Tuscaroras fight to preserve Old Main
In this excerpt, Nakell recalls how he became involved with the Lumbee Native Americans of Robeson County, North Carolina, who in the mid-1970s were fighting to preserve "Old Main," a building on the campus of UNC-Pembroke with symbolic significance to Lumbee Native Americans. The building was important to Tuscarora Native Americans, too, a group that split from the Lumbees. Their non-violent protests helped delay destruction of the building until Nakell's legal efforts, along with Governor Jim Holshouser's political efforts, succeeded.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Barry Nakell, October 1, 2003. Interview U-0012. 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
BN: I became a member of the faculty of the UNC law school in the spring of 1970. Sometime in 1973 I got a telephone call from a wonderful woman named Janie Maynor Locklear, and that was the first time that I heard about the Lumbee Indians. Janie told me a little about the Lumbee Indians and about a situation involving Old Main on the campus at what is now UNC-Pembroke. Janie asked to bring a group of people from Pembroke to talk to me about the situation and I agreed. We scheduled a meeting, and a group of people came to meet with me. As I recall the group included Janie. I believe it may have included her husband Nick. It included Dexter Brooks. It included Carnell Locklear, and there were some other folks. I’m not sure I remember off the top of my head who else was in that first group. They came and told me about the Lumbees, about the history of the Lumbees, about the problems of the Lumbees, about Robeson County, about the history of Robeson County and various matters. We met for quite a while. They told me about the situation involving Old Main. I agreed to help them in connection with their struggle to preserve and protect Old Main. I enlisted the aid of a colleague of mine, Professor Tom Schoenbaum. It’s S-C-H-O-E-N-B-A-U-M, to help me because at that time he was very interested in statutory provisions for protection of environmental matters. He was getting into environmental law, and these also involved protection of historical buildings et cetera. So he agreed to help me with this matter, and we did set about trying then to save Old Main. I think we were very successful. Our legal effort I think delayed the destruction of Old Main and eventually the political remedy came through. I believe Governor Jim Holshouser promised to save Old Main, and as I recall about this time Bruce Barton started the Carolina Indian Voice. In an early edition of the Carolina Indian Voice there’s a big full page ad saying that the white man has made us many promises and kept very few of them, but Governor Holshouser promised to save Old Main and he has come through on that. I remember that very clearly. So we were able to save Old Main, and as we were doing that the folks I was talking to including Janie and Dexter and many other people had become involved. Carnell was very involved.
I began to meet more people in Robeson County and began to know more people, and they all began talking to me about the fact that Old Main is a symbol of education and of the interest of the Indians in Robeson County in education. But that there were issues, real issues involving education they wanted to discuss. I talk about the Indians in Robeson County because during this time I learned that not everybody was happy with the name Lumbee. There was a group of Indians calling themselves Tuscaroras who were concerned that one of the problems that afflicted them was the name Lumbee for various reasons. So they were kind of an independent group, and I worked with both the Tuscaroras and the Lumbee, starting to work with the Tuscaroras after I’d been working with the Lumbees. I believe actually the Tuscarora group was very involved in the Old Main struggle also. They had actually been lying down in front of bulldozers to protect Old Main. So that was another important effort that had delayed destruction of Old Main until our legal efforts could go into play, and they delayed it until the political efforts could be effective.