941 there was a name change by an act of legislature to Pembroke State College for Indians. It was a standard four-year college maintained by the state for the Indians of Robeson County which offered courses leading to the bachelor of arts and the bachelor of science degrees. At this time there was a staff of sixteen members, five who held Ph.D. degrees with many of the other faculty having done work beyond the Master of Arts degree. Of the sixteen faculty members there were three Indians.
The primary purpose of the school was to train teachers and most of the graduates stayed among their own people to teach. With the main emphasis on teacher training, in time there were too many trained teachers for the school system to employ.
When World War I began there were only two known Indians from the community who entered the armed forces. By the time World War II was declared there were 118. Unlike the war between the states, the Indians were proud to serve their country and to fight for the freedoms and privileges which they now shared with other citizens. Education had given them the power to stand proud and to become a part of the greater community.
The Second World War gave many Indians an opportunity to travel and to expand their horizons. Many who had suffered prejudice from the local community discovered that they were treated with equity elsewhere. When given other options many chose professions other than teaching.
After the war there was an influx of students to the college who were able to study on the “G.I. Bill”. The war had taught them the value of an advanced degree. The facility was enlarged to include a trade school and to accommodate the growing enrollment. Until 1945 only the Indians of Robeson County were allowed to matriculate in the school. Beginning in 1945 admission was opened to any person from an Indian group recognized by the federal government.
From 1940 to 1953 it was the only state supported four-year college for Indians in the nation. In 1953 the trustees of the college were given the authority to admit any Indian or White but they would have to be approved by the board and the Whites could not make up more than forty percent of the total enrollment. In 1954 all racial restrictions were removed because of the United States Supreme Court decisions on segregation. The college was one of the first in the south to take this step regarding segregation.
In 1962 Dr. English E. Jones became the president of what was then Pembroke State College. His appointment to the presidency was the first for a Lumbee and only the second time in the history of the institution that an Indian was the leader. This was a triumph for the people who for many years had been led, and ably so, by outsiders. Now they could boast of able leadership for the growing institution out of their own ranks. Dr. Jones’ energetic leadership continued until 1979 at which time he resigned for health and personal reasons.
During his tenure there were many changes in the institution including the enlargement of the physical facilities, growth of the enrollment, strengthening of the academic requirements, hiring of many Indians as faculty and unclassified personnel, fostering a better understanding between the races in the area, changing the college to university status in 1969, and its name changed to Pembroke State University.
The university and the people, the two cannot be separated, have come a long way since 1887 when Rev. W.L. Moore started classes with fifteen students or from 1926 when the first normal class began with nine students and one full time and one part time teacher. During the 1970s the enrollment reached over 2,000 and the faculty number climbed to over 115 with 45 to 50 percent holding doctorates and the remainder having at least a masters degree or its equivalent.
The teaching load was twelve hours so that the professors could have more quality time in preparation and in counseling the students. The curriculum was analyzed to determine the courses that needed revision or dropped altogether. Other efforts were directed toward new courses and their place in the future needs of the university.
The institution provided education to a population who were locked out of North Carolina’s public school system. Over time it helped to establish an economic base which included retail stores, banks, mini-shopping centers, restaurants and other work opportunities other than farming. One important result of the many years of educational struggle is the pride that at last an identity that was ‘whisked’ away at the discretion of an institution has been reestablished by the persistence of another one.
The federal government did not see fit to provide assistance for the people but the government itself cannot stop the need for change that is in a group individually and collectively. Mr. McPherson, the Indian agent from Washington, D.C., reported the hunger for education that the people had in his report to the 63rd congress as follows:…..”there was entire unanimity of opinion as to the way in which the entire body of people could best be helped, namely, in providing them with some higher institution of learning where the more ambitious of their young people could obtain a better education than is now possible and better training for useful occupations in life”.
