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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Brantley Blue
INTERVIEWER: Lew Barton
DATE: April 19, 1973
LB: This is April 19, 1973. I am Lew Barton, interviewing for the
Doris Duke Foundation's American Indian oral history program.
Today we are in my home in Pembroke, North Carolina, on Barker
Street. The United States Indian claims commissioner, Brantley
Blue, has favored us with an interview.
Commissioner, we're so very happy to have you with us, and
you do us great honor.
BB: Well, Lew, it's real good being here. I'm familiar with the
Doris Duke Foundation oral history efforts; in fact, I was dis-
cussing it with a representative from the University of Florida
in Washington, and he inquired as to whether or not I felt there
would be those interested in the Robeson County area who would
take it upon themselves to try to arrange for such an oral history.
You were the first one that came to my mind at the time, along
with several others, and I'm real pleased to see that the program
is in effect and progressing as nicely as it is. I want to commend
you for it.
LB: Well, thank you very much, and we want to thank you for helping us
to organize this, and for thinking of me and the others in this
connection. You're very kind. How long have you been home?
BB: Oh, about three or four days ago. I have a week off, because my
daughter has a week off from school, and you know children and
women control the lives of men, historically and currently.
LB: The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that moves the world.
BB: That's right. So she was able to be here; that made me able to
come. So I'm renewing old acquaintances and making new ones and
really having a fine week.
LB: Well, that's great. You're here from Washington, D.C., of course,
and you're an appointee of President Richard M. Nixon. This is a
great honor, not only to you but to all our people, because you
represent all of us so well--not only our people, but all American
Indians throughout the United States. I certainly congratulate
BB: Well, I appreciate your very kind words.
LB: I'm very proud that you're an old friend of mine.
BB: Well, that friendship has meant so much through the years.
LB: How long have you been in this position?
BB: I was appointed in April of 1969. The Indian Claims Commission
was brought into existence by congressional action in 1946, and
had operated for that time from 1946 until 1969 without any
Indian being represented as a commissioner. The commission is
made up of five members; we have our staff. Primarily, the purpose
of the commission is to attempt to correct wrongs inflicted upon
Indian tribes and groups in the past, particularly where land was
taken or ceded.
LB: Were you the first Indian?
BB: Yes. There had been no Indian on it, and fortunately--or un-
fortunately, whichever way the case may go--President Nixon, when
he was running for the presidency in 1968, addressed the National
Congress of American Indians Convention by proxy--Senator Howard
Baker from Tennessee delivered the candidate Nixon's address for
him--and in that address, the promise was made by Mr. Nixon that
if he were elected president, he would appoint an Indian to the
first vacancy on the commission. It developed that shortly after
he was inaugurated, there was an interim appointment made by Mr.
Nixon's predecessor, but Mr. Nixon withdrew his name, and placed
mine in nomination, and I was appointed very shortly thereafter.
LB: Well, that's great. I remember that you and I received a special
award at the same time. Do you remember that date?
BB: Oh, that was in the Spring of 1969, shortly before my appointment,
just a few days. I think it was in April of 1969 at the campus of
Pembroke State University here in town.
LB: What was that award?
BB: Outstanding alumnus for the year.
LB: Right; this was presented by the P.S.U. Alumni.
BB: Yes, yes.
LB: I think mine was distinguished citizen of the year.
BB: Right, right.
BB: Well, I felt very comfortable having compatriots like you.
LB: You're very kind, Commissioner, as always. Just about how many
Indians are under your care in one degree or another?
BB: Well, the purpose of the commission, as I was seeking to explain,
is to look back. The Indian tribes and groups have filed law-
suits before the commission stating that they weren't paid enough
for their lands at the time they were either taken without the
benefit of a treaty or ceded by a treaty, and that they are en-
titled to additional compensation. That is the most common claim
that was filed before the commission. Other claims that were
filed were what we might call accounting cases--monies held in
trust by the United States government for the benefit of Indian
tribes. Very frequently the government would not treat those
monies with proper care. Sometimes portions of the monies were
spent for purposes unrelated to the direct benefit of the ward,
the Indian tribal group, by the trustees of the United States
government. And so we require the government to report to us when
such claims are filed what disposition has been made of all such
monies received. We determine whether or not the accounting is
proper, and if not, to what extent has the government misappropriated
or mishandled those funds, and require the government to make up
for any deficiency that occurs.
