views updated May 29 2018



Lumbee (pronounced LUM-bee). The name came from the Lumber River, sometimes called the “Lumbee,” that runs through the area of North Carolina where most of the tribe live. Lumbee means “dark water” in Algonquian. Over the years the government of North Carolina has called the tribe many different names including Croatan (1885), Indians of Robeson County (1911), and Cherokee Indians of North Carolina (1913). In 1952 the tribe themselves decided to change their name to Lumbee, which the state accepted as their official name the following year.


There are conflicting theories as to where the Lumbee originated. Some believe they once lived on the islands off the North Carolina or Virginia coast and later moved inland to Robeson County, North Carolina, where most of them live today. Others believe the Lumbee have dwelt in their present location for thousands of years. The Lumbee population may have lived in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland at one time. Baltimore, Maryland, and Bulloch County, Georgia, are home to some Lumbee in the early twenty-first century. The majority of the Lumbee, though, reside in North Carolina, and most are concentrated in four counties—Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland, and Scotland.


The 1910 U.S. Census showed 6,317 Croatans—one of the early names for the Lumbee tribe—living in North Carolina. In 1960 researchers from the Smithsonian Institution identified 31,380 Lumbee in North and South Carolina. In the 2000 U.S. Census, 51,913 people said they were Lumbee, while 57,868 claimed some Lumbee heritage, making this one of the largest tribes still remaining in the eastern United States.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

Conflicting theories abound as to Lumbee origins. According to some sources, the Lumbee descended from the Cheraw and other Siouan-speaking tribes that lived in present-day Robeson County, North Carolina. Some have also connected them to the Cherokee and Tuscarora tribes. Other historians believe that the Lumbee were Croatoan Indians who migrated from islands off the coast of North Carolina where they had intermarried with white settlers from Roanoke. However, archaeological evidence also indicates an Indian presence in Robeson County dating back ten thousand years. Contemporary Lumbee have a tri-racial heritage, which includes Native American, European, and African American.

Archaeologists have established that Native Americans lived in present-day Robeson County, North Carolina, since 12,000 bce . The Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Eastern Siouan Indians may have interacted and later joined with these tribes. By 1750 documents show that the people who call themselves the Lumbee existed as a tribe. Because the area where they live is filled with swamps, white settlers had little interest in taking over their land. In the nineteenth century escaped slaves joined the colony. Because the Lumbee are of mixed racial descent, they often face discrimination and have needed to fight for their rights throughout much of their history.


Lost Colony theory

In 1709 when John Lawson traveled to the English colony of Carolina, he was startled to discover that many of the “Hatteras Indians” living off the northeast coast of present-day North Carolina, had gray eyes. In his book, History of Carolina, he wrote that these people “either then lived on Roanoke Island, or much frequented it.” They were friendly toward the English, and told him that some of their ancestors had been white, leading Lawson to speculate that they had descended from the settlers who had disappeared from the Roanoke colony.

This colony, under the leadership of Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618), had been established in 1587. The governor of the colony, John White (c. 1540–c. 1606), returned to England for supplies. When he returned, he found the colony deserted. The only clues the colonists left behind were footprints, scattered possessions, and the word “Croatoan” carved on a tree. Croatoan, an island south of Roanoke, was the home of Native Americans who had been friendly to the colonists.

No trace of the colonists has ever been found, but many Lumbee have the last names of Roanoke settlers, and later European expeditions found groups of Native Americans who spoke English and had English customs and homes. Several historians believed this supported the theory that the Indians and whites had intermarried. Some Lumbee themselves also claimed to be descendants of both Native American and white ancestors.

Important Dates

1709: John Lawson discovers and writes about the “Hatteras Indians.”

1724: Cheraw community first seen along Lumbee River.

1835: North Carolina Constitution denies rights to people of color. Lumbee are classified as “mulattos” (having some African American heritage) and lose their rights.

1865–72: “Lowry Wars” begin. Henry Berry Lowry eludes capture.

1885: The Lumbee petition for and receive state recognition and funding for schools.

1952: Tribe votes to call themselves Lumbee.

