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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
4PA 1-1o ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
University of Florida
126 Florida State Museum
In view of the historical value of this oral history interview,
I, Lew Barton -- Are They Really Indians? knowingly and
(interviewee, full name, please print)
voluntarily permit the University of Florida Oral History Program
the full use of this information for whatever purposes it may have,
in return for which I will receive a typed copy of the interview.
(interviewee signature) I (date)
LUM 185 A
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY/AFFIRMATIVE ACTION EMPLOYER
SUBJECT: What People Want to Know Most About the Lumbee Indians
BY: Lew Barton
PAGE 1 bes
B: What People Want to Know Most About the Lumbee Indians by Lew
Barton. Question: Are they really Indians? Answer: Yes. Here me
out. Herein I shall give such documentation as I have on hand employing
the same criteria as is used by the federal government. In 1970
when the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare
accepted an objectionable desegregation plan presented by the Robson
County Board of Education, the Concerned Indians Parents organization
was formed with Luther C.Opsendein as president. I acted as correspondent
for that organization. In connection with my duties with that organization,
I gathered as much information as possible for presentation to a federal
court, should that become necessary, At first, in order to obtain any
relief from what we considered an unfair desegregation plan, it was felt
that it was necessary once again in our history to prove our Indianness.
On one page of the work which I prepared, I have some material entitled
"Lumbees Regarded as Indians by County's Oldest Newspaper." I wrote
various departments at the federal government employ various criteria as
to what identifies one as an Indian. One such criteria is whether the
Indians are regarded as Indians by the community in which they reside.
The Lumbee Indians are regarded as Indians by the people of their
native county, Robeson. Proof of this is reflected in the editorial
, which appeared in the Robesonian, which has been
published the county's capital for more than one hundred years and
has taken special interest in county history, publishing a mammoth
historical edition in 1951 and again this year. (That was in 1970).
It has published numerous pieces of history in addition to these special
editions. The editorial that follows dated Wednesday, September 30,
1970 speaks for itself: heading of editorial "Distinctions Diffused"
Are the Scots in the Robeson area in danger of losing their cultural
heritage? In so far as official recognition at the federal government
level is concerned, that seems to be a possibility.
From the way the cultural heritage of the Lumbee Indians is
regarded by the government, the theory that many persons in this county
are descendents of early Scotish settlers might be discounted because
the Highland Fling is not danced as much as it used to be, kilts have
been assimilated into the mini-skirt culture, bagpipes are seldom heard
here, and it has been ages since anyone was hit with a claymore. Hear,
hear. Does that mean Lew Barton: this is scottish territory as well
as Indian territory.
Thus, writers and investigators and government officials from
distant states could come to Robeson County, spend a few hours or days
looking around, and then go back where they came from, announcing that
there are few if any evidences of distinctive scottish heritage or culture
in Robeson County--no clannish customs, dances or rituals, no peculiarities
of dress, no typical Scottish houses, not even a decided preference for
scotch over bourbon.
For more than two hundred years--even before there was a United
States as such--it has been recognized that there were living in this
area people who came from Scotland, and their descendents. But if they
had to prove their Scottish heritage now, on the basis of surface
evidence which obviously set them apart from non-Scottish citizens, they
might encounter official skepticism at the highest government levels.
And of course that editorial was written by my good friend G. A. Sharp, Jr.,
Jack Sharp, Jr. We/call him Jack Sharp. And I have got here a note
note, the two most prominent non-Negro groups in Robeson County are the
Scotch and the Lumbees. Neither Scotch-Americans nor Lumbee-Americans
in Robeson speak their original languages. Nor, for that matter, do
French-Americans, Afro-Americans or any others. For many decades,
American Indians have been threatened by extinction if they did not
"become civilized." Now that the Lumbee Indians are, and have more
than a hundred churches of their own,
to prove it, excluding their schools, they are being penalized for their
Christian-American conversion and compliance.
