Printer Friendly

Lumbee Kinship, Community, and the Success of the Red Banks Mutual Association.

The Lumbee Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina, faced a precarious existence during the Great Depression. Like many Americans, they suffered through these years enduring economic hardship and associated calamities. For a number of Lumbees, the Indian values of kinship and community allowed them to operate the Red Banks Mutual Association (RBMA) from 1938 to 1968. The communal farm was the only exclusively Indian project of its kind and managed to outlast similar projects around the United States. The Lumbees, who had a tradition of individual landownership, not only employed the farm as economic relief but also used the RBMA to encourage cohesion within the Lumbee population and discarded it when it had outlived its usefulness.

Essentially, the success of the RBMA was not economic but cultural. It allowed the participating Lumbees the opportunity to be "Indians" through the practice of kinship systems. This was of prime importance, as they lost many of their ancient customs and adopted English as their lingua franca over the centuries. Despite this, the Lumbees adamantly insisted upon their "Indianness," something that can be traced as far back as Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony.(1)

Though scholars have long debated the origins of the people who are today called the Lumbee, most agree that their roots are tied to the Hatteras Indians. This links them with the remnants of the Lost Colony and explains why they appeared white, spoke English, and farmed in an English manner when they were observed by Europeans in the seventeenth and again in the eighteenth centuries. The Lumbee ancestors drifted from location to location down the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to South Carolina, and along the way they took on remnants of Eastern Siouan tribes. Sometime after settling in Robeson County around 1700, they were influenced by the Tuscarora War in 1711, which infused that tribe's blood into the group. One may assume that they also encountered Eastern Cherokee influence during the next century as well.(2)

The group was geographically isolated from most whites by surrounding swamps, but by at least 1730 some Lumbee ancestors felt the need to obtain land grants from King George III. For decades they felt little pressure from the Scots who were settling North Carolina, or the French Huguenots who inhabited South Carolina, but in the years leading to up to the Revolutionary War they came under increasing pressure from white settlers.(3)

Lumbees fought in the Revolutionary War and typically sided with the colonists, but this did not keep them from being labeled as "free persons of color" in 1790. Initially this was not a problem, as the Indians managed to exist well enough with their neighbors and were never treated as slaves. They were formally disenfranchised in 1835 because the State of North Carolina formally defined different shades of humanity when they rewrote the state constitution. In the process of limiting the freedom of blacks who were free, they also altered the citizenship status of the Lumbee ancestors. While a few Lumbees fought their newly designated status by way of the judicial system, they had little success.(4)

The Lumbees suffered through violence and poverty during the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1884 conservative elements "redeemed" North Carolina state politics and established separate spheres for blacks and whites, one of which was education. The Lumbees fell into racial limbo. Neither white nor black, they had to fight for their own schools, and in the order to do so had to command recognition from the state government. While they were successful in being labeled "Croatan," a reference to their Lost Colony origins, it marked the beginning of the Lumbees' struggle for recognition by the federal and state governments under an accurate name.(5)

The problem with the Croatan label arose when the federal government refused to recognize the Croatans as a "genuine" Indian group. Additionally, whites in Robeson County referred to the Lumbee ancestors as "Cro," which held racist connotations because of its similarity to "Jim Crow." In 1911 their name was switched to "Indians of Robeson County," which satisfied nobody because of its ambiguity. In 1913 their label was again altered, this time to "the Cherokees of Robeson County."(6)

The Cherokee title upset the Eastern Cherokees, who feared that their federal support might have to be split with another group. This was never proposed by the federal government, but the Cherokee protest led to a federal inquiry on the exact identity of the Lumbee ancestors. The federal investigator, O. M. McPherson, concluded that the Indians in Robeson County were probably Hatteras Indians, which in the long run hurt the Lumbees because the federal government never made any type of treaty with the Hatteras and refused to initiate assistance on these grounds.(7)

The 1930s saw the growth of factionalism in the Lumbee community. One group pursued recognition as "Siouan Indians of Robeson County." This title derived from anthropological research in that decade and referred to the larger family from which many different Lumbee had sprung. Another group in Robeson County pursued the label "Cheraw" but saw a recognition bill fail in the U.S. House of Representatives.(8)

In 1953 the State of North Carolina recognized the group as "Lumbee," a reference to the nearby Lumber River. The title may not have been specific, but it did the best job in encompassing a conglomeration of Indian peoples under one title. The federal government recognized the title in 1956, but to this day still withholds any type of support in the form of Native American assistance programs.(9)

The Lumbees were forced to seek recognition, first because of the restructuring of the North Carolina state constitution of 1835 and then because of the conservative redemption of the state legislature following Reconstruction. Laws that defined separate spheres for blacks and whites left the Lumbee in limbo. The need to form their own public spaces, schools especially, led the Lumbee on a quest for full recognition by the state and federal government which continues today.

Along with this struggle for legal recognition, Lumbees had to live from day to day. For most of the population of Robeson County this meant working in agriculture, which in North Carolina in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries meant growing cotton or tobacco. By the late 1920s most Lumbees lived a marginal existence, scratching out a life by one of few options. They might work as sharecroppers, where they provided two-thirds to one-half of their crop to the landowner in return for tools and seed. The lack of cash flow in this system led sharecroppers to rely on local stores, usually owned by the landowner, who charged them credit against their year-end crop. This "lien" placed them in a perpetual state of debt. Lumbees could also rent land from a landowner, an agreement that balanced tenuously on that year's crop, since that was what the farmer's rent payment came from. Lumbees also worked as day laborers. They might find work for a farmer from day-to-day or agree to work for periods extending up to a full season. This type of work may have put money into the hands of a Lumbee, but it lent little job security, paid a pittance, and left him dependent upon another for his living. A few Lumbees did manage to obtain their own land for farming. Most of these farms were parcels of less than 500 acres, though a handful of Lumbees acquired more than that.(10)

