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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carnell Locklear, February 24, 2004. Interview U-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Frustration with situation of Lumbee Native Americans spurs activism

Locklear describes his awakening as an activist, spurred by his frustration with the application of the Lumbee label to a diverse group of Native Americans, his distress at their poverty, and his dissatisfaction with the federal government's lack of investment in his community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carnell Locklear, February 24, 2004. Interview U-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So, Mr. Locklear, start where you think is appropriate to tell us your first experiences as an activist here in Robeson County.
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
In 1968, I began to wonder, what kind of people are we. We look different, each one of us. There's not many of us looks alike. We're a sprinkle. Some got, you know, red hair, and some got blonde hair, and I said, man, what kind of people, where'd we come from? I never really knew, always heard we were Lumbees. Then I got to doing some research, and find out myself there was a tremendous amount of different tribes among us. The Eno, the Cherokee, the Tuscarora, and different tribes. And then I said, man, how can we be Lumbee people and have all this different blood of Indians among us. And then I went to doing some research with the encyclopedia, and I found out that the people in the eastern part of North Carolina were Tuscarora people. Migrated, they were here, and then some left and some went to New York and some stayed here. Now, all of the Indian people at that time didn't leave here. Some migrated up there, and some stayed here and hid in the swamps. Then I got really interested, and I wanted to find out about the Lumbee bill. I went to Washington, and I sat down and talked to Alton Lennon, and he gave me a copy of the Lumbee bill.
MALINDA MAYNOR:
Talked to who?
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
Alton Lennon. He was a congressman at that time. He was from Wilmington. And he says, he give me a copy of Lumbee bill, and I read it. In the Lumbee Bill at that time, it said, these people hereafter will be recognized as Lumbee Indians. In other words, they would have the name as Lumbee Indians, but they will have no rights as Indian people. And that kind of threw me off. I said, man, what kind of-in other words, we're Indian in one sense, and non-Indians in the other one. And Alton Lennon told me, he come down here and him and I met at the Old Foundry. And he told me, "Now, Mr. Carnell, what it is now, these people are very difficult to work with. They will fight each other and we've tried to work with them, and I've not been able to do anything with them." I said, "Well, I want to help my people." I said, a lot of our people at that time, they needed food stamps, they needed kerosene, they needed clothing. A lot of them couldn't read and write. And they didn't understand the system. They'd get lost in the system. So I said, I want to start an organization, a non-profit organization, and I want to see if I could help. So I give up my job, selling insurance, and I lost my home, I lost my trailer, I lost my car, I lost everything. And I moved in a old house over near Midway, and then I started organizing. We'd meet once a week. And the people would help me by bringing me food to eat. They would pay my light bill at that time, and they bought me some furniture. They gave me a stove, and they give me clothing. There's a man in Fayetteville, I'll never forget him, his name is Mr. Champ Goins, give me an old 1964 beat up Plymouth. And somebody had hit it in the rear and knocked the rear end slam up there. So I began to organize, and we began to go down to the food stamp place. A lot of people would go in there, and they'd apply for food stamps, and it would be three months before they'd hear from the application. And I said, "Boy, this is wrong." I said, "This is just wrong." So we, at that time we began to organize, we began to march against the system down there.
MALINDA MAYNOR:
Social Services?
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
Department of Social Services. That was the first thing we jumped on.
MALINDA MAYNOR:
Now, tell me who was it that was gathering with you to do these?
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
The low income class people from the county here. Indian people primarily.
MALINDA MAYNOR:
Were they becoming aware of being Tuscarora as well?
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
Yeah. We studied the history books at night during the process, and Barry Nakell from Chapel Hill, he agreed to draw up a charter. I knew him by, he come down here and met with me and at that time we were really getting in the newspaper a great deal. The Robesonian was very, very nice to us, because we had a guy from Texas, I've forgot his name, but anyway he began to write articles almost every week. And the more he'd write, the more I would get involved. And Mr. Chavis, what was his name? Miss Dorothy's daddy, Dorothy Lowry's daddy, what was his name? Uncle Zimmie's boy.
MALINDA MAYNOR:
Ed? I mean not Ed-
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
Ed's father.
MALINDA MAYNOR:
James, Jim.
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
Mr. Jim Chavis. Mr. Jim Chavis told me to come to his house. I went to his house, and he says, "Mr. Carnell," he says, "I've been watching you for a long time, ever since you were a little boy." And he says, "I want you to try to do something. I'm getting old and feeble." But he said there was 22 individuals that recognized in 1934 that Indians of one half or more degree of Indian blood. And he says, "I want you to take this stuff and I want you to go Washington, see what you can do with it." Well, at that time, the American Friends Service Committee, who is a religious organization who helped minorities or disadvantaged people to help themselves. So they agreed to help me a little bit. So they gave me a grant of 1500 dollars. And I took that money and used it to buy my clothes and stuff and buy my gas. And I went to Washington and met with the American Indian Rights Fund [Native American Rights Fund] out of Boulder, Colorado. So they agreed to give me a lawyer, Thomas N. Tureen. You ever hear of him?
MALINDA MAYNOR:
I have, he's very well known.
CARNELL LOCKLEAR:
Thomas N. Tureen. So I went to Washington and showed some people in the BIA that document, where the 22 was recognized. So this guy said, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about." I said, "Boy, you'll get [unclear] to be here." So he agreed to help me find the people's names and the addresses of these people, of the 22. What the 22 was, they come down here and took blood samples of the people, and their eyes, their nose, their hair, their fingernails, their skin, their living traditions, the culture. And they said, well, these people are one-half or more degree of Indian blood under the Howard-Wheeler Act. The Indian Organization [Act] of 1934, which gives them the right to organize and have a reservation, and be hired by the BIA, Indian Health Services. But what happened, at that time, during the 1934 up to up until the '50s, the BIA was trying to terminate Indians. And these people names got shuffled around through the red tape and had been forgot about. So Thomas N. Tureen agreed with the Rights Fund to come and help us. And at that time, we began to organize and began to march on Department of Social Services, and we sometimes would have 3 and 400 people at the meetings. And at that time, the double voting issue come along. That was where the people in the towns could vote for the people in the country, but the people in the country couldn't vote for the people in the towns.