Now, the land claims that were filed before us...each tribe in
the country had five years in which to file any claim they had
against the United States government, which expired in 1951. There
were more than 400 such cases filed before the commission which
entailed over 90 percent of the continental limits of the United
States. So that has been our task--to decide those.,
LB: That's a lot of territory.
BB: Yes, everything but the eastern shore; it had already pretty well
been taken over by the settlers prior to our becoming a nation.
Indian tribes and groups that lost their lands prior to our adoption
of our constitution were out in the cold, because they had no claim
against the government, because it occurred prior to our forming a
government in this country.
Those were very complicated cases. The Indian tribe or the Indian
group presents its case showing how much land they claim that they
occupied at the time; how much was taken; how much was paid for, and
how much they should have been paid for it at the time. We're re-
stricted, however, now, in determining whether or not there was a
fair value paid for the land. We're restricted to what was its fair
market value at the time of the taking.
Some areas there were nine million acres involved. It's
not uncommon to have as much as nine, ten, thirteen million acres
involved with respect to one tribe. Over nine million acres, you
may have land that is primarily suited for farming; other areas of
the same portion primarily suited for timber; others, minerals. So
we experts have to look backward into history and try to determine
what were the mineral rights worth, if any; what were the timber
rights worth; what was the farming land worth--so that each section
has to be divided up, and separate appraisal made for the different
sections of the properties that were taken. It can get to be very,
very complicated. It can also become complicated.as far as the
anthropology situation is concerned--what particular tribe really
occupied, in an Indian fashion, this particular section? Sometimes
two tribes were claiming an overlapping situation, and we have to
discern and decide between that.
The government, of course, with its lawyers resist in a judicial
way just about every claim the Indians make, and so we have a law-
suit about it. It takes a long time for the evidence to be brought
in, for the lawyers to submit the briefs, argue the law, and then
make our decision. Any decision we make is subject to be appealed
by either the Indian tribal group or the United States government
to the Court of Claims.
LB: It's time consuming.
BB: Yes. Either losing side then can appeal to the United States
Supreme Court, which has the finality.
LB: I wanted to ask you something about your personal biography before
we get too far along with these other things, which are certainly
interesting. I also wanted to ask you about California and Florida,
and maybe I'd better ask this while it's on my mind, since I'm a
little bit scatter-brained. Is it true that 80 percent of California
and 80 percent of Florida actually belonged to the Indians at one
BB: Well, Indians occupied the entire state of Florida, and the entire
state of California at one time, of course.
LB: But I mean legally.
BB: Well, if they occupied it, they had Indian title.
LB: Right. And these two claims have been settled, haven't they?
BB: They've been tried. The Florida claim was tried by the commission,
and we issued a judgement. The California claim involving the
Indians of California, that particular case was settled. It was
agreed upon by the Indians involved, and the United States govern-
ment, and the commission approved the settlement that both sides
of the lawsuit agreed upon.
LB: I've heard, I seem to recall, from Reader's Digest something about
Indian religions were complicating the matter, and that the Indians
feel that the land was given to them by The Great Spirit, and
therefore they had no right to sign it away in any way. Was this
part of the complication, or am I right, or a little imaginative?
BB: Well, in certain Indian tribes and groups we have what we call
the traditionalist segment of the tribe, and they tend to go in
that direction. Not that they were given the land, or that...
their proposition is that nobody owns land. Mother earth is to
be worshipped, not to be owned.
BB: That Mother earth gives life and receives death. This is a very
strong part of general Indian religious philosophy. Historically,
they have not been able to understand the concept of land ownership.
which is very difficult for any man to do if he looks at it from
their standpoint, because we know that however much a man may acquire
by paper writing, he really doesn't own the land. He possesses it,
occupies it for awhile.
BB: Yes. And this is the Indian culture, which is very difficult to
shoot any holes in. It was hard for them to understand how some-
body could come along and with a piece of paper claim ownership
to the exclusion of all others. You know, the Indian culture was
communal, not our own individual ownership of such as land.
LB: Governor Angus W. McLean [Democrat 1925-'29, North Carolina] recorded
that our own land here was owned communal, and that our people knew
nothing about land titles until the approach of the white man.
LB: So I guess we have that in common with other groups.
BB: Yes, and the Robeson County Indians here have a communal concept
particularly so far as the big families are concerned. If there's
food on one table, it doesn't cause embarrassment for another to
place the feet under the table and eat and partake of the food.