The Lumbees' economic situation grew worse when the Great Depression hit. Agricultural surpluses caused the price of cotton and tobacco to plummet. To raise prices, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration under President Franklin Roosevelt paid farmers to limit the size of their crop yields and paid them to take land out of production. Landowners took advantage of this offer, and as a result small farmers and sharecroppers across the South were thrown off their land. The Lumbees were no exception. Making matters worse, those Lumbees who applied for relief faced racial discrimination because whites were given preferential treatment in obtaining local relief funds. In a county where they comprised approximately one-third of the population, the Lumbee sharecroppers were forced to live in disadvantaged conditions.(11)

With crop prices dropping, many of the Lumbees who were not impoverished, but were living as owners of small plots of land, were quickly sinking into roles as sharecroppers. They were faced with the problems that every southern farmer who existed within a one- or two-crop system faced: forced to engage in borrowing and buying goods on credit to survive from week to week, they fell deeper into debt. For instance, a one-dollar bag of flour cost $1.10 on credit; additionally, he would be charged an extra 10 percent on the dollar for whatever was on the books already. Thus, Lumbees repeatedly found themselves paying 20 percent extra on the dollar to private store owners for what they could have bought at eighty-eight cents at the A&P. They were unable to pay off their debts at the end of the growing season due to falling crop prices and were forced to mortgage their farms to pay off creditors. As time passed they were unable to pay off their unreasonable mortgage payments and had their land foreclosed upon. This forced them to take on roles as renters, sharecroppers, or day laborers.(12)

Benny Locklear was typical among farm laborers. He earned twenty dollars a month and a quarter acre for a garden for his work on the Fletcher Plantation. Out of that sum he paid for his room and board, food, and supported his wife and mother. Due to the seasonal nature of their work, laborers such as Locklear were only employed for eight months out of the year, and for the remaining four they were left to fend for themselves.(13)

Andrew Wilkins's life as a one-half sharecropper on J. P. Buie's land was not much better than Locklear's. To support his wife and eight children, who all had to help on the farm when they were not in school, he worked twenty-five acres growing cotton and corn. He also cultivated some oats and a small garden for subsistence, but he had to give up half the corn and cotton to the landowner. In 1934 he managed to accumulate, after his debts were paid off, the paltry sum of five dollars and fifteen cents. In the fall of 1935 Wilkins was facing all of this and decreasing opportunities off the farm as a laborer, working at construction or any other odd job he could find.(14)

Additionally, Lumbees had to compete with increasing numbers of white laborers who were losing their land but because of racial BIAS were benefiting from preferential treatment in receiving tenant positions. This growing number of whites encroaching upon Lumbee jobs made things even harder for the Indians, and finding compensation through local agencies became difficult due to racial prejudice. H. Barton wrote to Mrs. Thomas O'Berry of the State Relief Administration in 1934 that "there are at least eight or ten thousand Indians ... turned away when they apply to these local relief offices here in the county."(15) The correspondence went on to inform O'Berry that there were sufficient numbers of Lumbees in the area who were educated and able to distribute these funds, and that she should establish a separate agency for the Indians rather than working through those that already existed. The continual problem of racism, despite gains the Lumbees achieved in civil liberties, continued to plague them for years. While considered superior in moral character and working ability when compared to African Americans, they were still not to be trusted with the best agricultural tools or given comparable living conditions by white landowners in the area.(16)

Despite poor living conditions and constant problems from pellagra and other diseases of poor Southerners, the Lumbee population was swelling. From 193o to 1932 the birth rate among Lumbees increased from 34.3 to 42.3 per year, while the death rate dropped from 9.9 to 8.0 per year (compared to the Robeson County mean of 26.5 to 27.7 and 11.o to 8.8, respectively). This growth trend would continue over the next several decades.(17)

To help them through these hard times, the Lumbees relied upon a kinship system in which they supported each other. Among Indians, kinship was essential and the reciprocal obligations created by kinship allowed destitute Lumbees to survive. Kinship ties consisted of social obligations created by exchanging gifts. These ties gave a sense of identity to Indians that enabled them to distinguish themselves from other people. Ties allowed members of the group to survive in adverse situations by sharing resources to make the community stronger; thus, they served a pragmatic role in community support, supplying the mechanisms for resource sharing. As Patricia Albers stated, "Kinship mobilized and committed people ... to a common, opposed, or differentiated labor of transforming natural resources into socially useful products."(18) Typically, kinship ties involve a system of interdependence, which is used to gain labor and resources. Exchange between kin is continuous, though not always consistent. This mechanism fostered a sense of community that was important to the survival of the Lumbees. Because of this interdependence they felt obligated to help strengthen the group as a whole before making personal gains. Thus, a member of the community would be able to find shelter and food during lean years, such as the depression, by relying on other Lumbees. It was common for a family to share housing and income to support another family in the area. To a people without designated land, as the Lumbees were, these ties were essential to the survival of their Indianness. By practicing kinship mechanisms, Lumbees maintained distinct Native American cultural traits. And during the Great Depression, it aided their day-to-day survival.(19)

It was this concept of kinship, along with a feeling of community and a little help from the federal government, that helped pull some Lumbees out of the poverty of the Great Depression through the creation of the Red Banks communal farm. The policies of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, and more specifically the Indian New Deal of John Collier, would serve as the first step to recovery for the Lumbees.(20)

John Collier took office as commissioner of Indian Affairs in the spring of 1933. He inherited a program that was still devoted to allotment and assimilation of Indians into the mainstream Anglo culture. His own sympathetic hopes for American Indians were born of years working in anthropology and with Indian rights groups, and included reconstructing "traditional" Native American culture and lifestyles. He pursued this goal for twelve years as commissioner, as well as aiding American Indian's direct economic problems.(21)

