“Researching the Reservation”: Finding East Baltimore’s Historic Lumbee Indian Community in the Archives

Typical Lumbee Youth in North Carolina (1958)

Following WWII, thousands of Lumbee Indians migrated from rural North Carolina to Baltimore City, in search of employment and a better quality of life. They settled on the east side of town, in an area that bridges the neighborhoods known as Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill.

Today, most Baltimoreans would be surprised to learn that this area was once so densely populated by Indians that it was referred to as “the reservation.” In fact, an anthropologist who did fieldwork in the community during its heyday wrote that this was “perhaps the single largest grouping of Indians from the same tribe in an American urban area.” However, the area had been slated for Urban Renewal before most Lumbees ever arrived, and it has been included in various redevelopment projects ever since.

There are but 2 active Lumbee community-owned sites remaining, where there were once more than 30, according to elders who were among the first to settle. Most of the sites have been repurposed or demolished in the years since. It is through archival research that the historic Lumbee community of East Baltimore can be mapped and reconstructed. Special Collections at University of Maryland College Park holds some of the most useful materials to this end. Featured photographs are from the Baltimore News American Photograph Collection.

The vast majority of existing literature on the Lumbee Indian community of Baltimore has been produced by University of Maryland affiliates Abraham Makofsky (Faculty, School of Social Work, 1967-1979), Anne Brigid Globensky (PhD, American Studies 1999), and Ashley Minner (Lumbee) (PhD, American Studies, anticipated 2020).

The 1956, ‘61, and ‘64 Polk Baltimore City directories have been invaluable in the process of researching the historic Lumbee Indian community. These amazing resources provide exact addresses for many significant sites that have since been redeveloped or razed. One can also utilize the directories to locate the homes of Lumbee people. Common Lumbee surnames are especially prevalent on the pages documenting E. Baltimore Street as it intersects with Ann Street, which was the heart of the Indian community. Ex. Locklear, Hammonds, Holmes, Revels, Sampson, Lowery.

Notable People

Baltimore American Indian Center

American Indian Study Center

Indian Education Program

Resistance

In the wake of civil unrest following the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and racial integration of public schools, a resurgence of the hate group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), was seen throughout the U.S. South. In January 1958, Robeson County North Carolina, home of the Lumbee Indians, became the site of one of the most significant acts of resistance to this hate group.

“The KKK’s actions in Robeson County in 1958 were orchestrated by James W. ‘Catfish’ Cole, the ‘grand wizard’ of a South Carolina branch of the Klan and a self-proclaimed advocate of segregation.”[1] Klan car “caravans” had been “cruising” Indian communities on Saturday evenings to intimidate and terrorize people. Two crosses had been burned on the front lawns of Indian homes. “Following the burnings, Cole announced that the KKK would hold a rally in Robeson County in order ‘to put the Indians in their place, to end race mixing.’”[2] The Robeson County Sheriff’s Department, having been informed that the rally was being planned, took action to dissuade Cole. When Cole would not be dissuaded, assistance was asked of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as bloodshed was expected.

Lumbee scholar Malinda Maynor-Lowery writes, “Along with Charlie Warriax, Simeon Oxendine- a [U.S. Airforce WWII] veteran, business owner, and the son of Pembroke’s mayor- gathered up the Klan’s banner [also left behind], carried it back to Pembroke, and burned Catfish Cole in effigy.”[6] “As [Simeon] later recounted, ‘I helped to pull the Klan’s flag down and this seemed to make them mad.

The Lumbee routing of the KKK in 1958 is not only a hallmark event in Lumbee tribal history, it is one of the most significant examples of successful grassroots resistance to racial hatred in contemporary U.S. history. As anthropologist Karen Blu noted, through their involvement in the civil rights movement- this act among others- Lumbees have had an “impact on Indian affairs and ultimately, perhaps, on the nation’s image of Indians.”[8]

Lumbee men stand in a group before the arrival of the KKK

On the evening of January 18, 1958, about 50 Klansmen, their families in tow, assembled at the field. To their great surprise and dismay, they were met by as many as 500 Indians who were armed with “rifles, shotguns, pitchforks, axes and hoes.”[3] “Klansmen circled their cars in the center of the field and set up a small generator with a PA system and a light bulb.”[4] According to Sanford Locklear, he held leaders of the rally at gunpoint and his brother-in-law, Neil Lowry, shot the light bulb.[5] With that, a great commotion commenced with Indians shooting and war whooping. The Klansmen, frightened, ran away leaving their wives and children behind. Indians later assisted Cole’s own wife, who drove her car into a ditch while attempting to flee the scene. Incredibly, no one was killed or seriously injured.

Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine wrapped in KKK banner after shutting down a klan rally

Wrapped in the KKK’s banner [along with friend Charlie Warriax], Oxendine was [later] photographed by journalists. When the rally became international news, the picture was reproduced in magazines and newspapers around the world. Hailed as a hero, Oxendine received thousands of letters, telegrams, and cablegrams. As its most famous participant, he summed up the significance of the Lumbee’s fight against the KKK: ‘We killed the Klan once and for all. We did the right thing for all people.’”[7] The KKK have not held a public demonstration in Robeson County, North Carolina since.

[1] Dial, Adolph L. The Lumbee, ed. Porter, Frank W. (New York Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1993.) p. 97

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chavers, Dean, “Battle of Hayes Pond: The Day Lumbees Ran the Klan Out of North Carolina,” Indian Country Media Network Today, January 25, 2015, accessed February 17, 2015.

[4] Maynor-Lowery, Malinda. Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, & The Making of a Nation. North Carolina: Univeristy of North Carolina Press, 2010). p 252.
“Sanford Locklear talks about Lumbee uprising of KKK, Maxton 1958,” Youtube: Accessed February 21, 2015.

[6] Maynor-Lowery, Malinda. Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, & The Making of a Nation. North Carolina: Univeristy of North Carolina Press, 2010). p 252-253.

[7] Dial, Adolph L. The Lumbee, ed. Porter, Frank W. (New York Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1993.) p. 97.


This exhibit was created by Kimmi Ramnine, Graduate Assistant for Instruction and Outreach, in partnership with Ashley Minner.

Ashley is a community-based visual artist from Baltimore, Maryland. An enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, she has been active in the Baltimore Lumbee community for many years. Ashley is a lecturer and folklorist in the Department of American Studies at University of Maryland Baltimore County. She is a doctoral candidate in the Department of American Studies at University of Maryland College Park, where she is completing her dissertation on the Lumbee community of Baltimore, in relation to the particular shifting landscape where the community was first established.

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