1956: U.S. government recognizes Lumbee as a tribe, but denies them federal benefits.

1958: Tribe members break up a Klu Klux Klan gathering.

2001: The Lumbee elect first Tribal Council.

Possible Cherokee or Tuscarora heritage

The Cherokee (see entry) who lived in the mountains of western North Carolina had trails to the coast and to many of the rivers where the Croatan lived. Following the Tuscarora War (1711–13; a war between the British, Dutch, and German settlers and the Tuscarora Indians), the Cherokee, who fought with Colonel John Barnwell against the Tuscarora, traveled through Robeson County. Some Cherokee may have stayed in the area and married Croatans. The government of North Carolina grouped the two tribes together in 1913 when it named the Croatans “the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina.”

Some members of the Lumbee claim they were of Tuscarora descent. After the Tuscarora lost the war in 1713, the tribe relocated to New York where they joined the Iroquois Confederacy (see entry). By the early 1800s the Tuscarora believed the migration was complete. It is possible, however, that some members of the tribe remained in North Carolina and intermarried with the Native Americans who lived in the area. In the 1970s a small group of these Lumbee, calling themselves the Eastern Carolina Indian Organization, organized to seek recognition as Tuscarora Indians.

Researchers investigate

In the 1930s John R. Swanton, an anthropologist (a person who studies human origins) from the Smithsonian Institution, concluded the Lumbee had descended from Siouan tribes. He believed they may have been Saura (Cheraw) or Keyauwee. When the tribe prepared to submit a petition for federal recognition in 1987, Jack Campisi, an ethnohistorian (person who traces a culture’s history), decided the Lumbee were Saura. Many Lumbee today accept this as their tribal affiliation.

Revised state constitution

In 1835 the state of North Carolina revised its constitution. People of color no longer had the same privileges and rights as whites. Because the Lumbee had intermarried, they were classified as “mulatto,” or of mixed African American heritage. Since people of color had little status in the state at that time, the Lumbee suffered the same fate. They could not vote, join the army, or bear arms. The Lumbee fought for their rights, however. In 1853 the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the law and convicted the Lumbee defendant Noel Locklear of illegally carrying a gun. Later two other court cases challenged this law, and the Lumbee won the right to own guns.

Lowry War (1865–72)

During the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery), Lumbee were conscripted, or forced into service, to help build Fort Fisher. A stronghold against the Union Army, it protected the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, from invasion. To avoid being taken, some Lumbee men hid out in the swamps. They were joined by runaway slaves and escaped war prisoners, and the period the Lumbee called “the starving times” began. To stay alive, they stole food and supplies. Although most Lumbee had originally supported the Confederacy, some ended up working for the Union and sabotaging Confederate efforts.

One of the most famous figures of this time period was Henry Berry Lowry (or Lowrie), a teen who saw his father and brother murdered by the Home Guard. To avenge their deaths, he and a gang (consisting mostly of his relations) stole guns, robbed plantations, and killed 18 men who tried to capture them or those who had done the tribe injustices. The Lowry gang hid in the swamps and shared their spoils with the poor and hungry, especially those who lived in their hometown of Pembroke, often called “Scuffletown” by outsiders. In spite of a bounty of $12,000 offered for his death or capture, Henry was never caught; he disappeared in 1872. The Lumbee hail him as a Robin-Hood type hero and even today hold a yearly play, Strike at the Wind, in his honor.

Discrimination against the Lumbee

The North Carolina constitution was only one in a series of injustices the Lumbee faced. Because they had been classed as mulatto, their children could not attend school with whites. Public facilities like jails, hospitals, and rest homes kept them in separate areas. Until 1947 the government appointed a white mayor to oversee their town. When a movie theater opened in town in 1937, Native Americans and African Americans had to use different entrances than whites and could only sit in the balcony. Until 1950 Lumbee could not attend North Carolina colleges, except the Croatan Indian Normal School (see “Education”). Nor could they attend graduate school until 1954.

