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Never That Far: Lumbee Men and World War II

Lumbee men and women served this nation honorable during World War II. The very people who picked cotton and tobacco for 50 cents a day, attended Indian-only schools, and existed in a segregated society offered all they had to their country. And though they helped win a war that \"made the world safe for democracy,\" they returned home to the Ku Klux Klan and separate restrooms. They had tasted equality, now they were determined to fully liberate themselves and their people. They defeated the Klan, kept the legislature from closing their college, gained entry to the state's universities for their children, and overcame 200 years of suppression and separation. Five Lumbee elders tell us about their experiences at home and abroad over the past 50 plus years--fifty of the most formative years in our nation's history.

James Locklear: My brother went in in 41 before Pearl Harbor. He went over seas in 42, February 42, and it went for months you see, he hadn't written home and my mother was very depressed. My father came from the field one day and I remember, good as yesterday, about ten o'clock, and he told my mother not to worry about my brother anymore because the Lord had assured him he would come home. Two weeks and she gained her health back. She had that much faith in my father's prayer. Well, the night that I went to leave to go overseas, forty people would testify to what I'm telling you, my father, I'm gonna just take it short, my father asked me to come around. I was gonna slip away; I didn't want no tears and junk, but in honor of my father I went around and he said \"Son, we have to pray\", and he prayed, and when I started to go to the door to leave to catch the train, he said, \"Son, you'll come back home.\"

Milford Oxendine: And when I came back from World War II, I gave a kiss to my mama, and she said she prayed many a night, all night for me and said \"Didn't I tell you you'd come back like you left.\" And my first cousin and the man right up here, he cussed his mama and daddy anyway. He was killed in that battle I told you about. And that boy up here, killed two of his daddy's mules...he didn't come back.

William Sampson: When I got that draft notice I read that thing, me, my mother, my father...we sat down and talked about it. I really didn't understand why I had to go in the service, my mother explained to me that this is a job that all young men have to do.

Curt Locklear: I went to college and somewhere in the first quarter, we were on the quarter system, and uh, the first quarter there came some fellows by to uh to uh give us a test, and four or five of us boys passed the test, so we were enlisted in the enlisted reserve. [We were] put in the enlisted reserve corps, which means that they said at the time we would finish three years before we went in the service but that was all a joke.

James Locklear: I volunteered to serve. My father still could have kept me out of the service, he had kept me out one year. Um, we had what you call enough of land. Each so many acres of land represented a point, and I had enough of point or my father had enough of points, due to farming to keep his sons out of service.

I'm William Stansen Sampson. I was born December the fourth, 1924. I am the son of Newton Sampson and Vilene Sampson. We were farmers here in Robeson County. My father was a share farmer. He farmed in Robeson County and Scotland County. I was raised on a farm until I was 18.

I'm Milford, Oxendine, Sr. I was raised about a mile and a half north of here [Pembroke, North Carolina] on a farm.

I'm Curt Locklear, I was born in Robeson County [North Carolina]. I am 72 years old. I've lived here all my life except for three years, I was overseas during the war...World War II.

I'm James B. Locklear, Pembroke, North Carolina. Present day route is Rt. 1 Box 322-A. I was born and reared approximately three mile from Pembroke, uh on highway 72 east. Um, my father was a farmer, I grew up on a farm. When I was a young boy, I didn't know anything else I'd have the opportunity to do but to farm. My father had made his success as a farmer, and I was asked when I was in the fifth grade, what would I prefer to do in life...I said a farmer. I knew but three things I would do in life at the time. I could farm, become a school teacher or a minister.

William Sampson: We didn't own the land. When you share crop with someone, they own the land and you work the land. They furnished the house you stayed in...they furnished the land that you stayed in...also they furnished the mules that you worked the land with. We furnished the labor. At the end of the year, sometimes we would get half of the crop, sometimes we would get one third of the crop. This means every three dollars we made, we got one, the landowner got two.

Milford Oxendine: The plow...you hold your plow about like that [hands turned to the side] and you got a wing and it would cover up all that grass and stuff as it go along. The first mule my father had, uh, her name was Pat, and they said he gave $475.75 for that mule. And they never did have to put a muzzle on that mull to keep it from eating anything and you could just \"gee\" and \"haw\" and that was it. You didn't have to put no stakes to lay off your rows ev'n if you was putting in rows from here to out there at the college.

