Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery introduced her newly published book, “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation” (UNC Press; 2010; 339 pages), on April 13 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery discusses a photo from her book
Dr. Lowery’s appearance was a part of the Native American Speaker Series, sponsored by the University’s American Indian Studies Department and Office for Academic Affairs.
The book tells the story of a formative era of the Lumbee Tribe by the UNC-Chapel Hill historian, who is a member of the tribe. “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South” is often a personal look at a harsh time that includes references and photos of family and friends living in a close-knit community.
The setting for the reading and book signing was also very personal. Dr. Lowery’s husband, Willie Lowery; parents Waltz and Louise Maynor; two sisters, Cherry Beasley and Lucy Maynor; and many friends were among the 85 in attendance at the Chancellor’s Residence for the reading and book signing.
Dr. Lowery said “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South” is her effort to “pay forward the blessings” she has received from her family and community because she will “never be able to pay them back.”
“The story I tell in this book is not always pretty, but I think it’s an honest story,” she said. “It’s about how a group of Native Americans carved out a place for themselves with an iron-sided wall in place between the races.
“White supremacy was a fact of life” in the era, she said.
Dr. Lowery earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking from Stanford University and a master’s degree and doctorate in history from UNC-Chapel Hill. The book was derived from her dissertation, although a more personal version.
There are four layers of identity among the Lumbee, Dr. Lowery maintains:
- First, there is kinship, or “who’s your people” as the local saying goes;
- Second, there is place, or “where do you stay” in terms of church and community;
- Third, tribe; and
- Fourth, race.
Dr. Lowery carefully described several archival photos of school students and family members that she distributed via handout to the audience. The pictures, also included in her book, are archetypes of a time long gone.
Book signing – Maxine Amos, Dr. Cheryl Locklear and Magnolia Lowry have their copies signed.
“This is the picture of poverty amidst affluence all around,” she said of a photo of a woman and her two children in the family kitchen that is lined with advertising posters, probably put there to block cold wind.
The complexities of race, blood quantum, tribal government and federal recognition were outlined as they shaped the tribe’s identity over time.
Using photographs, letters, genealogy, federal and state records and first-person family history, Dr. Lowery demonstrates how the Lumbees challenged the boundaries of Indian, Southern and American identities.
The era depicted in the book begins and ends with great triumphs in Lumbee history - the story of Henry Berry Lowry’s war against tyranny during the Civil War and Reconstruction and the 1958 rout of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I wrote this book for my people to remind ourselves of how we can divide and unify ourselves in the face of threat,” she concluded.
Dr. Rose Stremlau, a faculty member in UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department, was Dr. Lowery’s roommate in Chapel Hill as the book came together. She introduced her friend.
“Malinda was close-up to the conversations…around the kitchen table and in the tobacco fields,” Dr. Stremlau said. “She struggled to tell this story.
“Her people are on every page,” she said. “She is passionate about the well-being of her people.”
Former UNCP Chancellor Joseph Oxendine, a Lumbee, was in the audience. He said he is in one of the book’s photos.
“It’s a fascinating story,” Dr. Oxendine said. “I am pleased with what she’s doing to remind us of our identity and to be proud of it.”
Also in the audience was Dr. Lowery’s history class from UNC-Chapel Hill who spent the day touring sites in the county. It is the first class about Lumbee history ever taught in Chapel Hill.
“I loved her presentation and the photo,” said Julia Kramner, who is from Asheville, N.C. “This is our second visit here. To see things in person makes it more real.”
The class read “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South,” she said.
“We’re getting to be experts on Lumbee history, and we have a yearlong project in the works,” said Kristen Gnao of Burlington, N.C. “Coty Brayboy’s grandmother cooked fried chicken and cornbread for us.”
A member of the class, Coty Brayboy is a Tuscarora from Robeson County. The students’ project may be viewed at lumbee.web.unc.edu.
“Meeting the people who made this history makes the story rich, not abstract,” Gnao said. “It was a good day.”
Dr. Lowery will return to campus at noon on June 26 during Lumbee Homecoming for a presentation in the Baptist Student Union. She promises an interactive meeting.
Chancellor Charles Jenkins welcomed guests to the residence, saying, “I believe we are making some history here tonight with this event.”