About the Croatan

In 1718 John Lawson wrote in his book, History of North Carolina, of the Croatan people:

They naturally possess the righteous man’s gift; they are patient under all afflictions, and have a great many other natural virtues.…

They are really better to us than we are to them; they always give us victuals [food] at their quarters, and take care we are armed against hunger and thirst; we do not so by them, (generally speaking) but let them walk by our doorway hungry, and do not often relieve them. We look upon them with scorn and disdain and think them little better than beasts in Humane shape, though if well examined, we shall find that, for all our religion and education, we possess more moral deformities and evils than [they] do, or are acquainted withal.

Butler, George E. The Croatan Indians of Sampson County: Their Origin and Racial Status, A Plea for Separate Schools. The Seeman Printery: Durham, NC, 1916, p. 37.

The Lumbee also faced bigotry from some members of the public. In 1958 the Klu Klux Klan burned crosses at two Lumbee homes and organized a rally in Maxton, North Carolina. Accounts of the day vary, but the Lumbee planned to stop the rally. The Klan’s loudspeaker was disabled, the lights were put out, shots were fired (although no one was injured), and Klan members fled. Newspapers across the country reported the incident.

The fight for rights continues

In 1972 the Lumbee organized to prevent Old Main, a building on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, from being demolished to make room for new construction. Old Main was the last building still standing from the time when the school had been the Indian Normal School. The Lumbee were successful. The college decided to move the new building elsewhere and restore Old Main. The building now houses the American Indian Studies Department and the Native American Resource Center.

Another issue that received national publicity occurred in 1988. Two Lumbee men held nineteen people hostage in a local newspaper office to dramatize the need for an inquiry into discrimination and police misconduct. Although the men were convicted, they drew attention to ongoing problems in the community, and their action prompted an investigation.

A month later Julian Pierce, a Lumbee attorney running for Superior Court judge, was murdered prior to the election. People still turned out to vote for him, and he beat the white candidate who had run against him. As a result the voters (mostly minorities) petitioned the governor for a replacement for Pierce. A new position of Indian Superior Court judge was created and Dexter Brooks (1943–2002) was appointed.


The first Native American church in Robeson County, Saddletree Meeting House, opened in 1792. By the end of the next century, most Lumbee were either Methodist or Baptist. In 1881 the Burnt Swamp Missionary Baptist Association began with three churches and expanded to eighteen by the early 1900s. Around this time the Lumbee also formed an Indian Methodist Conference, so the tribe could make their own religious decisions.

In the early twenty-first century most Lumbee attend Protestant churches, and all their ministers are Lumbee, some of whom broadcast on television. Religion is important to the Lumbee not only for spiritual reasons, but it also plays a vital part in the social life of the community. Family members sometimes attend different churches and form bonds and friendships with a wide variety of people who share their heritage and beliefs. Hymns also unite people from various denominations (see “Music”).


The original language of the Lumbee (an Algonquian dialect known as Croatan or Pamlico) was lost over time. Intermarriage with Europeans, African Americans, and other Indian tribes eliminated much of the Lumbee culture. As the Lumbee added new races to their tribe, they adopted other customs and words. As a result, they speak a unique dialect of English.

Scholars who studied the language indicated that it bears many similarities to Scotch-Irish, Welsh, and Old English languages. There are also traces of Outer Banks, Appalachian, and African American dialects in Lumbee speech. But some words and usages are found only in the Lumbee dialect.

Along with original and unusual words, the Lumbee also use some verbs in different ways. One verb is be, which has an s added to the end. It substitutes for the word is: She bes good.Be is also used in place of the word have: He might be lost it.

Although some people consider these Lumbee uses of verbs as poor grammar, linguist (person who studies languages) Walt Wolfram disagrees. He sees Lumbee as a distinct dialect that the tribe developed in response to varied influences in their history and development. One of the problems Lumbee have had in receiving federal recognition, however, (see “Current Tribal Issues”) is that their present-day language is too similar to English.

Lumbee Words

Early Croatan

  • renepo …“woman”
  • bmishcosk … “red”
  • mpe … “water”
  • eembot … “one”
  • wopposhaumosh … “white”

Present Day Lumbee

  • bog … “a helping of chicken and rice”
  • chawed … “embarrassed”
  • cooter … “turtle”
  • ellick … “coffee”
  • juvember … “slingshot”
  • mommuck … “make a mess”
  • on the swamp … “in the neighborhood”


Communities form the mainstay of Lumbee government. Each community is composed of family members who are related by marriage. Usually the oldest adult is the head of the family. The elders in the group make decisions together. Because these small groups have always been self-governing, the Lumbee had no need for a central government.

During the 1900s groups of men met and worked together in an organization called the Red Men’s Lodge. They took charge of protecting the tribe from violence, conducting ceremonies, presiding over funerals, and keeping social order.

Created in 2001, the tribal government preserves the original concept of community organization. A chairperson heads the council and chooses a tribal administrator. The tribe votes to confirm this choice. These two positions form the executive branch of the government and are responsible for handling the budget and enforcing laws. The legislative branch consists of 21 members who come from 14 different districts. Five judges try cases in the Supreme Court.


Agricultural economy

Early Lumbee were hunters and gatherers, but they were one of the first Native American tribes to use agriculture to provide the majority of their diet. They also raised livestock, particularly chicken and hogs. Because these animals came from Europe, many people believed this authenticated the Lumbee claims that some of their ancestors were from the Lost Colony of Roanoke (see “Lost Colony theory”). The Lumbee also used slave labor to assist with the farming.

By the nineteenth century many Lumbee had begun raising cash crops, or crops grown mostly to be sold, like cotton and tobacco. Men planted a portion of their farmland with vegetables for their families and the rest with crops that helped them earn a living. A small portion of farmland was set aside to grow food for the animals.

Branching out

Not all Lumbee farmed; many men traveled down the Lumber River to work in the logging industry. One popular job was rolling heavy logs to the river, tying them together, then floating the log raft downstream to sell the logs in South Carolina.

Other men worked in the turpentine industry. The pine forests around Robeson County provided plenty of turpentine. Workers tapped the trees and collected the turpentine to sell. During the Civil War, advancing Union troops burned down many of the forests, leaving the men without jobs. Many Lumbee moved to Georgia, where pine forests were still abundant. Most missed their North Carolina homes and returned to Robeson County, but a small group of Lumbee remained in Georgia.

Today’s economy

Today many Lumbee students attend college, and the tribe’s members are employed in many different professions. Several members have established profitable businesses. In 2002 the Lumbee Revitalization and Community Development Corporation formed to offer loans, financial and business assistance, and job development. The group also supervises the Office of Community Services (OCS) project, which provides construction jobs to low-income workers; the homes they build provide housing for low- to moderate-income families.

Daily life


Family holds a special place in the Lumbee culture. Kinship is important, and it is not unusual to find several family groups living together or relatives taking care of each others’ children. Even children who grow up and move away still consider Robeson County home.

Extended families, or families that include grandparents, parents, children, and other close relatives, form communities. Elder members of each family come together to discuss situations and make plans for the community. Lumbee call each network of families a “set,” their name for a clan.


By the early 1700s when the first records are available for the tribe, the majority of the Lumbee lived in European-style houses. Most people constructed small windowless cabins of logs or wood that had front porches held up by posts. Stone or brick fireplaces heated the houses.

Clothing and adornment

Little is known about early Lumbee clothing because the tribe adopted European dress early in their history. Engravings of the Croatan or Hatteras Indians show men in breechcloths (an apronlike piece of fabric attached at the waist). At that time women may have worn knee-length skirts, but most Lumbee soon adopted European-style clothes.

Women wore their hair in Navajo fashion with a bun at the top and bottom. Both men and women decorated their skin with tattoos. They may have worn beaded headbands with a feather in them. Some Lumbee wore feathered headdresses; the men who joined the Red Man Lodges (see “Government”) in the 1930s and 1940s revived the custom of wearing war bonnets. Some pictures show women wearing these headdresses as well.

In recent years women made patchwork dresses in a distinctive design called the Pine Cone pattern. The dresses were traditional Southern style dresses with pine cone patchwork sewn on the apron bib and a matching shawl. With them, they often wore Chinaberry necklaces (see “Arts”). In some places in the South these necklaces were placed around babies’ necks to ward off evil spirits.


