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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Vonnie Oxendine, Jr.
INTERVIEWER: Lew Barton
DATE: October 1, 1975
B: This is October 1, 1975. I'm Lew Barton, interviewing for the
University of Florida's History Department, American Indian
Oral History Program. This afternoon I am at the library of
the American Indian Studies Center, at 211 South Broadway in
Baltimore, Maryland, 21231. With me is a gentleman who has
kindly consented to give me an interview.
Would you mind telling us, sir, what your name is?
0: I'm Vonnie Oxendine, Jr.
B: You live here in Baltimore?
0: Yes, I do. I live in the northeast section of Baltimore.
B: I understand you're connected with the Center in some way.
Would you mind telling us?
0: I have been connected with the Center. I served on the board
of directors for the American Indian Studies Center in Baltimore,
Mayland, since its beginning in 1968. One year as the vice-presi-
dent, and all the other years as a board of directors member.
B: How old are you, Mr. Oxendine?
0: I'm forty-one years of age. I came to Baltimore in 1953. I'm
not married, I'm single. My brother and I, he's slightly younger
than I am, we share a home together here, of which we own.
B: What's his name?
0: His name is Craven Oxendine.
B: Is your father and mother living?
0: My father is deceased, twenty-seven years ago. My mother is
B: What was your father's name?
0: My father was Vonnie Oxendine, Sr.
B: And your mother?
0: My mother was Sadie May Locklear Oxendine.
B: Who was she before she was married?
0: She was the daughter of John V. Locklear and Locklear
of Robeson County--the Burnt Swamp Community.
B: Well, not everybody enjoys married life, and I'll tell you
there's a lot be said for the bachelor state, of which I've
recently forsook. But I guess each has its good points, doesn't
0: It does.
B: How long have you been working at the restaurant?
0: I have been at the restaurant project here for the American
Indian Studies Center program--it's the work experience
program through Manpower--for three months. I come to them
from the Marriot Corporation, one of the largest chains of res-
taurants in the United States.
: What position do you hold at the restaurant?
0: I'm the manager-trainee for the restaurant project.
B: And you're going to be training young people how to make out
in the restaurant business?
0: I'll be training...all of the employees of the restaurant, I'll
have to work directly with--me and an assistant manager-trainee--
cooking, waitresses, all our utility, cashiers, and over-all
training, this whole entire establishment.
B: Well, that sounds like a fascinating job, and a challenging one
too. Of course, you love that kind of work, don't you?
0: I do.
B: And how long do you say you've been in the restaurant business?
0: Seventeen years.
B: That's great.
0: I started with the Marriot Corporation seventeen years ago, first
as a potwasher for them. I worked my way through the restaurant
until the first cook's position. I worked all the cooks' posi-
tions in the kitchen. I worked at the first cook's position, and
in my years in between, from 1965 on up to 1973, I travelled in
many different parts of the country, and trained cooks for them
in their cafeteria division.
B: Sounds fascinating. Do you have any special thing that you are
going to feature over there, or any special plans for the res-
taurant. I understand it's called The Council Fire.
0: Yes, the name of the restaurant is The Council Fire Restaurant.
Our food will be cooked by native Americans, and the slogan for
the restaurant willbe "Native American cooking with a Southern
accent." We'll feature some native American dishes that is
well-known to the Lumbees, and some that relates to other tribes
of Indians, particularly in the Southeastern part of the United
B: That's great. I certainly wish you all of the best in the world.
I am sure you are going to be very successful with that project.
Having eaten some of your cooking already, I want you to know
that I'm looking forward to eating over at The Council Fire.
0: Thank you.
B: And let's see now, I wanted to ask to ask you a few other questions.
Like, have you encountered any problems since being here? Have you
found being an Indian was a disadvantage, or an advantage, or may-
be neither of these?
0: Not really a disadvantage. I've had my share of disappointments,
but I don't think I was disappointed because I was an Indian. It
was more prejudices, I think, because I was an Indian.
B: Well, I guess we've all encountered some of that, and some in
different areas of the country. Do you think people are more
prejudiced in the state of Maryland, or in the state of North
Carolina against Indians?
0: I don't think so. I think people try to understand us more here
than they have in North Carolina. Maybe the present time is
B: Do our people change when they come to the city? Do you think
they have to undergo a lot of changes--the way they live, maybe
think and act?
0: I think some have changed. I think it's more or less up to the
individual himself, of being an urban Indian. These days it
should be different in living in the country from Robeson County
from which we came, but I find that some pretty well are the
B: Do you think there will always be an Indian community in
0: I think so.