And that is the end of the page that I had written to present
to the court, had it become necessary. I should explain here that I
was one of the plaintiffs in this court case which is still pending and
which never has been tried. The black people in our county filed a suit
because of this bogus integration plan simultaneously. Those did not
come to action either. Now here is another historical exhibit I prepared
for this same case should it come up.
Ben A. Franklin, a New York Times writer, recently quoted an-anonymous
B.I.A. official as stating that the Lumbee Indians "have no heritage to
preserve." This wasn't anything new, really. On April 21, 1966, the
Lumbee, newspaper of the Lumbee Indians at that time, published a reply
to that kind of charge from an irate Caucasion-reader. This is the letter
carried by the Lumbee on the date of April 21, 1966. You will recall that
it was then that the Ku Klux Klan was trying to make a come-back in Robeson
county also. And here he writes a letter to the editor and refers to a
previous letter written by me or a previous article by me, I don't recall
which. To the Editor: as Mr. Lew Barton said in a recent column, people
have sometimes in their ignorance stated absurd things about the Lumbees.
Also as Mr. Barton said, many outsiders have expressed doubts as to
whether or not the Lumbees are really Indians. If I may, I'd like to say
a few words about the people who make those absurd statements and about
those/informed outsiders who have such doubts.
I'm well-acquainted with such doubters. I know the type very well.
A typical doubter is the self-styled "purer" one hundred per cent "Anglo-
Saxon American"who, though he lacks any training in ethnology and anthro-
pology, is an"expert" 'on races and nationalities. I know several
such "experts" here in Whitefield (it says the writer lived in Whitefield,
about forty miles from Robeson County).
However, though they are such "authorities" on what the Lumbees are
not, such individuals display a profound ignorance of their own Anglo-Saxon
history. Most such individuals are completely ignorant of true Anglo-Saxon
traditions and definitely no credit to Anglo-Saxondom.
When it comes to Anglo-Saxon traditions it's quite probable/the Lumbees,
as descendents of the lost colony, have a greater and far more legitimate
claim to the name of Anglo-Saxon than many white doubting Thomases."
One so called"proof" that the Lumbees aren't Indians aw the fact
that they don't have a distinctive Indian language, as for example do the
Sioux and the Cherokees.
Well, how many whites of Highland Scot ancestry in this area speak
Gaelic? The fact is that you won't find any Gaelic speaking North Carolinians.
But just because the Highland Scot doesn't speak Gaelic, that doesn't
mean that he isn't Highland Scot. It simply means that he doesn't know the
language of his forefathers. In that respect, he is in the same boat with
And how many whites of lowland Scots descent speak the Northumbrian
variety of English commonly called Scottish? How many of the numerous white
families of Huguenot ancestry in this area speak French as their mother
tongue? No, language or the lack of it is no proof of ethnic origin.
I've heard it said by"self-styled experts" that the Lumbees
couldn't possibly be Indians because most of them don't remember the Indians
of the Southwest. Well, my answer to that so-called "proof" is a question:
Is the blond, blue-eyed typical Nordic Swede any less European than the
dark-eyed, swarthy typical Latin Sicilian? Is an Albanian or a Slovak any
less European than a German or a Hungarian? Just as all Europeans don't
look exactly alike, so not all American Indians look exactly alike.
Of course the Lumbees aren't identical with the Apaches and the
Navajo. Why should they be? The Lumbees are a separate, distinct tribe
and they have their own special identity, an identity of which they can be
I believe that the _. are in the minority. No well-informed
white person in this area today doubts that the Lumbees are Indians. But
as Mr. Barton points out, things have been said by ignorant individuals
that have been bitterly resented by Lumbees. Though, I'm a pale-face,
myself, but I, too, resent anything said against the Lumbees, because I
know the Lumbees to be the finest, noblest, and most honorable people to
be found anywhere in the whole United States. In my opinion, anti-Lumbeeism
is anti-Americanism. Sincerely, Ralph Royal Gore, P.O. Box 47, Witebille,
N.C. That's the end of that page.
