Lumbee leaders use legal services to help community
Nakell remembers Dexter Brooks, a Lumbee who worked in the Save Old Main movement and who later became the first Native American to enter and graduate from the UNC law school, and became a Superior Court Judge in Robeson County. Brooks was the first of many Native Americans in Robeson County to pursue legal careers with the welfare of the county's Native American population in mind. Nakell also remembers Julian Pierce, the first director of Lumbee River Legal Services.
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
MM: Well, talk, speaking of getting to know some people, talk a little bit about Dexter Brooks and your working relationship with him.
BN: Sure. Well, yeah, Dexter was a gem and was a very special, a very special person. He was very dedicated to the Indian people, and he was very helpful to me. We worked together very closely during the time of the double voting suit, and I mentioned he talked to me about other plans he had on voting rights issues that I was not ultimately involved in. But I think I’m proud to say it was the work that we did together that encouraged Dexter to come to law school and very pleased that he was very successful. I was also one of his professors in law school and we were good friends. I was very pleased to see Dexter go back into Robeson County and start a practice and begin delivering legal services to Indians and build up a practice. Also Dexter was very genuinely devoted to increasing the numbers of Indian lawyers in Robeson County, and he and I worked together to try to bring Indians from Robeson County to one of the law schools. We tried to bring at least one Indian to the UNC law school every year and tried to also encourage Indians to go to North Carolina Central and Duke as well as other law schools. Dexter was really the guy in the county doing all of that, and I often met with students and talked with them and also talked with administrators and tried to develop a program for bringing these folks, and Dexter was very successful. When people graduated, he had room for some of them in his law firm and helped others set up their own practices, and then Dexter also helped start a legal services program in Pembroke. He recruited Julian Pierce to be director of that program, and Dexter served as president of the program. It was a time, it was very timely because legal services was, this was a time when legal services was beginning to grow. They were getting more support from the federal government, and North Carolina had developed a program called Legal Services of North Carolina, and there was funding available for legal services. It was very organized and supported, and I was also involved in legal services in our area here, and so Dexter and I shared interests in developing legal service programs. I met Julian Pierce with Dexter and then on many occasions and thought the world of Julian Pierce also.
MM: Talk about Julian some also. When you met him, the same sort of things that you mentioned about Dexter in terms of what kind of work he did and—
BN: Well, Julian was the first director of legal services in Robeson County, legal services program, which was critical. This whole scheme, of course when I went down as I said, when I first was invited by Janie and Dexter and Carnell and the group down to Robeson County, there were no Indian lawyers there. There was a tremendous need for Indian lawyers, and the absence of Indian lawyers of course left them vulnerable, left the Indians there very vulnerable to a variety of problems, not just the systemic problems such as double voting but a variety of problems. There was a great need for Indian lawyers. So actually one of the reasons that I began having less to do in Robeson County after we won the double voting suit, at least for a while, was because there were more Indian lawyers there. Dexter was down there and others were down there, and so the need for bringing somebody from outside the county was diminished. It wasn’t gone, but it was diminished. There were actually times when even Dexter would call me and say there was a problem where they needed someone from outside the county, a lawyer from outside the county to come down because it was too hot even for him or lawyers in the county. So that was a tremendous development. A lot of these, a lot of the Indian lawyers were working for poor people and were not able to make the lawyers might make in other places. There was a tremendous need for legal services program to fill a gap even below that because there was still a lot of poverty among the Indians in Robeson County as well as others. Legal services program was not just for Indians. It was for poor folk from all races. So the legal services program was started and was terrific for all the poor people in the county. Julian was just a perfect choice. Julian was brought down as I recall from Washington, DC, terrific guy. He fit in very well with the legal services folks generally. I ran into him often because I was involved in legal services generally, legal services circles, I was involved in our own legal services program here, and also I started a legal services program for prisoners. So I was involved in running two legal services programs, and so I was running in legal services circles and often saw Julian Pierce there, and Julian pierce was beloved, one of the favorite people in the legal services community. He was very highly regarded, and he was a guy who was committed and dedicated to his work and he was really a nice guy, very bright, very nice, very bright guy. He did consult with me on a couple of cases that he brought, and he was doing not just what we might think of as standard legal service case, individual representation. He was bringing test cases to improve the condition of people in Robeson County and was doing a great job. He was involved in the first case trying to challenge the disparities in financing in the schools. I worked with him on that. But there he called on me as a consultant and I helped him to the extent he asked. Julian there in the county as well as Dexter working on that case, they didn’t need an outside lawyer to the same extent that they had before. So they really filled a major gap, and they really, they meaning Dexter and Julian as well as Indian lawyers they brought down there, but particularly I would say Dexter and Julian really were responsible for improving the political process and the conditions for minorities in Robeson County.