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Introduction

In this exhibit, we (Kristen Gnau and Walker Elliott) will present and interpret information on the racial classification of Lumbee/Tuscarora Indians. This is, of course, an enormously broad topic, and we have decided to keep this project focused and specific. We have therefore limited our discussion to the first seven decades of the twentieth century. This was the era of legal segregation and its immediate aftermath, and we felt that this time period would provide the most vivid evidence about how Robeson County Indians were classified (and classified themselves). We also focused on three broad subtopics, each of which has been labeled with a Roman numeral. We selected them because they too provide the most and best evidence about Lumbee racial classification. These three subtopics detail 1) how Lumbees interacted with academic or “scientific” systems of racial classification, 2) how Robeson Co. Indians dealt with legal segregation, and 3) how migrant Lumbees classified themselves and were classified by others outside the Robeson County area.

Though we have been forced to make selections, sometimes arbitrarily, we believe that this information is not random or disconnected. We propose that there is a single thread that connects everything presented here. That thread is, simply put, inconsistency. Robeson County Indians’ racial classification varied based on time period, geographic level of focus, and social context. Naturally, it also varied based based on the group doing the classifying, and we hope to give the reader some sense of the ever-present tension between how Lumbees saw themselves and how outsiders saw them.

I. Scientific Racism

Courtesy of UNC Libraries Internet Archive.

For roughly half a century, the state of North Carolina conducted eugenic sterilizations on the mentally ill, mentally handicapped, “feeble-minded,” and epileptic. State law provided for sterilizations of “defective” persons selected both from government-run institutions, such as prisons and asylums, as well as ordinary residents of any North Carolina county.  The body that governed these procedures, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, issued a biannual report of figures and statistics, each of which analyzed the racial makeup of those sterilized. Before 1956, the only two racial categories were “White” and “Negro.” But  the 1956-58 edition added an “Indian” category, though no data is given on the victims’ tribal/ethnic affiliation. The county-by-county breakdowns, however, show that sterilizations were performed on a significant number of residents from Robeson and the adjoining counties, and it is reasonable to assume that many, perhaps most, of these were Indians. The sudden documentation of Indian sterlizations coincided with a dramatic uptick in the number of black sterilizations–for whatever reason, there was a general racialization of eugenics policy in the post-WWII period. One possible explanation is that black and Indians gained increased access to public programs in this period and were therefore swept up into institutions at a higher rate and therefore sterlized at a higher rate. However, this theory does not account for the increased rate of noninstitutional, county-based procedures, which made up the bulk of procedures in the postwar period. It should also be noted that sterlization proceedings were initiated by petition. The petitioner was either the head of an institution or, in non-institutional cases, the county Superintendent of Public Welfare. Many petitions were also filed at the behest of social workers, who often had an interest in reducing the number of children among beneficiaries of government entitlement programs. Because these figures were almost always white, racial bias undoubtedly played a major role post-war eugenics policy.

These reports are also important because they suggest that the North Carolina state government shifted from a biracial to a tri-racial model of the state’s population. In many circumstances, Lumbees and other NC Indians were lumped in either the white or the black racial cateory before the mid-1950s. But it is possible that the Indians of Robeson County suddenly became more  visible and politically relevant in the mid-1950s due to their renewed struggle for federal recognition. This mirrors the increased governmental attention paid them in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when they functioned as a major swing consituency for the Democratic Party.

Courtesy of the Southern Historical Collection, Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1214

This document is a letter written by Guy Benton Johnson to Donald Gragg of the University of Texas School of Education. Gragg had written to Johnson requesting some basic information on Pembroke State College for Indians, the institution now known as UNC Pembroke. In his response, Johnson classifies the Indians as “a conglomeration of white, Negro, and Indian stocks.” He goes on to say that many Lumbees, “perhaps the majority of them are no darker than deep brunette,” possibly a technical term of the period. Interestingly, he also mentions that Pembroke graduates are often able to “pass” as white outside of Robeson County. Well into the 1970s, social scientists and other academics classified the Indians of Robeson County as a mixed race group, or a “tri-racial isolate.” This term tended to deemphasize Lumbees’ identity as Indians. Indeed, in a 1939 article, Johnson characterized them as “Indians by courtesy.” This view, of course, represented a highly racial, Anglo-American conception of Indianness, which the Indians themselves did not share. Despite his careful research and good intentions, Johnson could never quite recognize Lumbees as legitimately Indian by a kinship definition.