Collier attempted to restore traditional Indian culture, political autonomy, and communal landownership first with the Indian Civil Conservation Corps (ICCC). The program was launched in the spring of 1933, and while it resembled Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), its aim was different. While the CCC attempted to employ Americans and improve public domain, the ICCC employed mainly Indians and was directed at improving reservation land for agricultural pursuits. The program ran until 1942, directed 72 million dollars into reservation conservation, and employed 85,349 Indians.(22)

Other New Deal programs were made available to Indians and were all tempered with Collier's desire to reconstruct Indian culture as he saw it. The Agricultural Adjustment Act, Soil Conservation Service, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Civil Works Administration, Public Works Administration, National Youth Administration, and Resettlement Administration all contributed to enabling Indians to reconstruct communal living arrangements and agriculture, Indian art, and tribal government.(23)

Not all of the Indian New Deal programs were adaptations of regular New Deal programs. The Pueblo Relief Act of 1933 attempted to correct land usage problems, tied to allotment, by appropriating federal money for land purchase and water rights. It also gave the Pueblo a veto power in how money was appropriated. Additionally, the federal government took joint responsibility with the state governments for appropriating funds. The conservative Board of Indian Commissioners disbanded in May of 1933, which freed up previously constrained federal attempts to aid Native Americans.(24)

With his hands free to enact change, Collier pursued attempts to reverse the allotment plan. He froze the sale of Indian land, encouraged traditional Indian religion, and lifted civil restrictions on reservations. Additionally, he encouraged superintendents to work and consult closely with tribal government leaders.(25)

The cornerstone of Collier's work, though, was the Indian Resettlement Act (IRA). The act allowed tribes to organize for common good, and in this way they could manage communal lands, hire legal counsel, and negotiate with the federal government. Additionally, .surplus land, individual landholdings, and trust lands could all be controlled by the tribal government. Also, the secretary of the interior was required to pass regulations that ensured tribal lands would be scientifically operated to encourage agricultural pursuits and that allowed tribes to vote to exclude themselves from the act. Eventually, 181 tribes accepted the legislation and 77 rejected it. Clauses were later added to include the Indians of Oklahoma and Alaskan Natives, groups who fell through the cracks of the resettlement act because their particular situations made tribal organization difficult.(26) Like most New Deal programs, the Indian New Deal started quickly and accelerated aid to Americans who suffered through the Great Depression but faltered as time passed. The tides favoring extreme measures for change subsided, World War II approached, and the Indian New Deal fell from grace. Collier came under attack as "communist," "dictatorial," and his programs for aid were labeled as an "empire" that sought to perpetuate Indian dependency. These pressures came from white missionaries, who opposed the freedom to practice the traditional Indian religion the Indian New Deal supported, and from Indian activist groups such as the Indian Rights Association, who saw their interests threatened by reorganizing tribal structures. As the various programs lost congressional funding and popularity, Collier became frustrated and eventually resigned in 1945.(27)

The Lumbees never truly received Indian New Deal assistance. Access to federal funds came through repeated Lumbee insistence, and eventually these funds were administered not through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the Department of the Interior but through the Farm Securities Administration, a separate entity within the Department of Agriculture. However, the battle for federal aid began with letters to Collier, and eventual aid was aimed at implicitly benefiting the Lumbees Indians.(28)

Before the Lumbees could begirt to recover from the depression, they first had to convince the federal government that they needed assistance as Indians. The Lumbees had some experience in dealing with the federal government, as they had been petitioning for official recognition as an Indian tribe for nearly a half century. The community was divided over what road to take in their quest to improve their situation. Some of these conflicts centered around what label the group would take in seeking official recognition. The majority of the arguments, however, grew out of differences over who would serve as the figure-head and leader in their efforts to gain federal relief funds. Different individuals took it upon themselves to take control of the situation through letter writing to various state and federal agencies. The person who would eventually win out in this preliminary battle was Joseph Brooks. The idea that the Lumbees wanted to maintain their autonomy as a people and the related desire for self-determination was expressed on the letterhead of his correspondence as the acting chief of the Siouan Council. It read: "Motto: Help Indians Help Themselves in Protecting Their Rights and Properties."(29) At various times through 1935 he not only waged a letter-writing war upon the BIA but also visited Washington DC. His correspondence included estimates of the specific needs of the Indians, noting their thriftiness as well as their desire to be recognized under the Wheeler-Howard Act, which became the Indian Reorganization Act.(30)

According to Brooks, the Lumbees he represented already lived on the land that they wanted to buy as sharecroppers. Infrastructure, in the form of roads and houses, were already in place and needed only federal monies to improve them to the quality that the Lumbees desired. Brooks sought money not only from the BIA but from any other source that could be made available to them if federal recognition was not forthcoming.(31)

To begin the relief efforts, the federal government had to purchase the land from the landowners who had employed the Lumbees as sharecroppers. Then they would have to improve the existing farming and housing structures. The Agricultural Assistance Administration had already begun to limit the cash crops grown on the land that the Lumbees had sharecropped and wanted to farm. Of course, the funds used as incentive to do this went to the landowners and not the Indian sharecroppers. Over and over again in the correspondence, Brooks related the Lumbees' plight to Collier. He described their situation in relation to land loss and sharecropping, all the while reminding him of the fact that the Indians had aided the government in various wars over the years and that despite this, they had been ignored in their time of greatest need.(32)