If there's food or lodging, there's a real feeling of closeness
among Robeson County Indians of sharing. That's why when they leave
here and go to Baltimore or other big cities, they tend to share
apartments, houses, everything else. It's not unusual to find members
of various families staying together because of this togetherness, and
it has its roots back in the Indian culture.
LB: Could we talk about your biography a bit before we wander foo far
away? There are so many things we'd like to discuss.
BB: Well, I was born here in Robeson County, Pembroke, in 1925. Attended
public schools here.
LB: Which schools?
BB: Pembroke Grammar School; Pembroke High School, after which I went
to Baltimore to work for about a year, then came back and began
college at Pembroke State College it was at the time, for half a
year, then went in to service. Then spent a few years in service;
got out of service; finished my....
LB: Which branch of service?
BB: Navy. And finished my first year of college here in Pembroke.
Then I went to Lebanon, Tennessee--Cumberland University--completed
my pre-law there, and then attended law school at Cumberland University
in Lebanon, Tennessee for three years, and took the Tennessee Bar,
passed it and spent twenty years practicing law in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Went to Kingsport--never been there before--went there as a stranger
after I got my law license. Went there on its reputation that it had
throughout the state as a young man's town. My mother borrowed $300
from the bank here in Pembroke, so I took $300, went to Kingsport,
Tennessee, strange town, started practicing law. I'd never try it
again. I have more sense now, than to take such a chance.
LB: How did your mother feel about you becoming a lawyer?
BB: Well, when I first told her that I was going to go to law school,
she says, "You know, it's a sure way of signing your death warrant
in the hell fire."
And I said, "Why?"
She says, "Well, you know what the Bible say about doctors and
lawyers will be untrue."
I say, "Well, you know lawyers back then were experts in
the Jewish law; they were the preachers of the day. They didn't
have what we call lawyers today, so maybe I'll get back."
LB: I seem to remember that in one time she sort of frowned on your
political affiliation, too.
BB: Oh, well, yes. I changed my church denomination, and she thought
that was terrible. I changed my political affiliation, and she
thought that was terrible, and by the way, after she was over
seventy years old, she even changed hers to that party now.
LB: Right, I remember the day because I accompanied her over there.
They had an oath,you know, that you're supposed to take, and I
said, "It may be that this lady has religious scruples about
taking an oath." Of course, they knew who she was, and, well,
"She won't have to take any oath, just get her to
sign it. Does she object to signing it?"
She says, "I can talk for myself." So there was no problem
there at all.
BB: There are such things as changes, and most people are just reluctant.
They're fearful of change; they're fearful of the unknown. But we've
got to risk the unknown. I don't know what made me want to become
a lawyer, except for some signs that I used to see in the county
seat--"For White Only"--on restaurant windows and the like, and it
dawned on me that the best way to combat such actions condoned by
law is to get to know a little bit about the law, and try to get
them changed, and such as that.
Unfortunately, after I finished law school and passed the Tennessee
bar, I was wanting, of course, to come back to Pembroke and practice
law, and be the first standing lawyer here, but I wasn't successful
in attempting to interest the North Carolina law school. That's why
I went to Tennessee. After passing the Tennessee bar, was not success-
ful in getting to take the North Carolina bar. Any little excuse
possible is used, or was used, back then at least, to try to keep
things in the status quo that they then were here by the structure.
While I was in Tennessee practicing law for twenty years, I was
fortunate enough to be a city judge in Kingsport for four years, and
I was active in community affairs. We had the twenty-sixth largest
American Legion post in the world, Hammond post number three. I
became commander of Hammond post; became president of the Civic Club
that I was involved in; chairman of the church board; teacher of the
men's class. I was active in various civic endeavors.
LB: Would you mind giving us the name of the church?
BB: First Christian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee.
LB: Who was it you married, Commissioner?
BB: I married Dorothy Mallum from that county. She had some in-
fluence upon me. She happened to be a member of this particular
church, the Christian Church, and she also happened to be a Republican.
I guess husbands and wives influence each other, and learn from each
other...sometimes fail to learn from each other.
LB: Unfortunately. Well, how about your present family? How many
children do you have?
BB: I have two daughters. One is twenty, and one is fourteen. The
oldest is married, and the younger...Janet is married; Patricia,
the fourteen year old, is of course still with us, and is finishing
junior high school this year. We presently live in Fairfax, Virginia,
just outside of Washington. She's attending the public schools there.