Now we come to another page of this material prepared to present to
the federal authorities should it become necessary. The heading of this
next one is "Lumbees Regarded as Indians by Robeson Industrial Plant,"
And I wrote: the following story was published recently on page twenty-two
of the Goodrich Footwear plant official publication, Tempo. The plant,
located at Lumberton, North Carolina (county seat of Robeson County), employs
several thousand Lumbee Indian workers. This story reflects the fact that
they are considered to be Indians. End of what I had written. Here is the
article in toto: It's called"The Mystery of the Lost Colony," and it has
a picture of a tree with the word "croatoan" carved on it. In 1587, a
hundred and fifty settlers sailed from England to what was then Virginia to
establish a colony in the new world. Twenty-seven days after they landed on
Roanoke Island, a baby girl was born. The first English child to be born on
the American continent, Virginia Dare was the granddaughter of the settlers'
leader John White.
Later that year, White was forced to sail for England to get much
needed supplies for this struggling colony. When he finally returned to
America in 1591, his colony was gone. There was no trace of little Virginia
Dare or any of the other colonists. (And as of course that's an error as
we shall see.) The only clue to
their disappearance was the word"Croatoan" carved on a tree.
The mystery of the lost colony has long plagued historians. But many
feel the mystery has been solved by the Lumbee Indians, descendants of the
Hatteras Indians who lived in the area of Roanoke Island at the time the
lost colony was founded. Today, many Lumbee Indians live in Robeson County
and many work in D. S. G.'s footwear plant in Lumberton.
According to Lumbee law, their forefathers helped the people of white
colony to move inland from their island home to better land farther away
from the threats of the enemy Indian chief Powhatan, best known as the
father of Pocahontas.
As time passed, the Indians and the English inter-married, and the
Lumbee Indians claim to be the descendants of those Indians and the lost
But the story is more than just tribal history: there are many
undeniable facts to support the Lumbees claim. First is the testimony
of John White, written after the return to the little colony:
"According to a secret token agreed between them
[the colonists] and me at my last departure fro them, which was that in
any ways they should not fail to write or carve on the trees or posts of
the doors the name of the place where they should be settled or at my coming
away they were prepared to remove to Roanoke fifty miles into the main.
Therefore at my departure from them...I willed then, that if they should
happen to be distressed in any of these places then they should carve
over the letters or name a cross (and it shows a cross drawn) in this
form, but we found no such signs of distress....And having well considered
of this, we passed toward the place where they were left in sundry
houses, but we found the houses taken down, and the place very strongly
enclosed with a high palisade of great trees.....And one of the chief
trees or posts at the right side of the entrance had the bark taken off
and the letter five feet from the ground in fair capital letters was
graven C-R-0-A-T-O-A-N without any cross or sign or distress...although
it much grieved me to see such spoil of my goods yet on the other side
I great joyed that I had safely found a certain token of their safety
at Croatoan, which is the place where Manteo [a friendly Hatteras chief]
was born, and the savages of the island our friends."
Seventy years after the disappearance of the lost colony an Englishman
returned to North Carolina and "discovered" the Lumbee Indians, the tribe
could both speak and understand English. Yet, there is no record of any
Englishman, other than the lost/ who could have taught the Indians to
speak English at so early a period.
The Indians were also aware of land grants and the rights of property,
and still today they own land deeded from those early times.
The Indians had English names, many of the same names as those of
the lost colonists. In fact, when the first census was taken in America
in 1790, the counter found no less than twenty-four lost colony surnames,
occurring one hundred and six times, in Robeson County. And still today,
many Lumbee Indians carry names of the lost colonists, both as surnames and
as first names." And that is the end of that article. Mr. W. J. Strickland,
(this is a note I'm adding, a Lumbee Indian who was then a personnel manager
at the Goodrich plant, helped to prepare that particular article. We have
an interview of him elsewhere.) I end this series of tapes.