Persistence paid off over time and during the summer of 1935 Fred Baker, a Sisseton Indian agent, visited the town of Pembroke and made a thorough investigation of the area's needs. Noting that the Indians' customs made them individual, rather than communal, farmers, he acknowledged a great need for federal assistance in the area. His correspondence with the BIA office in Washington DC, touted the reliability of the group. He also expressed their desire to get started quickly and their willingness to pay the government back in full. They were obviously not looking for a handout or to become wards of the state. Instead, as one can ascertain from Baker's report, they were seeking assistance in getting started toward economic and social independence. The agent noted the living conditions of the people and their concern not only for themselves but also for their children's futures. Baker supported any program that would help the Lumbees and proposed an economic action plan based on agriculture. He even went so far as to map out blueprints for farms ranging from two-and-one-half acres up to fifty acres. His actions quickly caught the attention of Joseph Brooks and other Lumbees, and they appealed to the BIA to appoint him overseer of the project This appeal was denied, but Baker's report served as a watershed in Lumbee recovery. J. M. Stewart, responding to a telegram sent to the BIA by James Chavis, stated that while Mr. Baker could not be assigned to the post, "further plans will be developed" and "everything possible will be done to assist the Siouan Indians to obtain adequate and healthful living conditions ... to become self-supporting and contented.(33)

In the late summer of 1935, Pembroke Farms, which eventually contained the smaller communal Red Banks tract, was established to give needy farmers land on which to subsist. Potential farmers applied to the regional family selection supervisor in Raleigh NC, a state-level office of the Farm Securities Administration (FSA), and if approved, they were loaned money to buy land and allowed to pay it off over an extended period of time. The land that was chosen for the project, in between Pembroke and Maxton, was ideal because of its accessibility to Lumberton, where the farmers could sell their tobacco and cotton. In Robeson County, Indian New Deal aid, specifically the Red Banks settlement division of the larger Pembroke Farms body, not only alleviated immediate problems but gave Lumbees an opportunity to advance economically over a long period of time. More importantly, it contributed to a sense of community by giving participants a chance to strengthen kinship ties.

Pembroke Farms as a whole encompassed 9,287 acres, 4,804 of which were developed into individual farms. Seventy-five farmers ultimately populated the project lands, but it was not occupied in full until 1943. The individual farms, containing one head of household apiece, were made up of either five- or seven-room houses and outbuildings. Individual farming units included various agricultural structures such as stock barns, poultry houses, and smokehouses. Rather than constructing new homes, farmers improved the houses that already existed on the land at a cost of approximately thirteen hundred dollars. This was the ideal and preferred setting for the Lumbees. The historically individual farmers had their own self-contained farms, bought on a lease payable to the federal government, which made them the landowners they wanted to be.(34)

The Red Banks Mutual Association was formed in 1938 as a subdivision of the larger Pembroke Farms project. The cooperative farming venture was maintained and run by Indian members that at times numbered as many as fifteen families. The association formed as a corporation under state regulatory laws and worked 1,720 acres acquired from the Farm Securities Administration on a ninety-nine-year lease. They obtained $64,340 to begin with and planned to buy the land in due time. Through the articles of incorporation and the stipulations of the FSA loan, they worked the land independent of the larger Pembroke Farms and direct federal inclusion, and were left to engage in any activities that they saw fit in the operation of their farms. They made periodic reports on their progress and could not alter the structure of their association in any way, including sale of land or dissolution of the organization, without first consulting the FSA. Additionally, they made annual payments to the government toward their ninety-nine-year loan. If the members ever failed to meet their loan payments, the government would repossess the land and offer it to the highest bidder at an auction.(35)

The Lumbees, who did not have a tradition of common farming, agreed to undertake such a venture because the severity of their situation led them to take any type of option available to them. The Lumbees wanted to own land individually, and that was the long-term goal of Pembroke Farms. Their sense of community made the Red Banks communal operation a viable short-term solution because it not only procured economic activities but also lent some autonomy. They did not plan to operate the farm communally forever, and they hoped to put themselves into a position of prosperity. Baker reported that the groups of Indians he interviewed commented that they supported a "joint responsibility, of all families in a Government Project, for each family's debt to the Government."(36) Additionally, the project placed them in the position of becoming powerful gift givers, something they desired due to their kinship ties. Eventually, traditional Indian values of community and kinship would assist the Lumbee group as a whole more than any amount of money or letter writing ever could.(37)

The RBMA farm contained not only individual living units for families but also a tobacco curing house, machine sheds, mule barns, tool sheds, and a warehouse. The families worked together to produce a common crop and then split the net profits made from the farm's operations. Additionally, each farmer obtained two acres of his own, which was used to maintain a garden and to raise cash crops. Initially, each family made an estimated 622 dollars annually. This left a surplus of five dollars a year, but emergency funds were accumulated to ensure the well-being of any family who incurred superfluous costs. The board of directors, which was comprised of RBMA members and appointed from within, decided who was admitted to the association. The applicant had to make an appeal in writing and submit a fee of one dollar, the price of buying a piece of stock in the company, and upon approval, the member was presented a stock certificate and a copy of the by-laws. In this manner, the members of the association made use of their kinship ties to include whomever they chose. The stockholder was subject to removal from the organization if he became too old to work or failed to cooperate with the goals of the association.(38)

As the project began, problems with Lumbee recognition as Indians threatened the resettlement of the Lumbees. Collier wanted the group to gain recognition as a tribe, but any type of test that would be employed to determine "Indianness" was inadvertently racist and useless. Anthropological thought at the time suggested using skull shape, body-part measurements, and skin color as indicators of a person's racial make-up. In 1936 the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent Carl Selzer, a Harvard-trained anthropologist, to Robeson County to measure the Lumbees' Indian make-up with borrowed scientific tools and a camera. Of the 209 people who had applied to the BIA for recognition, only twenty-two were determined to be of one-half Native American blood, the determined amount for a person to be an "Indian" The one-half designation was a concession on the part of Collier and the BIA, made to ensure the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act. In correspondence prior to and after the passage of the bill, Pembroke Farms had been intended for use by Indians of 1/32 blood. This was proposed to ensure that the maximum number of Lumbees would be found eligible for recognition by the BIA. The uselessness of these tests was evident; Selzer might accept one person as an Indian while his or her full sibling was not. This left Collier in a quandary. He wanted the group to be recognized as Indians and to be given all the aid possible through the BIA, but it was apparent after these tests that the solution to the Lumbees' problems would not come from federal initiative. Instead, it came from the success garnered from Lumbee kinship ties and the community value that strengthened the RBMA.(39)