LB: Well, I'm certainly happy that you've come so far. You've been very
helpful to people here at home, and we sort of learned to depend
on you. Maybe we sort of take advantage of you. Do you think we
BB: No, no. I'm very deeply interested in the advancements that I see
being made in Robeson County by the Indian community. Interested
in having what little input I may have by telephone or by letter
or by personal visits in trying to speed up the accomplishments
that are being made by the Robeson County Indians, and, to the
extent that I may, trying to devise ways and means of helping to
bring about progressive, constructive Indian advancements in the
county. It's entirely true here, just as it is all over the country,
what President Nixon said to Congress in his special Indian message
to them in 1970--that the Indians in this country are at the bottom
of the ladder educationally, socially, and in every other way, and
it is quite shameful and disturbing that the native Americans, the
first Americans, would be the most disenfranchised and the most
disadvantaged group in this country today. It concerns me very
deeply. And to the extent that I can have any input on it, and
not let it conflict with my official duties, I'm most anxious to
LB: Well, that's certainly great. Now, we've seen some change take
place. You and I were discussing, I think, about twenty years ago,
when I started writing and complaining a little bit--Lew Barton's
lamentations, you might call it. Anyway, things were pretty
glum at that time.
BB: So glum, Lew, that I was very pleased to see your voice of
discontent, because for all my life people had seemed to be
so hopeless. Nobody appeared to dare even publicly discuss
our plight. Of course, there were always mutterings about it
among ourselves, but so far as taking a public stand and attract-
ing the attention of others to the proposition that we knew
that our plight was bad, and that something ought to be done
about it--that there should be a pride among our people, rather
than shame.... We had nothing to be ashamed of; we had plenty
to be proud of. Your voice was the first responsible voice
that really went public through the then Lumbee paper, and it
pleased me very much to know that you were doing that. I
recall writing you a letter about twenty years ago about it...
or maybe fifteen years ago, or somewhere along that.
LB: Yes, I still have that letter, which I treasure very much.
The reason I was tolerated at all in the press, I suppose,
at that time, was that people knew I stood alone.
BB: Yeah. It made the potion fizzle out.
LB: Mrs. Taylor, who is also an interviewer for the Doris Duke
Foundation, I think she has attached a pretty good title to
me. Or at least she got it somewhere, I don't know whether
it originated with her or not. She used a phrase like, "a
tiger with velvet claws."
BB: Oh, yeah, that's quite descriptive.
LB: I do worry about those things. What do you think about change?
How has it changed since you left, or at any point in the
BB: Well, shortly before his death in 1942...my father and mother
had nine children, and he'd aged before his death. He was stricken
with a heart attack, and called the older children around him, and
in effect said if you ever want to amount to anything you must
leave Pembroke, because the opportunities here are so few. You
can either farm or teach school, and that's about it. Which was
true. That was thirteen years ago. Nowadays, things have changed
during that period of time to such an extent that that's no longer
true. The cream of the crop, so to speak, intellectually and in
other ways among our people don't have to leave Pembroke to
accomplish and to achieve, because more fields are opening.
You don't have to fall into one particular category, or one
of two particular categories, in order to make a decent living.
You're not just automatically restricted and cramped to that
There is this that I think is one thing that caused so many
members of the Indian community to feel...well, you know, "I
must be quite different if I'm so restricted," and there was
a strong feeling at that time of not taking too much pride in
being Indian. That feeling has changed. The opportunities
have become more numerous, and the people have more sense of
pride. They have had proven to them that you can do, even though
you're Indian. I feel a great surge that has occurred along
those lines, and a man has to have a little self-confidence,
or a boy or a girl, they have to have hope in order to be motivated.
The hope and the motivation is stronger today than it's ever
been, but there are still those, unfortunately, who appear not
to be too highly motivated, and maybe view that which has occurred
as something maybe of a temporary nature. But I'm confident that
it's of a lasting nature. We have Indians now participating in
the decision-making process of the country, such as having two
Indian commissioners on the county commission. We have real con-
cerned and intelligent Indian representation on the county school
board, which is something that is very vital to the well-being of
the Indian community, the educational aspects. In other areas,
we're receiving more representation. There's still a far piece
to go, but we're closer to having fair representation than we've
ever been in our history, and this is very very encouraging. I
look at it with great hope.
LB: Oh, that's great. What do you envision for the future of our
people? Do you think we'll continue to make progress in the
LB: And in other areas?
BB: It's about like how long it took for the mind of man to reach the
point to where it could put together a match that could be struck
and lighted. It has taken our people quite a number of years to
make some of these basic accomplishments, and once made....
[Taped interview ends abruptly. The rest of the cassette