B: Some people are fixed pretty permanently, aren't they?
0: Yes, they are.
B: I've heard other people say that they plan to go back to North
Carolina some day. Do you think you'll ever return?
0: Yes, I'm making preparations now. I'm glad you asked me that
question. I do plan to go back to North Carolina; my family
has quite a large chunk of land there, and my brother and I
being the only sons in the family, the land is left in charge
to us. I think for that reason and that...if I live to get
in later years, approximately fifty or fifty-five years old,
I would like to return there, because I have six sisters there,
and I enjoy being with them.
B: Well, North Carolina must have some good points in its favor
0: It does.
B: It's home; that's one thing.
0: I'll always say that Robeson County is home.
B: Well, I've enjoyed it since I've been here. And I plan to re-
turn for about three months; I think I'll be in Carolina, or I
might be back here. Of course, that depends on the board of
directors, and other things. I have to complete my book, a
couple of books, and get it out of the way, and then I'll have
a free hand to work. I've enjoyed it very much since I've been
here, and I'm encouraged to see our people going on as well as
they are. Their financial condition is better here, wouldn't
0: Yes, it is.
B: Are you the only one of your brothers that live here?
0: I have another brother that lives with me.
B: It is just you two from North Carolina?
0: Just we two, the only two boys.
B: I see. And how do you manage to stay unhitched?
0: Well, it hasn't been no problem. I just never let nobody get
that close to me, I guess.
B: Well, I understand there are lots of eligible women around.
0: There is. I have lots of friends.
B: Maybe you'll change your mind some day.
0: Well, they....
B: I thought my son would never change his mind. He was about as
confirmed a bachelor as anybody I've known, I guess, but he met
a sweet little girl (and this was Bruce,) and so a few months
ago he was married. I liked her very much. I always said,
"You and I are going to work to trap that old bachelor!" (Laughter)
She said, "You'd better help me!" Anyway, they were married a
few weeks ago, and they seem to be very happy. Married Miss
Barbara Carter, and they seem to be very happy.
Of course, I tried it again. Two of my sons got married
within the past two months. It was Roger Dale, and Bruce, and
I--I think we gotmarried, all three of us, in the same month.
Can you beat that?
0: No, that's wonderful.
B: So I says, "Well, the Bartons must be on a marriage spree."
B: I suppose it's whatever you are used to, comfortable with, a
Do you think migration is increasing in this direction, or
staying about the same? Do you think more people are coming to
0: I don't think so. I think it's staying about the same, and some
people are returning to Robeson County about now.
B: About how many people are working with you at The Council Fire?
0: We have hired to this date thirteen people, but in all, the res-
taurant will hire approximately twenty-four people.
B: Now, when you get the present people trained, will they be on
permanently, or will you take others on, or what?
0: Some will be permanently. After a year's time, if there is any
wants to leave and seek employment elsewhere, we should hope
that they will be prepared by the knowledge and experience they
have gained, the training in our restaurant, to go somewhere
else and work. But we will keep a staff of the employees that
we have hired.
B: I like the name. I wonder who came up with that name.
0: The name Council Fire, a young Lumbee lady named Mary Taylor
named the restaurant.
B: Is this the very pretty girl who plays on the Lumbee Indian Girls'
0: I'm not sure that she plays on the softball team, but she is a
young, pretty girl.
B: This is, she's about fifteen or sixteen, somewhere in there?
0: Right in that age bracket.
B: Uh, huh. Yes, I know her. I like the name very much. Wonder
if we're going to have Miss American Indian of Baltimore again
this year? Have you heard any talk about that?
0: Mrs. has been working on that. I do hope we can get that
pageant going. It shouldn't be dropped; it was very interesting.
B: Yes, I thought so. Yes, we do need somebody to represent us.
Do you find any great differences between living here and living
back in the Carolinas?
0: I don't think I would find now any great differences from that
I lived there. When I came to Baltimore, it was much different
then. There was a great difference at that time, the working
conditions for which I did come here for. But I don't think
there would be that much difference now; in fact, I think I would
enjoy living there now.
B: Mostly your problem was a problem of training, wasn't it?
B: Now that you've got your training, you are training other young
people, and I think that's just great.
0: Thank you.
B: You don't have a time set when you are going to open up?
0: Not an exact date, but as it stands now, we should be completed
in approximately two weeks.
B: Well, I certainly hope everything works out. Now Mr. Barley
Grimm is the director of the project in this area, isn't
0: Yes, he is.