Then, amidst questions pertaining to whether the project was affordable, and despite the wishes of Baker, Collier, and other BIA officials, the project was suddenly transferred to the Farm Securities Administration within the Department of Agriculture. This move was debilitating to the Lumbees' long-run goal of recognition but was advantageous in the short run. They still got their farm project, run by the BIA but funded through the FSA. Additionally, placing it in another department put the project, which was still a vastly Indian venture, outside of the whims of any possible Indian policy changes that could affect its existence. Its position outside of the BIA funding justified placing Indians who did not meet the one-half requirement on the farm without any arguments. Lumbee progress was further hampered when a group of people from a white church that bordered Pembroke Farms protested the project. In their eyes, the view of Indian farms from their church would ruin the aesthetic qualities of their sanctuary. However, when they, petitioned congressmen in Washington, they complained that the project was unfair because it excluded whites.(40)

A compromise was struck despite protests from Lumbees, who saw no reason to include a group of people who had not been active in bringing the project to the area but had actually hindered their progress through racial discrimination. A small plot was given to some white farmers, another to some black farmers, and a row of trees was planted in between the church and the farm as a beautification project. The compromise allowed for a relative peace that would give the Red Banks farm a chance to begin operations.(41)

Internal division among the Lumbees plagued their federal recognition efforts for decades, and it was also present when Pembroke Farms and the RBMA began. The first threat to the integrity of the Pembroke project arose during the preliminary stages of organizing the farm. McNair Investments of Laurinburg, a political force in the state that was located in Scotland County, pressured the state office of the Resettlement Administration to appoint one of its employees manager of the farm. The McNair group had been responsible for Lumbee land loss through foreclosure in the past, and the Indians recognized this maneuver as an attempt to dip into the federal money being pumped in to rejuvenate the Lumbee community. The Lumbees fought the McNair appointment and eventually succeeded in placing a Lumbee in the manager position.(42)

The group would have to endure one last roadblock on the road to prosperity, although it was a small, internal one. George Mitchell, an assistant administrator in the Resettlement Administration, was approached by Joseph Brooks and a small contingent of Indians, who claimed that Red Banks was suffering from inadequate leadership. The failure to properly manage the farm had resulted in the loss of a good portion of the farm's tobacco harvest. He suggested that a new manager be appointed from within the community. This action can be interpreted two different ways.(43)

First, Brooks served as the driving force in obtaining federal assistance. In fact, he served in the role as manager of the RBMA for a period of time. However, he had not been able to obtain an individual farm, the goal of all the Lumbees involved, when he was turned down for a tenant purchase loan. The Brooks-led complaint about management may have been an attempt to break up the farm and free up more land for purchase by loan. It may have also been an attempt to improve Brooks's standing within the Lumbee community. If he were able to place someone of his own choosing in control of Red Banks, it would have proven his influence with the federal government and enhanced his prestige within the community. It would also have left the new manager a large kinship debt to repay to Brooks. At any rate, the opposition to how the farm was being run was dismissed by the FSA as Brooks's attempt at personal gain. The RBMA was finally ready to serve its function as a boon to the Lumbee community.

One of the most important aspects of the RBMA was that it supplied year-round work for the participants. In prior years, they had to rely on kin or on odd jobs to support themselves and their families during the off season. But at Red Banks there was always something to do; working in one's garden, maintaining machinery, and working the livestock were year-round jobs. If a person got hurt or fell ill for a period of time, he would have lost wages in the system he previously worked under. On the Red Banks tract, there was never a time when a person suffered because he was incapacitated for a period of time. Not only did the Lumbees gain worker's compensation and health insurance through the RBMA, they also looked out for one another. According to Earl Deese, a former RBMA manager, they were "one big happy family" who helped one another through tough times and made a way of life work, a way that they were not accustomed to, because they felt a responsibility to each other.(44) But the self-determining Lumbees were not ready to limit themselves to growing cotton and tobacco. They had secured a future for themselves at Red Banks and now looked to help their kin in the larger community.(45)

This phase, where the RBMA members began to aid the Lumbee community and strengthen kinship ties, began in 1939 and 1940. The farm was operational and the Indians were making material progress. Health care was being provided for directly by government agents, and initial farming efforts, such as the cultivation of cotton and tobacco, as well as subsistence crops and livestock ventures, were successful. They were making enough profit to update their machinery and to improve their property. The RBMA members were obliged, due to kinship ties in the larger Lumbee community, to provide employment for their kin who were not involved in Pembroke Farms or the RBMA. They sought to employ large tracts of forested land as a lumbering project and were granted a standard forestry clause to be added to the original lease. The document outlined goals for the project, including its becoming a permanent facet of the farm, and conservation plans. Outside labor would have to be brought in to accomplish the job, and thus, members of the Lumbee tribe who were still destitute would have been employed. Unfortunately, to purchase the necessary machinery the RBMA would have to borrow from the federal government. The plan never came to fruition because of the lack of federal funding support; Lumbee attempts to strengthen kinship ties were not a justifiable expense to the federal government.(46)

At the same time that this lumbering effort was made, attempts to bring agriculturally based industry to Pembroke were also maturing. In 1939 a group of RBMA members met and decided to pursue industrial facilities in the form of poultry and pork processing plants. The area was well suited for such a project because of railroads, public utilities, the low cost of construction in the area, and an abundance of Lumbee labor and cheap real estate. The proposal met with a lukewarm response by the federal bureaucracy. They doubted the feasibility of such a project in Pembroke but promised to look into it. The idea was considered for a short period, then pigeon-holed as unfeasible.(47)