Another historical exhibit which I planned to present to the federal
government, should that become necessary is contained on another page
which I call "Historical Exhibit Number Three" and the heading reads:
"Governor Bob Scott Regards Lumbees as Indians". I have written under
It is evident from the following historic proclamation, that Governor
Bob Scott, of North Carolina, considers the Lumbees to be Indians: (and
I have Xeroxed a copy of this document) This proclamation by the governor
of the stateof North Carolina at that time it has the seal of the executive
department across the top it has the state of North Carolina, Governor
Robert Scott. And here is the wording of the proclamation.
WHEREAS, the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County are an historic part
of the cultural heritage of North Carolina; and
WHEREAS, the Lumbees are observing their homecoming day in Pembroke
on the same day our nation is observing its one hundred and ninety fourth
anniversary of independence; and
WHEREAS, it is stating that, on this important day, we recognize the
Lumbee Indians for their contributions to our state;
THEREFORE, I proclaim Saturday, July 4, 1970 Lumbee Homecoming Day in
North Carolina and commend this observance to our citizens.
By the Governor: Signed Robert W, Scott. It has the seal of the
governor's office on this document. I have another document, another page
which I plan to present should it become necessary. It's entitled:
"The American Indian Historical Society Recognizes the Lumbees as Indians".
Under this heading I have written:
The Lumbees are recognized as Indians by other Indians. For example,
three Lumbee delegates--Adolph Dial, Lew Barton, and Jerry Lowry--were
invited to attend and participate in the First Convocation of American
Indian Scholars, sponsored by the Ford Foundation at Princeton, New Jersey,
several months ago.
The American Indian Historical Society, as shown in the letter
below, recognizes the Lumbees as Indians. And for proof as given in this
exhibit I have xeroxed a letter signed by Jeanette who happens to be a
friend of mine, but her complete name is Dr. Jeanette Henry Costo. It's
on the stationery of the American Indian Historical Society founded and
directed by American Indian Scholars, San Francisco, California 94117,
telephone, area code 415-626-523...
END OF SIDE I
As part of my proof of Indian-ness according to the certain require-
ments, I was giving you a letter on the stationery of the American Indian
Historical Society founded and directed by American Indian Scholars, 1451
Masonic Avenue, San Francisco, California 94117, This is a personal letter
written to me about a previous visit of mine to Princeton, New Jersey as
a delegate to the First Convocation of American Indians, she's talking here
about her blindness which was increasing rapidly at the time and the letter
is in a friendly vein it's a friend writing to a friend in that I'm sure
she wouldn't mind my using this for so important a purpose.
Dear Lew, I am typing this letter without looking, either at my hands
or the paper. The most difficult thing for me to do, is not to look at the
paper. I have learned to touch-type but the habit persists,of looking at
the page itself, and this oopss, I looked), is a habit most difficult to
Still, with practice, I think it can be done.
I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your words of advice, and I
can see that I will have to undergo a great deal of self training. The
left eye is gone, following three operations for detachment of the retina.
The right eye is not too good, and I have a small pinhole of a detachment.
We could go through more surgery, with te right eye, but I have a feeling
that this too will not work, and I am more willing to trust to nature,than
to the doctors.
So we will take our chances, and in the meantime be prepared for
the worst. Only you and I know, can possibly know, just how difficult
this is, particularly if you have been sighted for the greatest part of
your life. BUT, as you say, there are compensations, and the compensations
are largely internal.
The trouble is, that all my life I have been so active physically,
it is hard for me to WALK, not run, to be SLOW instead of fast, and to
trot instead of gallop. This too I can take in stride if I can keep on
writing. (Note: she is a writer, she has written several books, and she's
the editor of many or several I should say, Indian periodicals.)
What I feel, Lew, is keenest sense of loss on behalf of my husband.
He suffers more than I do, and it grieves me so much. I know his tears
are where they end, while mine flow freely to open
But the heart is a strange thrilling place for those like Rupert,(Rupert
is her husband, he was a great Indian leader) who do so much suffering in
silence and feel so much without a sound.
I think the Convocation [of American Indian Scholars- at Princeton,
New Jersey] was a success, and I am happier than I can tell you how much
it has meant to me, to meet you and be able to share of the greatest
magnitude of our sorrow together. We are sending you an application for
membership, and will elect you at the next council meeting.