Courtesy of JSTOR, the Association of American Geographers, and Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

This map is taken from Edward T. Price’s 1953 article “A Geographic Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in Eastern United States.” Like Johnson, Price groups “Croatans” in with other “mixed-blood” or “tri-racial isolate” groups. In fact, his article directly cites Johnson’s 1939 piece, “Personality in a White-Negro-Indian Community.” Note too that Price categorizes Lumbees with groups with such names as Moors and Cubans. In the text of the article, Price also mentions the “Turks” of South Carolina. The attribution of Latin or Middle Eastern ancestry was a common theme in the naming/classification of ambiguous, darker-skinned, nonblack groups in the Southeast. Lumbees were sometimes said to have Portuguese ancestry, for example.

II. Segregation Policy, Military and Educational

Portion of a segregated, white WWI regiment composed mainly of NC troops. Photo courtesy of http://www.history.ncdcr.gov.

In her book The Lumbee Problem, Karen Blu relates the story of an unnamed Robeson County Indian soldier who served in World War I. According to Blu, this individual “had been classified with Whites, although he is dark skinned.” She explains that there “were only two categories then–White and Negro.” During the physical exams, the soldier ate his meals with white soldiers, but he was billeted with blacks. (A billet is a soldier’s sleeping quarters). Upset, he appealed to have his “night classification” changed. The responsible bureaucrat was sympathetic but claimed he could not help, since the Indian doughboy was not a member of a federally recognized tribe. After the war, this individual became active in the movement to apply for federal recognition as “Siouan” Indians (Blu 81-82).

Class of 1936, Cherokee Indian Normal School, Pembroke, NC. Courtesy of the Southern Historical Collection, Guy Benton Johnson Papers, Folder 1207.

Originally established as the Croatan Normal School, the institution now known as UNCP began as  a state-sponsored, all-Indian teacher’s college. It was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly specifically to produce Indian teachers to serve the segregated public schools in Robeson County. Most Pembroke graduates followed this career path, but some pursued advanced degrees. These Pembroke alumni were sometimes able to attend predominantly white institutions for graduate studies. Before World War II, Lumbee students attended “white” universities in the Southeast with some regularity, especially for graduate education.

In his letter to Donald Gragg (listed in the previous section, click here and here to read), Guy Benton Johnson briefly mentions a c. 1925 incident involving an unspecified number of dark-skinned Lumbee graduate students at Chapel Hill.  Apparently, these students’ features “verged so near to the Negroid” that UNC decided to cease the admission of all Indian students from Robeson County. However, Lumbee students continued to study at other white, segregated institutions until the mid-1940s.  Institutions that accepted Lumbee students included Duke University, East Tennessee State, the University of Maryland, and George Peabody College (now a division of Vanderbilt). This phenomenon is not quite as unusual as it seems. Educational segregation in the Southeast was designed mainly to exclude African Americans, not to admit only whites. It was not unusual for nonblack minorities to attend predominantly white colleges and universities. At UNC, for example, a Cherokee named Henry Owl received a master’s degree in 1929. Before Brown, UNC also accepted students from Japan, and NC State granted degrees to several dozen Chinese students.

Note the variable racial classification that Lumbees experienced. In the social context of education, Lumbees were sometimes grouped with federally-recognized Indians and Asians, and in some circumstances were able to pass as white. This classification, however, was not consistent among different institutions: in the 1930s, Lumbees could attend East Tennesee State and Duke, but not UNC. And as we will see, their relationship with educational segregation also changed over time.

Frank Porter Graham, President of the UNC System

(Courtesy of UNC libraries)

In the post-WWII period, UNC-Chapel Hill began to spread its anti-Lumbee segregation policy to other institutions. This process started when administrators at George Peabody College in Nashville discovered that graduates of Pembroke State College for Indians were not welcome at UNC-Chapel Hill. Peabody had admitted Pembroke graduates before the war, but this revelation clearly concerned  the administration, so they wrote the Advisory Dean for Admissions at UNC for a clarification. They received the following response:

By the constitution of the State of North Carolina, there is complete separation of the races (white, Negro, Croatan Indians) in all ranks of education. If there were no such separation, we would accept and credit such work done there as would correspond to the curriculum followed here. Pembroke is a standard normal school and we do not allow credit for work of “normal” character; hence, the maximum credit we would allow would be little more than one year. Moreover, since Pembroke is not a member of the Southern Association and not approved for pre-medical work, no work would be credited toward the entrance to the School of Medicine of the University, and a degree would not be accepted for graduate standing

This icily bureaucratic reply informed administrators in Nashville that UNC excluded Lumbee students both because of their race and the quality of instruction at Pembroke State. It is worth noting that this tactic bears a striking resemblance to the one used to deny graduate education to African Americans. Even though minority students were legally required to attend segregated, unaccredited undergraduate institutions, university administrators often used the unaccredited status of their degree as a justification for denying them admission. In private, administrators sometimes admitted to the racial nature of this policy. In a letter to UNC President Frank Graham, Dean A.K. King noted that the graduate school provisionally accepted students from non-accredited schools “provided they have acceptable scores on the Graduate Record Examination and are otherwise legally eligible for admission.”

What followed was a sort of domino effect, and by the end of the decade, it appears that most white, Southern colleges and universities had adopted UNC’s stance on Lumbee admissions. In a 1948 article, President Wellons of Pembroke State college wrote that:

…when a graduate of Pembroke State College takes his Bachelor of Arts Diploma to the University of North Carolina and presents it as a credential for admission, he knows that he has already reached the end of his education when he is told, by the University Registrar, ‘You are now academically eligible for admission to the Graduate School of the University, but racially you are not eligible.’ If this same graduate of Pembroke State College seeks admission to the graduate school of some other university, he soon learns that the other Universities prefer to follow the practice of the University of North Carolina in the matter of admissions

(To view the original documents from this dispute, please follow this link: http://lumbee.web.unc.edu/2010/04/25/correspondence-among-unc-and-pembroke-state-officials-1946-1948/)

III. Race in Lumbee Migrant Communities

To look at racial classification in migrant communities, we have selected one particular group that relocated to Baltimore, Maryland (another group, the Bulloch County, Georgia community is discussed in Dr. Malinda Maynor-Lowry’s People and Place: Croatan Indians in Jim Crow Georgia, 1890-1920).

Baltimore American Indian Center

The Baltimore American Indian Center located at 113 S. Broadway. Photo courtesy of Steve Herbert via Fayetteville Online. See citation in Further Reading.


When searching for a starting point, we came across the Baltimore American Indian Center.  The center was established out of South Broadway Baptist Church to help native families transition into life in an urban environment.  As well as helping families adjust to the cultural change of moving to a new environment, the BAIC works to educate non-natives about the cultures of American Indian peoples.  Other programs implemented and supported by the BAIC include cultural preservation programs, programs for native seniors, and annual powwows.  According to an interview with Richard Chavis in the Fayetteville Observer, “By establishing the Indian center, we established an identity.”

A common theme in Lumbee history, identity and race are inextricably linked for Lumbee people.  In the same article, Jovina Chavis recalled that when the Lumbees arrived in Baltimore, most arriving shortly after World War II, Indians were classified (for jobs or doctors appointments, for example) by the name ‘other.’ Chavis said with the loss of their native classification during the early stages of the migration to Baltimore, these people lost their identity.

Another woman, Janette Walker had a similar experience.  She moved from Robeson County to Baltimore in 1958 with her husband who, like most, was in search of a job.  Her involvement with the Baltimore American Indian Center began in the early 1970’s when the center was beginning to take off.  When asked the reason for the formation of the BAIC, she said “People in Baltimore didn’t know what an Indian was.”  She remembered a feeling of isolation, and how the BAIC helped to ease the feeling by keeping Lumbees (and other native groups) identified with who they were and providing resources for Indian people. Please click here for the rest of her story.

Interview courtesy of  Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida (History Department).