To this point, attempts to aid the community and to gain status through kinship ties had failed. But in 1940 the Indians lobbied for and obtained a National Youth Administration (NYA) building, which was constructed on RBMA land. The NYA members were employed more than once to carry out various duties in and around the farm. The community building served various functions in the area. It was used as a center for recreational activities, such as dances or sporting events, and also for meetings and religious services. It actually had to be expanded at one point. The community center acted as a cultural center for Lumbees; it gave them a permanent physical setting for their community. In this manner, they gained a physical "hub" where they could be Indians, and they gained a level of cultural stability that had not existed before. The importance of the center to the Indians was apparent in the mid-1940s, when its existence was threatened.(48)

In the mid-1940s the Department of the Interior adopted a policy of selling surplus federal land to returning World War II veterans. The process dictated that the surplus plots would first be offered to existing original residents, in this case, the members of the RBMA. If they could not or did not wish to purchase the land it would be offered to the public. The tract that the community center rested on was somehow deemed surplus and sold to a person outside of the association. The Lumbees had made attempts in the past to purchase this land from the government to secure its existence but had not yet been able to do so. They began immediate appeals to Washington but were too late, and the community center was sold as surplus land. The Lumbees were able to scrape together enough money to buy the land from the new owner, and it continued to serve the community. The efforts of the federal government to retain this land led many Lumbees to become suspicious of the long-term intentions of the government. While this particular incident was deemed a mistake on the government's part, speculation labeled it an effort to steal the land back from the Lumbees. This view does maintain some validity when one considers the federal government's attitude toward anything that contained socialist currents, especially during the cold war years.(49)

Another way in which the Lumbees procured cultural stability was to establish their own schools. The members of the Red Banks Mutual Association were able to obtain educational facilities through the Farm Securities Administration. This not only created another cultural hub within the farming community, but it also allowed the children to stay closer to home on a daily basis so that they could work the farm.(50)

To encourage pride in Lumbee heritage, the RBMA sponsored a pageant that highlighted achievements of Lumbees in the past and portrayed the lives of some of the more prominent individuals in the community. This forerunner to "Strike at the Wind" a contemporary drama production that tells the story of the Lumbees and celebrates their history, included a play that celebrated the Lumbees' heritage as Native Americans. It would be given in 1940 and then again in conjunction with an Indian fair in 1941. Community leaders contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs about organizing the event as a way to restate their heritage and to solidify it for future generations. The pageant was exclusively an Indian affair, directed by a Sioux: woman named Ella Deloria. At one point, whites from nearby Lumberton wanted to join in the pageant to give an authentic representation of whites involved in the story. They were denied, the general consensus being that if whites could stage plays and dress up like Indians, the Lumbees could dress up like whites for their own play.

Farming communally was advantageous for only so long. The Red Banks Mutual Association existed for thirty years because of the feeling of community between the members on the farm, the kinship-strengthening opportunities it presented, and the cultural solidification that occurred due to its success, and because they were locked into a ninety-nine-year lease. As members dropped out because of age or other reasons, it became harder and harder to grow enough cash crops for the venture to be profitable. Since most Lumbees' goal was to own land individually, they were not attracting new members to the association because farming communally was no longer an attractive proposition to members of the Lumbee community.(51)

Lumbees who could farm individually did, others left the area to seek jobs, and to a small extent, people were able to gain an amount of prosperity through education and nonagricultural ventures. And while the RBMA allowed its members to live well, it gave them no legacy to pass on to their children. As their numbers dwindled the Lumbees were forced to sell off tracts of their land. This action was sanctioned by the lease as long as the federal government approved the sale. The parcel of land would be sold to any interested parties, and the RBMA members continued to farm what land they had left. The smaller the land got, the less their money crops and other ventures became profitable. They were locked into a ninety-nine-year lease that forced them to farm as an association until the mid-twenty-first century. If they disbanded, or could not meet the lease payments, their land would be forfeited to the government. If this happened the land would be put up for public auction, but the members of the group would not have the cash resources to purchase the land for themselves. However, in the late 1960s the Lumbees were finally given a chance to become the landowners they wished to be.(52)

Earl Deese, the manager of the RBMA at the time, was visiting the Farmers Home Administration office in Lumberton when he was asked if the group wanted to get out of their existing situation. Deese expressed interest in the proposition, and over the next year the group dissolved the antiquated agreement. Department of Agriculture officials found a loophole in a piece of legislation passed early in the President John F. Kennedy administration that allowed the Lumbees to dissolve their agreement and become individual landowners. The Red Banks Mutual Association was broken apart, and under the new agreement each individual farmer leased his plot of land from the government. The Lumbees who had accumulated enough savings over the years divided the land and possessions of the RBMA among themselves and took on their much-anticipated roles as individual farmers.(53)

Some of the Lumbees farmed the land for years to come. Others, like Earl Deese, took a different route. By a coincidence that represented what he considers the hand of God watching over him, he met the same Department of Agriculture official who had inquired about splitting up the land into individual plots at the state fair in the early 1970s. The official, who was now preparing to transfer to Washington DC, mentioned that if any of the landowners ever wanted to sell their land, this was the time to do it, as the Richard Nixon administration might favor closing the loophole. While this advice might be interpreted as an attempt on the government's part to reclaim land, to Deese it was a way to advance his economic status. Crop prices had been low in the past few years and he had teenagers who were about to begin their college education. He took advantage of the offer, sold his land, and proceeded to work multiple jobs and to use the money he gained from selling his farm to put three children through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One became a nurse, another a social worker, and the third a doctor. All three returned home to Robeson County to use their education for the betterment of their people.