Curt Locklear: We started plowing with an Ox. Yes, and he did as good a job as a mule would do, and he was plowed day after day. I can remember that ox now. When you say \"gee\" he went to the right, when you say \"haw\" he went to the left.

William Sampson: I was about six years old when I first went to plowing. I was so small I couldn't hold the plow handles. I...there was a little round inside of the plow handles that kept the plow handles together, and I used that round to guide the plow with because I wasn't high enough to reach the handles.

Milford Oxendine: Didn't have no trouble with that mule, just gee or haw and that was it. And if the plow had hit something and stops... the pointed end would sometimes hit you in the ribs and knock you out. You'd lay there three or four hours before you could get up you'd be knocked out so hard laying on the ground.

Jesse Oxendine: I was drafted of course and I went in and took my basic training in Arkansas. Of course that was a long way off for me. I'd never been across the Mississippi. But after about 12 weeks of basic training I got a furlough home, and sailed out of Boston and was assigned to the 82nd.

William Sampson: We just left, we got on the train and we rode for a long period of time. After awhile the train come to a stop. The man said, \"You get off here\". So we got off. Went down a long ramp. I don't know how long the ramp was, but it seemed like maybe a mile long. And we went into a place and he said \"here's where you will be staying for awhile\". We put our bags up and we found our bed. Then we went back into a place that was the mess hall. So we stayed around there for awhile, so that night when we went to bed I noticed that seemed like the place where I was at, the thing was moving. Couldn't figure out why it kept moving. Then I come to find out we were on a ship on the ocean. I had never seen the ocean in my whole life. I looked out the port hole and there was nothing but water everywhere. I wondered what in the world will I do here.

Curt Locklear: Well, I tell you what... I guess it was the first time I'd just as soon've been. It took six days, you know, because only one or two ships could go the northern route around Greenland because of the rough weather and everything. It took six days to land in Glasgow, Scotland, and I could have you guess how many days I was sick and I bet you'd be right on top of it. I was dead sick for six days I would have given anything for a foot of land. If you wanna know about the trip on Queen Elizabeth... I was dead sick for six days all the way across... well there wasn't... wasn't much to see. I tell you this, you could sometimes look at the ocean and it would be two miles below you and in ten minutes it would be under your neck.

James Locklear: So I went overseas...Uh, I landed overseas the third day of March 1945. I was in combat in two days just right after the bulge and when we started I was right in Belgium right at the where you might say they extended the line of the German borders. And I went, we went, and after cleaning up a little part in Belgium, Luxemburg, we kept on marching. At that time Hitler was pulling his troops out of Norway and Sweden. I remember that good and we was informed that when we was gonna cross the Rhine River that one of the expert divisions from Norway was gonna be our opponents. Three days before we had crossed the Rhine River, we had lost our B-A-R man. And I being what we call a good soldier I learned to put a B-A-R together so fast and I volunteered not realizing that was the most dangerous thing I could do having an automatic weapon. I weren't looking at that, I was just looking at being a good soldier. Also, in the meantime, in the day following that I was issued a B-A-R we lost our squad leader, and I was fortunate-- if you look at it that way--I looked at it that way today especially. I was the first person in my outfit across the Rhine River.

Jesse Oxendine: That was really a shock I had never heard of concentration camp. In fact, I don't think any of our officers had, and to walk in a place like that and see people, skeletons you might say, who wouldn't stand and could hardly walk, my first question was \"Who are these people?\" They had on these funny looking striped outfits and I knew they wasn't soldiers, I know they wasn't prisoners of war, but my first question was \"who are these people and what's the situation here?\"

Curt Locklear: When I came out of service we had to report up to Maxton [North Carolina]. We had ten days to sign off something that had to do with our service and, uh, while I was waiting for the bus to come I figured I might go get a haircut. I had forgotten about ...you know ...being gone for three years and living with white boys and dealing with white boys, I'd sort of forgotten where I'd come from or something. I went to the barber shop to get a haircut and the fellow put his cloth around my neck and go \"Whoa, aren't you and Indian?\" and I was like \"I sure am\", so he goes \"I'm sorry I can't cut your hair.\" And he explained why he couldn't, and I accepted it. The man had a job and that's the way he fed his family. Oh, we talked about 30 minutes later and I came out, caught the bus, came back, I doubt he ever thought of it since.