B: Mr. Oxendine, if there was some thing you could do, anything you
could change about Indian people or in connection with the Indian
community, what would it be? What would you like to see changed,
or whether we're talking about the Indian community here or the
Indian community at large? Is there any pet wish you wish you
could make for Indian people in the world?
0: Yes, I would like to see Indian people try to work closely together
in harmony with each other for the benefit of all Indians everywhere.
One thing I'd especially like to see is the Indian people encourage
their youth, their children. Whether be your children or not,
encourage young native Americans to go to school for a better edu-
B: That's great; that's certainly a good wish. Do you think schools
are better here or back in Carolina.
0: I haven't been in the school system there since twenty-three years
ago when I left school, but I think our school standards in North
Carolina would be about the same as here now.
B: That's good. The school system back home is changing, improving,
I'm sure. I wonder if there is something that you would like to
add to what you have already said about the restaurant operation?
If you'd tell us anything you'd like to tell in your own way, we'd
appreciate it. Very interesting project.
0: Our restaurant will feature many different selections of food,
of which we gave some very fancy names to. Our distinguished
president of the council of the American Indian Studies Center,
Mr. Herbert H. Locklear, and I, Vonnie Oxendine, Jr., we worked
on the menus for quite some time. We'll have such items on
the menu as Blue Dumplings, a recipe of the Creek Indians
from Oklahoma; cornbread pudding, a recipe of the Creek Indians
of Oklahoma; and our own recipe favorite among the Lumbee
Indians, chicken and pasta, which will be a dinner special on
Sunday. Many of our recipes have been tested by me, Vonnie
Oxendine, in my home, at my own cost. That is my donation to
the restaurant, my knowledge of food through the years that
I've gained, and I'm delighted that I can come and share it
with my people.
B: That's certainly great. How about your prices, Mr. Oxendine?
Are they going to compare favorably with the prices at other
0: Yes, they will, Mr. Barton. Our prices will be right in the
range with other eating establishments in the area. Some of
the items will be slightly higher; we took that in considera-
tion of our restaurant being a very good-class restaurant,
that our prices might be slightly higher.
B: Well, you might have some items that were actually lower too,
0: We ddu We do have some items that are very low-priced, and in
the event that someone didn't have two dollars to spend for
lunch or dinner, they could get a satisfactory meal in the neigh-
borhood of $1.25.
B: Well, that's great. That's very great. If I come to your place
and look around and try to get me some collard greens, which I
dearly love, am I going to be able to get collard greens?
0: Yes, you will. They won't be on the menu every day, because
people might get tired of them every day, but they will be on
the menu from time to time.
B: Have you ever seen anybody cook collards the way we cook them
0: Yes, I have.
B: I have been disappointed with collard greens when I go in the
restaurants, because they just don't seem to know what to do
with them. You know, like boiling them without any seasoning,
or anything like that.
0: Some restaurants don't cook them the way that we Lumbees do.
They steamed them sometimes. I know for a fact that they
steamed the greens with only some very light seasoning over
them, but they are not like we Lumbees know how to cook them
with the seasoning, or fry the collards the way that we are
noted for through the years.
B: Well, they're certainly very popular back home among Indian
people. I think collards are something that sort of grow on
you, though, more or less, don't you? For example, children
don't usually like them very much, but the older they get,
the more they like collard greens.
0: I guess.
B: I love them. I could eat them for breakfast, really.
0: I loved them also. I recall how, in my years as a child, seeing
my mother give them to very small children, some of the grand-
children, when they would visit them occasionally. I recall
seeing her feeding them collard greens, or cabbage with some
cornbread, and they seemed to love them.
B: Yeah, they really are tasty. They're better...you know when
they are best to me is in the fall of the year, when the frost
first falls and hits your collard greens.
0: That's an old saying I've heard through the years among our
people. It seems to make them sweeter. The bitterness leaves
them, after the frost hits them.
B: It's a very valuable vegetable, too because you can grow it all
the year round. You can keep collard greens the year round,
except when there is snow on the ground, probably.
B: And even then they sometimes survive the snow.
0: That's true.
B: Well, you've been very kind to give us your time, and I know
the time is running out. Very shortly now, people will be
going home, I don't want to detain you unduly. I appreciate
so much this opportunity of talking with you, and of you sharing
your experiences with us along these lines. And I want to wish
you good luck and Godspeed in all your endeavors, both as a mem-
ber of the tribal council and in your works.
0: Thank you kindly, Mr. Barton. It's been a pleasure.
B: Thank you very much.