It may not have seemed unusual when a protest in support of Black lives and against police brutality moved through the town of Pembroke, North Carolina, in late June and faced off with counterprotesters. But it was unusual because of who was involved — on both sides. The counterprotesters were mostly Lumbeesa state-recognized Native American tribe with about 55, enrolled members, of which I am one.
Some Lumbees marched too, in solidarity with their Black neighbors and relatives. Many Lumbees publicly lamented the attacks on the marchers.
Nc promise and historically minority-serving institution
Lowery and I both, as historians, saw years of Lumbee history reflected in this encounter. It is a complex year history of struggle, protest and resistance to white supremacy and its social effects, one shared by Indigenous and African Americans across the nation. Lumbees are no strangers to injustice. Inunder the revised state ConstitutionAmerican Indians and other free people of color lost their right to vote.
Routing the klan
Bryan described it inall people of color — including American Indians — in North Carolina would be considered legally inferior. After their disenfranchisement, Lumbees suffered legal and economic harassment and suppression for decades to come. In addition, free people of color in North Carolina lost their right to own and bear arms inleaving many defenseless to attacks. The Lowry gang staged robberies and murdered proponents of white supremacy in violent protest of oppression. In response, Lowry and his associates were outlawed and sought after by bounty hunters.
Henry Berry Lowry vanished inhis bounty was never collected, and no one knows his fate for certain. Now, many Lumbees celebrated Lowry as a hero, while other Lumbees view him as a criminal, condemning his use of violence and lawlessness.
Despite the restoration of the Indian right to vote inthe county witnessed violence against Indians and Blacks as the Ku Klux Klan made its presence known in southeastern North Carolina. At the turn of the 20th century, Lumbees began their fight for recognitionnot just as people of color but as Native Americans. Jim Crow laws affected them as well as African Americans, and American Indians resisted segregation, setting out to better their communities through education.
Changing lives through education
The Klu Klux Klan most famously entered the Lumbee story again in After the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation, Klan activity increased across North Carolina.
Klan leader James W. Cole staged two cross burnings in Robeson County, one to confront a Lumbee family who moved into a white neighborhood and another to threaten an Indian woman dating a white man. On Jan. Lumbees fired their guns into the air, causing Cole and his followers to flee.
In this armed protest, Lumbees ironically used the same type of lawless behavior embodied by the Klan while taking the fight for justice into their own hands. Regardless, the Klan has not held a publicized rally in North Carolina in the more than 60 years since then — another victory for Indian resistance to white supremacy.
Adolph Dialthe first scholar to write a comprehensive history on the Lumbees, recognized that in his lifetime, issues of injustices still pervaded the Lumbee community. Indeed, shorn of all frills, the history of the Lumbees is a history of struggle.
The lowry war
Lumbees have a shared experience of pursuing justice even though there have always been disagreements about how to accomplish it. If the Lumbee struggle is truly one for justice, it would appear contradictory not to support that goal for our Black neighbors and family members, or worse — to participate in their oppression ourselves.
During present times of social unrest, the Lumbee narrative continues to serve as a reminder that history is complicated. Despite disagreements and contradictions, history is a record of shared pasts, shared struggles and shared pursuit of justice and reconciliation.
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Plymouth Contemporary — Plymouth, Devon. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom.
Lumbee Reverend Dr. Mike Cummings, center with his back to the camera, prays for protesters in Pembroke, North Carolina. Jessica R. Author Jessica R. Locklear History Ph.