It took drive, determination and much sacrifice from everyone but today in Robeson County, North Carolina sprawled over many acres is the institution whose beginning was $500 and one acre of land. Each of its buildings is a monument to one of the earlier educational leaders who saw for his people hope and especially identity through education. In the center of the campus is the greatest piece of architecture in the history of the school, “Old Main” which was completed in 1923. Its greatness is not in its physical appearance alone but in its symbolism to a great and proud people. Its bold straight strong columns pointing upward are a reminder of high aspirations and their attainment by a group of people struggling for an education and the recapturing of a pride in themselves—against all odds!
There are not as many Indian students attending the university, percentage-wise, today as in years past. Some of the Indian young people are going to institutions in and out of the state that offer courses of study that the university cannot. Others take their under-graduate degree from the university and then do graduate and post-graduate work in other institutions.
The Indian youths today have the opportunity for careers as doctors, lawyers, or any other career of interest. It is difficult to believe that just a generation ago the plans of the youths were only dreams and wishes that were unfulfilled for most of them.
Immediately after Dr. Jones, the chancellor, announced his retirement to become effective in July, 1979, a committee was formed to hire a new chancellor. The committee was made up of local citizens, college board members, and representatives from the college. The committee’s mission was to find a qualified person for the chancellorship. A segment of the Indian Community wanted only another Indian for the position. The committee received eight-five applications three of whom were Indian. They eventually narrowed the field to three one who was a Lumbee Indian. The vocal locals were in an uproar and let it be known that the Indian whom they had selected did not make the final list. After much agitation the second Indian’s name was added.
In North Carolina the university is under one governing body. The president of the body is the one who makes the final decisions on the appointment of the chancellor in any of the state institutions of higher education. Dr. Friday, the president, decided after a period of deliberation that the new chancellor would be Dr. Givens an outsider. The decision was met with much consternation by members of the community.
Dr. Givens began his tenure and many in the community who had fought against the appointment came out to support his efforts. The fight was not against Dr. Givens or any other White person but for an ideal that seemed to be slipping away.
The people who had to persuade institutions to change to accommodate their needs and values were being called on to change to accommodate a larger institution. The school was not just for Indians any more.
The Indian community can always look at it and be proud of its humble beginnings which were the dreams of a determined few. They can also be proud that they embraced the march of time and the changes it brought to the institution that once was totally their own. As all parents know, in order for children to grow and mature they must let go a little—–sometimes a lot! Indian history will always be a natural part of Pembroke State University but for its future growth and maturity the community will have to let go—-a little!
Dr. Olivia Schwartz
Blue, Brantley. Legal History Between Lumbee Indians and the State of North Carolina
Dial, Adolph. The Only Land I Know
Dial, Adolph and David D. Eliades. The Lumbee Indians and Pembroke State University
Oxendine, Clifton. Pembroke State College for Indians—Historical Sketch
Indians of North Carolina—Letter from the secretary of the Interior transmitting-In response to a Senate Resolution of June 30, 1914—A Report on the Conditions and Tribal Rights of the Indians of Robeson and Adjoining Counties of North Carolina. Report to the 63rd Congress 3rd session. Document No. 677. January 5, 1915. Referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs and ordered to be printed. January 13, 1915.
A Bill introduced by Mr. Simmons to the 62nd Congress 1st session August 16, 1911.
Hearings before the Committee On Indian Affairs House of Representatives on S. 32580 To Acquire a Site and Erect Buildings for a School for the Indians of Robeson County, N.C. and for Other Purposes—February 14, 1913.
At Glance at the Educational History of the Lumbees prepared by the Coastal Plains Regional Commission, Washington, D.C.
Blue, Brantley; Lumbee Indian; presently a judge for the department of labor.
Dial, Adolph L.; Lumbee Indian; Chairman of the American Indian Studies at Pembroke State University.
Lerner, Margaret L. ;Lumbee Indian; a graduate of the class of 1943 from Pembroke State College; the third class to graduate from the four-year institution.
Lowry, Theodore M.; Lumbee Indian; retired educator who gave 41 years of service to his people.
Oxendine, Thomas; Lumbee Indian; Public Relations Officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Schwartz, EdD.Tommy L.: graduate of Pembroke State College and one of the first non-Indian athletes who was recruited to play basketball for the school;— administrator at Prince George’s County Community College, Maryland.