In thirty years the Lumbees who took part in the Red Banks Mutual Association had moved from sharecropper status, living in a system of perpetual debt, to being participants in a solvent business venture. The RBMA did not give the members a substantial amount of cash flow, but it gave them a means of subsistence and kept them out of the influence of those who would hinder their progress on a racial basis. It also allowed them to strengthen their kinship ties within their community, which benefited the Lumbees as a whole because it supported cultural stability.

The activities of the Red Banks Mutual Association are important because they exhibit the strength of the Lumbees' kinship ties within the community. Participants were not simply satisfied to see their own situation improved, but because they valued their kin and community, they also wanted to obtain the best possible life for the group. By improving their kin's status the Lumbees in the RBMA gained status themselves. They took pride in what they accomplished, and to this day those farmers' descendants who still live on the land designate themselves as being from Red Banks.

The Lumbees who participated in the Red Banks Mutual Association succeeded because their traditional Indian values of kinship and community allowed them to. They sought out assistance from the federal government during their time of need, and used a federal works program to help themselves. More importantly, Lumbee cultural stability was encouraged because kinship mechanisms were employed in running the farm. This resulted in stronger Lumbee community ties, which helped establish a stable cultural base. In essence, because of the Red Banks Mutual Association, the Lumbees were able to enhance their "Indianness." This accomplishment stands as a tribute to their heritage, something that the Lumbees still possess today.


(1.) Karen Blu, The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian Problem, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980), 36-37, 40; Adolph Dial and David Eliades, The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee Indians (San Francisco: Indian Historical Press, 1975), 23-34.

(2.) Blu, 26-27, 40-41, 43; Dial and Eliades, 1-8, l0-18, 28; Gerald Sider, Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, Ethnicity, and Indian Identity in the Southeast United States (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), xvi.

(3.) Blu, 44; Dial and Eliades, 27; Sider, xvi; David Wilkins, "Breaking into the Intergovernmental Matrix: The Lumbee Tribe's Efforts to Secure Federal Acknowledgement," Publius 23 (1993): 130.

(4.) Blu, 45, 48-50; Dial and Eliades, 33-37, 43-45; Sider, xvi.

(5.) Blu, 62-65, 77; Dial and Eliades, 45-86, 90-106, 136, 141-43; Sider, xvi, 4; Wilkins, 130-31.

(6.) Blu, 77-78; Sider, 3.

(7.) Blu, 77-78; Sider, 3, 5.

(8.) Blu, 79-85, Sider, 3, 5.

(9.) Sider, 4; Wilkins, 131.

(10). Dial and Eliades, 149-51.

(11.) H. R. Barton, Maxton NC, to Mrs. Thomas O'Berry, Raleigh NC, 5 September 1934, Correspondence and Reports Relating to Red Banks and Pembroke Farms, Lumber River Legal Services (LRLS), Pembroke NC; William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1963), 48.

(12.) Ernest Hancock, "A Sociological Study of the Tri-Racial Community in Robeson County" (master's thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1935), 63-64; Resettlement Administration, Report on Conditions of the Indians in Robeson County, North Carolina, by John Permain (Washington DC: Resettlement Administration, 11 November 1935), 1-3,17, 46-66, hereafter referred to as the Permain Report.

(13.) Permain Report, 47.

(14.) Ibid., 25.

(15.) Barton to Mrs. O'Berry, 5 September 1934.

(16.) Ibid.; Clifton Oxendine, "A Social and Economic History of the Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina," (master's thesis, George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville TN, 1935), 4; Permain Report, 53, 55.

(17.) Hancock, 70; Permain Report, 14.

(18.) Patricia C. Albers, "Intertribal Relationships among Plains Indians" in The Political Economy of North American Indians, ed. John H. Moore, (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 98.

(19.) For Indian kinship, see Albers, 97-100; Gary C. Anderson, Kinsmen of Another Kind (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1984), xi, 11; David LaVere, "Between Kinship and Capitalism: French and Spanish Rivalry in the Colonial Louisiana-Texas Indian Trade," Journal of Southern History 2 (May 1998): 198-201; Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. Ian Cunnison (New York: Norton, 1967), 10-11; W. Raymond Wood and Margot Liberty, eds., Anthropology on the Great Plains, (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1980), 104.

(20.) Dial and Eliades, 152.

(21.) Francis P. Prucha, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, vols. 1 and 2, unabridged (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1984), 921, 941-44.

(22.) Ibid., 945-46.

(23.) Ibid., 947.

(24.) Ibid., 948-51.

(25.) Ibid., 952-56.

(26.) Ibid., 962-65.

(27.) Ibid., 993-97, 1004.

(28.) Dial and Eliades, 152.

(29.) Joseph Brooks, Pembroke, NC, to John Collier, Washington DC, 8 July 1935, LRLS.

(30.) Barton to Mrs. O'Berry, 5 September 1934; Brooks to Collier, 11 April 1935, 29 May 1935; E. R. Burton, Washington DC, to R. L. Whitcomb, Muskogee OK, 8 July 1935, LRLS.

(31.) Brooks to Collier, 11 April 1935, 29 May 1935; Burton to Whitcomb, 8 July 1935.

(32.) Ibid.

(33.) Bureau of Indian Affairs, A Report on the Siouan Tribe of Indians in Robeson County, North Carolina, by Fred Baker (Washington DC: Bureau of Indian Affairs, 9 July 1935), 10-12, hereafter referred to as Baker Report; Fred Baker, Sisseton SD, to Joseph Brooks, Pembroke NC, 12 June 1935, LRLS; Brooks to Collier, 8 July 1935; James E. Chavis, Pembroke NC, to John Collier, Washington DC, 1 July 1935, LRLS; J. M. Stewart, Washington DC, to James Chavis, Pembroke NC, 10 July 1935, LRLS; William Zimmerman, Raleigh NC, to Fred Baker, Washington DC, 13 June 1935, LRLS.