William Sampson: Every time that you went to a place in Lumberton [North Carolina], they had a sign there that said \"White only.\" Nobody could go in there but white people. You,couldn't use a bathroom, you couldn't go in their restaurants to eat. At the bus station, you couldn't go in the bus station to buy a ticket, you had to buy a ticket from a little window over there that said colored. Now that's where Indians and where colored people bought their tickets. White people went inside, but we could not go inside. When you went into the store, not like you can now, you weren't allowed to put your hands on it. If you wanted anything, the white man would show it to you and get it for you. You couldn't go in there and just pick it up and look at it. You weren't allowed to do that.

James Locklear: If I would've come back and things wouldn't have changed, I would've changed myself, I would've left. I anticipated going to Detroit to work more than one time when I first came back from service. And I still say if things wouldn't have, I would've change within myself. It was hard...after you go to the service and I was with whites, um and I had heard them talk about their opportunities, opportunities I didn't have. I had seen em but of course when a person tell you their opportunities. We discussed those things, me and them boys got very close to each other. How I live and how they lived and it was a very hard thing, mentally, to cope with. KKK

James Locklear: Well, I couldn't see myself being a second class citizen. I had tasted... us boys that went in the service had tasted what it was like to be a first class citizen. Well, I could go there with you, I could eat in restaurants with you. So I was one of the first one's that said I'm going, so I went. I had a P38 that I brought from overseas...a pistol, a German pistol that I brought from overseas. That was my weapon that night. And I was within 40 feet of the main set where the light was that was shot out. So I was there and I was going there right in the inner circle...but the light was shot out and that's what we call the stopping of it, that's when everybody started scattering. But I still say these two things are why I went out there that night I couldn't see myself being a second class citizen.

William Sampson: The Ku Klux Klan set up their rally in Maxton. They personally advertised that they were setting this rally up for the Indians. To show us just what, how much power they had or what they could really do and they said they were going to educate the Indians and uh...so the night that they got ready to set their rally, most of the Indians decided to go up there and stop this thing. My father and the other men, they got their guns, most of the veterans they got their guns, and they started for Maxton. When we got in Pembroke, the law began to talk to us, to tell us says \"You can't do that.\" And we had our mule, our wagons, our shotguns, our rifles, pistols, we rode on through Pembroke and rode on into Maxton.

Curt Locklear: It was supposed to have happened on a Friday night but it didn't happen on a Friday night. It happened the next night and my wife was gonna make sure I didn't go, but I had a friend and we pulled a deal on her and I got to go anyway. When I entered the place ...in just a few seconds or minutes or so after I entered the shots went off, and it was scary. It was like something in a movie of course. After that everyone cleared out and I came back home. I worried about that until the next day when I found out nobody got injured in the daily newspaper. That was my only fear...it was a mob, it was really a mob. It was something that you would hope would never happen again. It was nonsense, but uh, it was scary. Just like all those, I had my gun there. I shot up in the air a few times just to make a racket.

Curt Lockear: Just loads of the boys and the girls, as soon as they got discharged, they went to Baltimore and went to Detroit and got those jobs. Of course I've never been to Baltimore, never been to Detroit. My brother and I was just about loners in town, so many people had gone. So what we did, we just fished every evening, we farmed and fished every evening. Day after day and I had no desire to go to Detroit nor to Baltimore. Uh I wanted to stay with my grandad and my grandmother, my mother, my uncle Edward. I was right where I was born and that's where I'd been the whole time. It, uh, this was a beautiful place, still is. This is the only place, still is.

William Sampson: I would come home. I would stay maybe a week or two weeks then I would leave again. I first went to Baltimore then I left Baltimore and went to Detroit. I left Detroit and went to Ohio. Everywhere I went I wasn't happy so I finally come back to Robeson County. Got me a job, started construction work...I really didn't know. I was searching for something that I couldn't find.

James Locklear: We came back, I'd say we done quite a bit of change. First thing I wanted to do was get involved in politics. I never missed a vote. In 1950 in particular I was one of twelve people that formed an organization to get the blacks and the Indians to vote. See, very few people voted and that was our intentions, but we knew education and the ballot...the ballot box was the way to change things. And I was defiantly for that. I was kept out of school [Locklear was a teacher] for three years by, we might say, going against the grain. But I said... well someone says...would you change? I said no, but I knew it would change, I knew numbers would change.

Milford Oxendine: And growing up as a child...they should a done what I done. Be'a studying what you plan to do...don't drink...go to church-first, be saved...find you a good woman, and try to be somebody. Too many of them you can't tell them anything. They think they know it all. And a lot of them you talk to, they're listening, but they're not a'hearing.

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