(This is the paragraph that I wanted out of the whole letter for
purposes of our showing that the Lumbee Indians are recognized by other
groups as Indians.)
The Lumbees are recognized by us as INDIANS, and no anthropologist
is going to tell us WHO is an Indian and who is not. Signed: As ever in
friendship, Jeanette. As a friend she simply signed it as Jeanette, but
it's Jeanette Henry. She writes under the name Jeanette Henry. Her full
name including her marital name is Jeanett Henry Costo.
I give you now another copy of a xeroxed newspaper story or several
newspaper stories and this sheet should really have been included as the
first one but I didn't give it that order. I have my failures and mis-
doubts and couldn't tell the difference. Anyway, this should really come
first. I wrote on this first sheet: On September 23, 1970, the Lumbee
Indians turned from sit-ins in their own traditional schools to federal
court in their continuing search for justice. I also write: it was on
Friday, March 7, 1969 that the following story appeared in The Lumbee,
(which is the name of a newspaper at that time), a newspaper of the
Lumbee Indians: here is the story. School plans called "failure" the
Robeson County systems school desegregation/was called a failure by an
HEW investigator last Thursday as Superintendent Young Allen an attorney
for the board, I. Murchison Biggs, presented their case.
Allen refused to testify when questioned about the Clyborn Pines
annexation proposal recently given the Lumberton School Board. Clyborn
Pines is a white section which has sent its children across school district
lines into Lumberton. They fear that their children will have to attend
Magnolia and Piney Grove schools nearby. [Note: these were Indian schools.]
They proposed annexation into the Lumberton school unit. A delegation
with a lawyer from Clyborn Pines visited Raleigh yesterday, but they were
preceded a day earlier by another delegation from the predominantly Indian
Piney Grove School, to ask that they also be annexed into the Lumberton
district, which would spoil plans to make the Lumberton schools a "white
Almost the same situation applies to Fairmont, where the largely
white Sterlings Township section has requested they be annexed into the
Fairmont school system.
The HEW investigator said of the county's integration that it
perpetuates a dual school system by combining mostly Indian and Negro
sections, and having white areas largely untouched. That's the end of
the article which appeared in the Lumbee newspaper on March 7, 1969.
Note: As you will recall the Lumbee Indians along with the Brighton
Brothers of the county sued and were there dissatisfied with the
desegregation which I labelled as bogus in 1970.
On September 23, 1970 the Lumbee Indians turned from sit-ins in
their own traditional schools to federal court in their continuing search
for justice. What I have written.
Here is a sub-headline: "Judge, Attorney Meeting Set Today." Main
headline: "Lumbee Anti-Desegregation Suit Filed in U.S. Court." I'm not
sure I agree with that headline but that's the way they wrote it up in the
headline. Pembroke. The Lumbee Indians turned the corner in their fight
against the desegregation plan Thursday as the sit-in in the Indian schools
ended and the battle began in the United States District Court in Sedville.
(Note: It has been impossible to this day to get all Indian students back
in school. They still insist on going back to their old traditional schools.)
Filing suit before Judge Algernon Butler, the Indians whose children
had been attending formally Indian schools in defiance of the new segregation
plan, asked the court to block execution of the plan and to order a new set
of district boundaries. (Note: One of the charges in that suit was
gerrymandering. This was very evident in connection with Opsendein school.
A gentleman from Washington and the HEW, upon hearing a map which showed
how that the line had cut and gone around Opsendein, stated in my presence,
"if my children were in a situation like that, I'd be raising helltoo.")
Back to the story. Sedville attorney, J. A. Bauknight, Jr. was to meet at
ten o'clock this morning with Judge Butler to discuss the case.
Robeson County school superintendent Young H. Allen said few Indian
children showed up at schools to which they were not assigned Thursday.
Their parents had posed questions about district boundaries, Allen said.