(34.) "Big WPA Program Is Announced for Robeson County," Robeson County (NC) Robesonian, 3 March 1939, 8; Jack Campisi, Cynthia L. Hunt, Julian Pierce, and Wesley White, "The Lumbee Petition for Federal Acknowledgment," 1987, LRLS, 19; Select Committee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Hearings to Investigate the Activities of the Farm Security Administration, 78th Cong., 1st sess., 18 March 1943, l087; "Plan to Place 1,000 Tenants on Farms of Their Own," Robesonian, 2 December 1935, 6; "Primarily an Indian Project," Robesonian, 29 Jane 1936, 1, 4.

(35.) Blu, 84-85; Dial and Eliades, 152-53; Farm Securities Administration, "Farm Securities Administration Loan Agreement" 1938, Earl Deese Papers, in possession of Dr. Linda Oxendine, Department of Native American Studies, University of North Carolina at Pembroke NC.

(36.) Baker Report, 67.

(37.) Ibid.

(38.) "By-Laws of the Red Banks Mutual Association," 1938, 1-2, 6, Earl Deese Papers; Select Committee, Activities of the Farm Security Administration, 1088; "Red Banks," uncredited manuscript, LRLS; Farm Securities Administration and Resettlement Administration, "A Proposed Loan to RBMA, Pembroke Project," 30 June 1938, Earl Deese Papers; Red Banks Mutual Association, "Stock Certificate of J. B. Locklear," 19 November 1945, Earl Deese Papers.

(39.) Campisi et al., 16; Collier to Brooks, 11 May 1935, LRLS; John Collier, Washington DC, to Vestia Locklear, Lumberton NC, 28 January 1939, LRLS; Edwin Groome, Washington DC, to J. M. Stewart, Washington DC, 1 May 1936, LRLS; Prucha, 957-63; Sider, 135-37.

(40.) W. W. Alexander, Washington DC, to George Mitchell, Raleigh NC, 11 May 1938, LRLS; C. B. Baldwin, Washington DC, to Joseph Brooks, Pembroke NC, 4 May 1938, LRLS; Campisi et al., 16; George Mitchell, Raleigh NC, to Correspondence Section, Resettlement Administration, Washington DC, 28 February 1938, LRLS; George Mitchell, Raleigh NC, to W. W. Alexander, Washington DC, 22 April 1938, LRLS.

(41.) Campisi et al., 16; J. G. Walker, Washington NC, to George Mitchell, Raleigh NC, 25 April 1938, LRLS.

(42.) Campisi et al., 19-20.

(43.) George Mitchell, Raleigh, NC, to John Walker, Raleigh NC, 2 October 1939, LRLS.

(44.) Earl Deese, phone interview by author, 3 March 1998. 45. Ibid.

(46.) John Collier, Washington DC, to George Mitchell, Washington DC, 12 December 1940, LRLS; John Collier, Washington NC, to Joseph Brooks, Pembroke NC, 12 December 1940, LRLS; Cynthia L. Hunt, interview by author, 28 March 1998; "Red Banks" MS, LRLS.

(47.) "Economic Development," uncredited manuscript, 15 November 1939, LRLS; H. C. Green, Pembroke NC, to W. W. Alexander, Washington NC, 15 November 1939, LRLS; George Mitchell, Washington DC, to H. C. Green, Pembroke NC, 11 December 1939, LRLS.

(48.) Dick Brown, "US Stakes Lumbees to New Future," Raleigh (NC) News and Observer, 7 July 1968, 8-9; Howard Gordon, Raleigh NC, to C. B. Baldwin, Washington DC, 16 June 1941, LRLS; George Mitchell, Washington DC, to H. H. Gordon, Raleigh NC, 6 August 1940, LRLS.

(49.) C. Carter Chase, Raleigh NC, to J. C. McCaskill, Washington DC, 30 August 1945, LRLS; T. W. Crutcher, Washington DC, to J. B Slack, Raleigh NC, 9 July 1945, LRLS; T. W. Crutcher, Washington DC, to B. Locklear, Maxton NC, 10 September 1945, LRLS; J. B. Slack, Raleigh NC, to T. W. Crutcher, Washington DC, 12 September 1945, LRLS; S. Marlon, Washington DC, to James Chavis, Pembroke NC, 22 March 1945, LRLS; Red Banks Mutual Association, "Minutes of the Regular Quarterly Meeting of the Members of the Red Banks Association," summer 1945, LRLS; Siouan General Council, Pembroke NC, to Secretary of Agriculture, Washington DC, 27 August 1945, LRLS; William Zimmerman, Washington DC, to C. Noble, Washington DC, 25 October 1945, LRLS.

(50.) H. C. Green, Pembroke NC, to County Board of Education, Lumberton NC, 5 June 1939, LRLS.

(51.) Earl Deese interview; Lucy Peebles, "Co-Op Will Disband After 29 Years; Members Will Buy 1,700 Acres," Pembroke (NC) Lumbee, 26 January 1967, 1, 3.

(52.) Brown, 8-9; Earl Deese interview; Peebles, 1, 3; Sussanah Zak, "A Story of Survival: The Lumbee Indians" (master's thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1992), 34-35.

(53.) Earl Deese interview; Peebles, 3.

Ryan Anderson is a master's student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and holds a bachelor's degree in social science education from Florida State University. His research interests include American Indian history, Southern history, sport history, and cultural history.
COPYRIGHT 1999 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 1999
Previous Article:The 1994 Navajo Presidential Election.
Next Article:"Who Am I? I Am The One Who Sits in the Middle".

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters