UNC Pembroke professorDr. Olivia Holmes Oxendine presented her research project, the Elder Teachers Project, to senior researchers in the Department of Oral History at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian on June 10.
The project presents anecdotal accounts of seven Lumbee educators who taught for more than 90 cumulative years in “Indian only” schools. The historical context of the research dates back to the Jim Crow period in Robeson County, when North Carolina laws enforced a restricted pattern of co-existence for three racial groups: white, Indian and colored. Funded in part by a grant from the N.C. Humanities Council, the Elder Teachers Project unfolded in 2008 as a Robeson County oral history project. It resulted in a 20-minute documentary video and a paper.
In discussing her methodology with museum researchers, Dr. Oxendine described her approach as a blend of oral history and narrative-inquiry techniques.
“While the elder teachers shared personal experiences of an historical era for the Lumbee, they do so in a storied, reflective voice,” Dr. Oxendine said. “For this reason, those who have attended Elder Teachers Project public presentations have quickly become immersed in the rich vignettes shared by the seven elder educators.
Interviews were conducted with a cross section of teachers, principals and top administrators. They included: Loleta Blanks, Lillian Teen Harris, James Arthur Jones, Stacy Locklear, Mable Revels, the late Mabel Oxendine and Purnell Swett.
Public presentations of the Elder Teachers Project have been extensive, including UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State University, UNCP’s Leadership Program, the South Carolina Minority Affairs Conference, North Carolina History Museum, N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Social Studies Section, Robeson County Indian Education Parent Committee, American Indian Women’s Leadership Conference, N.C. Indian Unity Conference and the Smithsonian.
Throughout the research process, Dr. Oxendine closely collaborated with Dr. Stan Knick of UNCP’s Native American Resource Center, Dr. Jamie Litty, chair of the Mass Communication Department, Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, chair of theAmerican Indian Studies Department, Dr. Linda Oxendine,retired chair ofthe American Indian Studies Department and Malinda M. Lowry, a UNC-Chapel Hill historian.
As she reflects on the project as a whole, Dr. Oxendine describes the Elder Teachers Project as a “grand artifact from which infinite lessons can be extracted and raised for critical consideration.”
A prime motive for the research is to instruct a new generation.
“The notion of segregation is a mysterious one today,” Dr. Oxendine said. “The generation that experienced it is dying, so I wanted to document it.”
The project’s conclusions are surprising in some respects. The end of segregation resulted in many new opportunities, but community schools were a casualty, the elders said.
“The Elder Teachers Project reveals the dual nature of school segregation,” Dr. Oxendine said. “While the racial divide served to sustain and strengthen Indian ties across school, church and community, the setting of segregation also cultivated conditions of isolation and deprivation.”
For more information about the project, please contact Dr. Oxendine at 910.521.6894 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.