Over four hundred Lumbees agreed :at a meeting Wednesday night to
stop sending their children to the formerly Indian schools and to seek
relief in the courts instead. About two thousand two hundred dollars was
raised to back the court fight.
Some five hundred Indian children had been showing up in schools
where they were not assigned since schools opened last week. They were
allowed to remain but not to register. The county school board ordered
an end to the sit-in Wednesday, making it clear the children would no
longer be admitted to the school.
The protesting Lumbees contend the plan will result in a loss of
their Indian schools and the heritage the schools fostered.
Many Indians have attended Robeson County schools even when their
parents lived within one of the five city school districts that dot the
county. But under the new plan, the boundaries became rigid and the Lumbees
were no longer allowed to send their children to the Indian schools in the
western parts of the county.
The plan is designed to encourage racial integration between the
whites, negroes, and Lumbees. That's the end of the article.
(Note: However, as one may determine from the Clyborn Pines situation
and other situations in the county in which white ruralcommunities were
next to predominantly white schools, this last paragraph of the preceding
article is very questionable, indeed. There were a number of surprises
in 1970 when the so-called desegregation plan went into effect where many
people had imagined that the Indians were very eager to enroll in pre-
dominantly white schools, it was learned that they tended to move in the
opposite direction. Our people were very fearful of losing their schools
and this has an historical basis. In 1835 when the North Carolina Constitution
was revised all non-whites were disfranchised. They could not vote any
longer and the Cherokee was included in this, right along with our people
the Lumbees. They were not allowed to vote or to build churches or schools
and so from then there was a period of 50 years from 1835 to 1885 their
people were without educational facilities. It was a terrible blow. In
1885, however, under the influence of Hamilton McMillan the general assembly
of North Carolina was persuaded to appropriate five hundred dollars per
year for Lumbee Indian schools. It was from this meagre beginning that our
present school system developed. Our people took great delight in their
schools. They worked over the years against great odds to raise their educational
standards. Dr. John Gregory Peck,a professor at North Carolina State in
Raleigh made a special study of Lumbee Indian education. I helped with that
project which was sponsored by the United States Office of Education. Dr.
Peck found, as he stated in his report, that Lumbee Indian schools were
superior to any federal government schools in the United States. That's
not me talking, that's what Dr. Peck found. So far as the Concerned
Indian Parents Organization was concerned, however, we accepted integration
but we wanted a fair and impartial integration plan and one that was really
meaningful. We have had very little integration in some parts of Robeson
County even today, but the whole thing boils down to the basic problem or
the basic subject of Indianness. Are we really Indians? If we're not,
we've certainly been treated like Indians down through the centuries.
I've heard this throughout my lifetime from my parents, y from my
grandparents, from my neighbors. We've never heard anything else except
that we're Indians. It was a losing battle that the Concerned Indian
Parents fought, however, and this"unfair" integration plan was accepted.
I have often, I'm compelled to explain what our system is like our school
system in Robeson County. We have the, we have six different school
districts, the so-called city systems were designed to accommodate non-Indian
people. Consequently we have what is called double voting; that is people
who live within the city districts are allowed to vote in the county's district
as well so they get two votes while people living in the county districts
are allowed to vote only once. That is; the vote to seek the county board of
education our people have worked long and diligently in an attempt to abolish
the double vote in Robeson County because if we're going to retain our schools
in the degree that we have then we need to have some control over those
schools. You see about ninety-five per cent of all students in the Robeson
County system ahkis I would imagine about that percentage are Indians. The
County system is predominantly Indian and always has been. Yet, other people
control,our people want some control of their own schools because only by
having that control can they raise the standards in these schools. The people
who live in the city districts are not overly concerned about standards
in the county district. That is quite natural and our people want more
control of their own, the educational future of their children, this is
what they want. They would like to close the gap between high school
graduation and entry at Pembroke State University. They have not been
able to raise those standards simply because their hands have been tied.
We've been under the control of somebody else. Entrance requirements
at Pembroke State University continue to rise. Educational standards in
our schools, however, have not kept the pace. This presents a very real
and a very serious problem.
END OF SIDE 2