Like many other tribes, the Lumbee depended on hunting and gathering. They ate deer, turkey, and other small game along with any wild plants they gathered. But they also relied on farming to fulfill many of their needs. Possibly as a result of the European influence, the Lumbee tilled fields and used slave labor to work their farms. Typical crops included corn, beans, and squash—the usual Native American diet—as well as tomatoes, cabbage, peas, okra, collard, turnips, and potatoes. Most Lumbee also raised chicken and hogs, animals brought to America by Europeans.

Chicken Bog

This chicken and rice casserole is a traditional Lumbee dish called a bog. It comes from the kitchen of Marty Grant, who lives in Kinston, North Carolina.

  • 2 cups rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cans chicken
  • beef sausage
  • pepper
  • paprika
  • any spices you like

Cut up sausage into small slices. Add rice to large pot, add broth, water, chicken, sausage, pepper and paprika. Stir. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir, reduce heat to low and put on lid. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes it should be moist, but not soupy.

“Chicken Bog.” Carolina Country. (accessed on July 4, 2007).


Before the 1835 North Carolina constitution was adopted, Lumbee students went to school with whites. After the new laws were enacted, they were expected to attend African American schools. They refused to do this and petitioned for funds for their own schools. From 1885 (after they received some funds) until the 1970s, Lumbee attended tribal schools. The government also opened the Croatan Indian Normal School in 1887, a teacher training college where Native Americans learned to teach their own students. That school later became the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Not all counties received funds for schools, however, and some Lumbee had to maintain their own schools. In requesting funding for the Indians of Sampson County, George Butler attempted to explain why the Lumbee deserved money for schools. He wrote that in 1912 a school census showed that every child in that county, both male and female, attended school, a very unusual record for the early 1900s. The Lumbee were determined to educate their children and had been supporting local schools by private donations. In Dismal Township they operated a cotton farm and used the proceeds to pay for their children’s schooling.

By the 1920s the Lumbee had built more than thirty one-room schoolhouses and soon had 3,400 students enrolled. It was not until 1950, though, that Lumbee students could attend any North Carolina college other than the Croatan Indian Normal School.

Desire for Education

In 1914 Indian Agent O. M. McPherson reported to the government on the Croatan (Lumbee) Indians’ interest in education:

I might say here that in my judgment, the children of these Native Americans, as a rule, are exceedingly bright, quick to learn from books, as well as from example, and are very 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 educational facilities or indifferent about obtaining a higher education; but I believe the more ambitious of their youth to be eager to attend higher institutions of learning than those now provided.

Butler, George E. The Croatan Indians of Sampson County: Their Origin and Racial Status, A Plea for Separate Schools. The Seeman Printery: Durham, NC, 1916, p. 37.

Healing practices

The Lumbee used herbs to combat illness and promote healing. Today many of the elders of the tribe have herbal knowledge passed down through the generations. One of the most widely used traditional herbs was sassafras. Though modern scientists say sassafras causes cancer, many Native American tribes used it as a tea to thin the blood. It also helped with kidney problems, rheumatism, arthritis, recovery from childbirth, high blood pressure, colds, flu, and bronchitis. Sassafras oil combined with cloves and other herbs relieved toothaches. It was sometimes used to flavor root beer.

In the early twenty-first century the Lumbee tribe operates a Healing Lodge, which combines health outreach with ministry. To assist with social problems—like alcoholism, AIDS, suicide, domestic violence, and homelessness—the Healing Lodge conducts seminars, support groups, and offers services. In 2006 studies reported that Lumbee had a much higher rate of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease than the general population. Doctors also noted that these problems were much more common in younger Lumbee women; they are working to determine both the cause and a cure.


Arts and crafts

Lumbee crafts included basketry and wood carvings. Although the tribe made reed and splint baskets, they also made unusual baskets from pine needles. They created utensils from gourds and decorated them with designs. Other traditional crafts included pottery, turtle shell rattles and jewelry, and necklaces made from chinaberries and pumpkin seeds. Women made chinaberry necklaces by boiling the berries to soften and remove the pulp from the seeds. Once they dried, the seeds turned white and could be dyed bright colors. Then they drilled a hole through each seed, and strung them into necklaces.

The Lumbee are also known for their patchwork. One of their most famous designs is the Pine Cone Pattern. This unusual pattern consists of overlapping layers of triangles pointing toward the center, giving the piece a three-dimensional look that resembles the end of a long leaf pine cone.

In addition to keeping traditional crafts alive, many Lumbee artists today are earning their reputations in the fine arts field. Lloyd Oxendine opened the first gallery for contemporary Native American art in the United States in 1969. The American Indian Community House Gallery/Museum in New York City showcases art from Native Americans around the country. Oxendine himself is also a well-known artist. Another Lumbee artist with an international reputation is Gene Locklear (1949–; see “Notable people”). And the Native American Resource Center at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke also houses an extensive collection of Lumbee art and music.


Music plays an important role in the Lumbee lifestyle. Religious hymns and gospel music are part of a long-standing tradition uniting people of all denominations. Throughout the tribe’s history, most denominations held singing conventions—gatherings of singers from all the churches in the area who met to sing religious music. In modern times hymn sings are held frequently by various churches in the community and are open to everyone. Many people attend these to sing and enjoy the fellowship of others.


Early in their history, the Lumbee adopted many European customs and traditions. They followed the usual practices of white society in most of their rituals and rites. They did, however have a few customs that were uniquely their own.

Slaughter Day

A Lumbee tradition that brought family and friends together was a hog-killing, or slaughter day. Everyone gathered and brought silverware, tables, and large pots. By 2:00 am the men had built huge fires and started boiling water. When the water was ready, they would butcher a dozen hogs, each weighing several hundred pounds. The men cut up the meat, and the women cleaned out the intestines for sausages.

The group shared a meal, then they stuffed the sausage casings (intestines) with meat and boiled the livers and mashed them with spices to make a pudding. Sometimes they added blood to the liver mixture to make blood pudding. Next all the fat was melted to make lard. It had to be watched carefully and stirred with a green sweet bay stick, so the process was time-consuming.

Other workers smoked hams over a fire. By the late nineteenth century, however, most families cured their meat with salt instead of smoking it. Curing the pork preserved it so it could be stored and eaten all year. In the days before grocery stores were common, this meat was an essential part of a family’s diet. Hog-killings continue to be held today, but more for socializing than for necessity.


Because community was important to the Lumbee, many activities were done as a group. A family would cut down as many trees as they needed for winter firewood, then they would invite relatives and friends for a woodsawing. All the men worked together to chop the trees into small logs for firewood. Meanwhile the women prepared a feast for everyone to enjoy when the labor was over. Once chainsaws became common, neighbors no longer needed to gather to help with the sawing.

Community efforts

To clear farmland men cut down trees, then rolled them into a pile for burning. Logrolling required a team effort because many trees were quite huge. After the larger trunks and branches had been cleared, everyone, including women and children, worked together to dig up roots and stumps and move rocks.

When someone needed to build a house or a barn, the whole community pitched in to help. Men worked as a team to cut and lift the heavy logs into place. Then the owner finished the house later by building a roof from wood shingles.

Corn harvesting was another time the community worked together. Families invited friends and relatives over to help shuck corn. Many hands made the work go quickly. After all of these joint events, the family who had been helped hosted a feast for all the workers.


School-Breaking Day was one of the largest festivals of the year. Both adults and children attended this celebration of the final day of the school year. Early in the day the community assembled in the schoolyard bringing plenty of food to share. Music, dancing, and feasting lasted long into the evening.

Over the years as people moved away from the area, some Lumbee decided to keep in touch with each other by holding a Homecoming each summer. Although it began in 1968 as small community gathering, over the years it expanded until today more than forty-five thousand people attend the nine-day event. One of the highlights of the festival is the coronation ball for Mr. and Miss Lumbee. Younger contestants compete for Teen Miss, Junior Miss, and Little Miss. Sports, dinners, concerts, fireworks, a car show, and a parade all provide opportunities for fun. The play “Strike at the Wind” (see “Lowry War”) rounds out the events.

To keep their Indian culture alive, the Lumbee began holding powwows, events at which traditional dances and culture are shared with the community. These have become a fall tradition.

Current tribal issues

The Lumbee have been seeking federal recognition for one hundred years. They recently bypassed the Bureau of Indian Affairs and went directly to Congress with their petition. In order to ensure that the bill had a better chance to pass, the Lumbee agreed to an amendment prohibiting them from opening casinos. The tribe is willing to forego gaming in order to speed up the recognition process. Tribes receiving federal recognition are entitled to government services and other financial benefits. They also become sovereign (separate self-governing) nations. Not only have the Lumbee faced opposition to their petition from those who question their identity as a unique tribe, but some Indian tribes have attempted to stop the process because they do not believe the Lumbee are a true Native American tribe.

Notable people

Julian Pierce (d. 1988), a Lumbee attorney, was known for helping the poor. In 1978 he became the first director of Lumbee River Legal Services and was also instrumental in a school merger to provide all children with a quality education. He was murdered shortly before being elected a Superior Court Judge. His death paved the way for Dexter Brooks, also a Lumbee, to be appointed to the court. Another Lumbee attorney, Arlinda Faye Locklear (1951–), was the first Native American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gene Locklear (1949–) played major league baseball with the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees. In 1979 he left sports to become an artist. Today he is one of the most well-known Lumbee artists, and his work hangs in museums around the country as well as in the Smithsonian Institution and the White House.

Two successful Lumbee businessmen are Dennis Lowery, who began one of the nation’s largest Indian-owned corporations in the 1970s, Continental Industrial Chemicals, Inc., and later expanded into other corporate ventures; and James Thomas, CEO of Thomas Properties Group, Inc., and a former owner of the Sacramento Kings NBA Basketball team.

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

Butler, George E. The Croatan Indians of Sampson County: Their Origin and Racial Status, A Plea for Separate Schools. Durham, NC: The Seeman Printery, 1916.

Dial, Adolph L., and David K. Eliades. The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee Indians. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

Fritz, Jean. The Lost Colony Of Roanoke. New York: Putnam, 2004.

Oakley, Christopher Arris. Keeping the Circle: American Indian Identity in Eastern North Carolina, 1885–2004. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

School for Indians of Robeson County. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1913.

Sider, Gerald. Living Indian Histories: The Lumbee and Tuscarora People in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Segrest, Mab. “Robeson County’s ‘Third World Ills.’” Southern Changes10: 4 (1988): 14–16.

Shaffrey, Mary M. “Lumbee Get a Win, But Not Without Stipulation.” Winston-Salem Journal (April 26, 2007).

“Lumbee Language and the Lumbee Indian Culture (Croatan, Croatoans, Pamlico, Carolina Algonquian).” Native American Language Net: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. (accessed on July 4, 2007).

Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. (accessed on July 4, 2007).

The Museum of the Native American Resource Center.” University of North Carolina at Pembroke. (accessed on July 4, 2007).

Stilling, Glenn Ellen Starr. “The Lumbee Indians: An Annotated Bibliography Supplement.” Appalachian State University Libraries. (accessed on July 4, 2007).

Wolfram, Walt. “NC State University Sociolinguist Tracing Roots of Lumbee Language.” NC State University. (accessed on July 4, 2007).

George Cornell, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, History and American Studies, Michigan State University; Director, Native American Institute

Laurie Edwards


views updated May 14 2018


ETHNONYMS: Cherokees, Croatans, Indians of Robeson County, Scuffletonians

The Lumbee are English-speaking descendants of the remnants of various Native American groups who now live principally along the Lumbee River in Robeson County, North Carolina, and in adjacent counties in North and South Carolina. The Lumbee number about forty thousand, making them the fifth largest American Indian group in the United States and the largest in the East. Today Lumbee are found in small concentrations in Greensboro, North Carolina, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit, although most migrants do return to Robeson County. Lumbee ancestry includes tribal groups that largely disappeared from the Carolinas in the eighteenth century and perhaps some African and European intermixture as well, leading to their classification as American Isolates. Lumbee oral tradition traces their ancestry to Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony at Roanoke. Today, Lumbee self-identity is based on having a socially defined Lumbee parent and no socially defined African-American parent.

In the nineteenth century the Lumbee shared a common culture and life-style with their White neighbors that included landownership, farming, and Baptist and Methodist religious affiliation. Until 1835 they also shared the same civil rights, but in that year the Lumbee, along with other "free persons of color" in North Carolina, were stripped of most of those rights and began to suffer discrimination and impoverishment at the hands of Whites that persisted until well after the Civil War. In the 1880s the prejudice they faced lessened to a degree and some of their civil rights were restored. During the 1960s Lumbee began to develop a pan-Indian consciousness and increasingly became politically active.

From the late 1800s well into the twentieth century the Lumbee were employed mostly as farm laborers and sharecroppers and occupied a depressed social stratum in a society dominated by White farmers and landowners. Beginning early in the twentieth century the modernization of farming in the region reduced labor demands, resulting in unemployment and underemployment for the Lumbee. In the 1960s industrial development in Robeson County offered some hope. Most Lumbee, however, were not able to take advantage of the new job opportunities as they lacked the necessary skills and education, a product of more than a century of "separate, but equal" schools. In the 1960s Lumbee began to move into white-collar and skilled blue-collar occupations, but those doing so have been forced to migrate to urban areas to find employment.


Blu, Karen I. (1980). The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an Indian People. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Evans, W. McKee (1979). "The North Carolina Lumbees: From Assimilation to Revitalization." In Southeastern Indians, edited by Walter L. Williams, 49-71. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Makofsky, Abraham (1980). "Tradition and Change in the Lumbee Indian Community in Baltimore." Maryland Historical Magazine 75:55-71.


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LUMBEE. Numbering over 54,000 enrolled members, the Lumbees are the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi River. Located mainly in southeastern North Carolina along the Lumber River, the Lumbees have lived among the river swamps for almost three centuries. There are numerous theories regarding the historical tribal origin of the Lumbees. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the prevailing theory was that the Lumbees were the descendants of the coastal Algonkian tribes of North Carolina and the English colony that mysteriously disappeared from Roanoke Island in 1587. More recent theories suggest significant tribal influence from the many Siouan-speaking tribes from the Piedmont and coastal plain, particularly the Cheraws, who had long lived in this area. Regardless of tribal origin, archaeological evidence indicates a continuous indigenous presence in the area for at least 14,000 years.

A number of events in Lumbee history have forced the tribe to assert its rights. The decade of the Lowry War (1864–1874) saw unbounded violence against the white establishment throughout Robeson County. Led by the Lumbee outlaw Henry Berry Lowry, the Lowry gang waged war for ten years in an effort to fight the injustices perpetrated against the Lumbees by the Confederacy and local militia. Because of his unrelenting struggle, Lowry, who mysteriously disappeared in 1872, has become the legendary hero of the present-day Lumbee people.

By the late 1800s, reform had come to North Carolina. In 1885 the state legislature created a separate educational system for the Indians of Robeson County. In 1887 an Indian normal school was established to train the Lumbee people to be teachers in their own schools. For many years, this was the only higher educational institution available for the Lumbees, and from 1940 to 1953, Pembroke State College (which grew out of the early normal school) was the only state-supported four-year college for Indians in the United States. Pembroke State College is now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, one of the sixteen constituent campuses of the University of North Carolina, and serves a multicultural student body.

In 1956 the federal government officially recognized the Lumbees but withheld customary Indian benefits and services. Through administrative and legislative efforts, the Lumbees have continually tried to remove the restrictive language of the 1956 law but have not yet been successful. On 7 November 2000, the Lumbees elected a twenty-three-member tribal government, part of whose focus is on achieving full federal status as a tribe.


Dial, Adolph L., and David K. Eliades. The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee People. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

Sider, Gerald M. Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, Ethnicity, and Indian Identity in the Southern United States. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Starr, Glenn Ellen. The Lumbee Indians: An Annotated Bibliography with Chronology and Index. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1994.

Linda E.Oxendine

See alsoTribes: Southeastern .