Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation

Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation

Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation

Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation

Synopsis

With more than 50,000 enrolled members, North Carolina's Lumbee Indians are the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River. Malinda Maynor Lowery, a Lumbee herself, describes how, between Reconstruction and the 1950s, the Lumbee crafted and maintained a distinct identity in an era defined by racial segregation in the South and paternalistic policies for Indians throughout the nation. They did so against the backdrop of some of the central issues in American history, including race, class, politics, and citizenship.
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Lowery argues that "Indian" is a dynamic identity that, for outsiders, sometimes hinged on the presence of "Indian blood" (for federal New Deal policy makers) and sometimes on the absence of "black blood" (for southern white segregationists). Lumbee people themselves have constructed their identity in layers that tie together kin and place, race and class, tribe and nation; however, Indians have not always agreed on how to weave this fabric into a whole. Using photographs, letters, genealogy, federal and state records, and first-person family history, Lowery narrates this compelling conversation between insiders and outsiders, demonstrating how the Lumbee People challenged the boundaries of Indian, southern, and American identities.
With more than 50,000 enrolled members, North Carolina's Lumbee Indians are the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River. Malinda Maynor Lowery, a Lumbee herself, describes how, between Reconstruction and the 1950s, the Lumbee crafted and maintained a distinct identity in an era defined by racial segregation in the South and paternalistic policies for Indians throughout the nation. They did so against the backdrop of some of the central issues in American history, including race, class, politics, and citizenship.

Excerpt

This story unfolds in low-lying swamps of lazy, rippling black water. the swamps have names like Deep Branch, Burnt Swamp, and Turkey Branch. Fingers of water from the swamps drain into a river, which is known as Drowning Creek, the Lumber River, or, simply, the Lumbee. the river follows its own path to the ocean, flowing through lands now known as North Carolina and South Carolina; these waters have nurtured a People in a place that became known as the South and the United States—names that came later, after the identity that marked the People as Indians.

Today they are known as Lumbee Indians, and some are known as Tuscarora, though in the past 130 years, the People have also been called Croatan, Cherokee, and Siouan. Each name, past and present, was the result of strategic choices about how to represent Indian identity and gain affirmation of it. But all belong to land around the Lumber River and the town of Pembroke in Robeson County, North Carolina. How those identities took shape over time and in this place is the subject of this book.

Questions of identity influence the documentary record on which historians base their work. However, historians have not always queried their sources for who the Indians were, instead taking it for granted that the past observer understood the dimensions of belonging and culture that marked someone as an Indian. the observers on which historians faithfully rely rarely asked themselves who the Indians were, or more pointedly, what was “Indian.” What does this term “Indian” mean to us as historians or to those whose observations we depend upon for source material?

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