Above is an interview conducted by Adolph Dial in 1971  at the Baltimore American Indian Center.  In the interview, Elizabeth Barry Locklear says the only Indian recognition in Baltimore “is the recognition they give themselves” (6).  She describes Baltimore City Schools, where the teachers classify students as black or white based on appearance, instead of asking the children their race.  A young man, James Locklear, described trouble gaining recognition from other students as well.  He commented on the public schools in Baltimore (his had large population of African-American students) saying, “If you’re Indian they think you’re white.”  Elizabeth Locklear gives school recognition as one major reason they opened the center.  In other words, the center provided publicity that let the people of Baltimore know Indians existed.  Interestingly though, all adult interviewees still name North Carolina as their home (half of younger interviewees name North Carolina).  The interviewees, all Lumbee Indians, stress their desires to be back in Robeson County and even warn others to stay in North Carolina.  Although jobs are better in Baltimore, the fight for recognition and racial discrimination are described as worse in Baltimore.  One reason for this, of course, is that Indians are the minority in Baltimore, but heavily populate Robeson County.  Another is perhaps because the Lumbee classify themselves based on kinship and place rather than the colonized notions of race imposed on them in Baltimore.

The interviewees also describe their struggle to be recognized as specifically Lumbee. According to the interview, in Baltimore, Indians of all nations are often called “Baltimore Street Indians.”  All non-natives connect the Indians to that particular area, as opposed to connecting them to a certain tribe or nation. In fact, Ronald Smith remembers in the interview that in a book, a picture of Baltimore Street was published and called “the Indian Reservation” (7).  Even some Indians from Robeson County still identify as Cherokee because “they say they do not know where the name Lumbee came from, they don’t know why it was started and they are ashamed” (9).  To read the full interview please click on this link. [You can also listen to a short audio recording (not the same interview) of Herbert Locklear talking about the BAIC here].

One line of Walker Elliott’s family was made up of a group of diasporic Croatans who became textile mill workers in York, Chester, and Union Counties in South Carolina. That post was too large to include here, so please click on this link to read more.

IV. For Further Reading

Blu, Karen I. The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian People. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

A useful, broad sociological analysis of the Lumbee community. This source is especially useful for understanding how Lumbees conceive of themselves as Indians in a non-racial sense. Some excerpts also directly address their outside racial classification.

Corey, Mary. “Sunday snapshots.” The Sun [Baltimore, MD] 13 Oct. 1991: 1H.

This article is from the Baltimore Sun and talks about a man, Herbert Locklear who is Lumbee, grew up in Georgia, and moved to Baltimore.  The print version has a color photo, but this was not included in the online source.  Found via America’s Newspapers.

Futch, Michael. “Center gives Lumbees a sense of community.” Fayetteville Observer (Online). 8 Oct. 2000.

An article from a Fayetteville Newspaper about the American Indian Center in Baltimore, started by Herbert Locklear, and located on South Broadway.  Article contains pictures of center and of members, 2 pictures being of members of the Locklear family.

Gilbert, William Harlen. “Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed-Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States.” Social Forces 24, no. 4 (May, 1946), 438-447. http://www.jstor.org/

Gilbert’s article provides an interesting glimpse into the c.1940s social scientific ideas on Lumbee Indians. Like most other academics of this era, he classifies them as racially mixed. He also categorizes them with other well-known “mixed-blood” or “tri-racial” groups.

Johnson, Guy B. “Personality in a White-Indian-Negro Community.” American Sociological Review 4 (1939), 516-523.http://www.jstor.org/

Johnson’s only published work on the Indians of Robeson County. A UNC sociologist, Johnson did extensive field research in the Lumbee settlement area in the 1930s and ’40s. This represents an immature version of his ideas on Lumbee identity. Nevertheless, this article was widely read and cited by other social scientists.

Mafofsky, Abraham. “Struggling to Maintain Identity: Lumbee Indians in Baltimore.” Anthropological Quarterly 55.2  (1982).

This article, accessed via Jstor, reports the findings of a survey of Lumbee Indians taken in 1981.  The article attempts to address three central questions: are Baltimore Indians still assimilated but seperate? Is there a sense of “Lumbee identity?” And “Do these people consider themselves victims of colonization?”

Maynor, Malinda. “People and Place: Croatan Indians in Jim Crow Georgia, 1890-1920.” UCLA American Indian Studies Center 29, no. 1 (2005), 37-63.

This article chronicles the history of the Croatan Indians of Bulloch County, GA. It discusses the ways in which a group of Lumbee migrants interacted with biracial segregation and established a new community. An interesting look at the ways Lumbees were classified outside of Robeson County.

One Response to “Racial Classification”

  1. joe tucker

    Thanks, This is exactly what I was looking for.

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