PEMBROKE — On a day set aside to celebrate the Lumbee Tribe’s past, present and future, a piece of local history was returned to the American Indian people.
The focus of the event at the Pembroke Boys & Girls Club was the State of the Tribe Address delivered by Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. But the highlight was a gift of a rifle said to have been used by tribal hero and freedom fighter Henry Berry Lowrie.
Before giving his speech, Godwin called to the stage Gloria Lowery, local artist and Lumberton resident. Lowery spoke of how a man she identified only as a prominent Lumberton businessman told her his great-grandfather came by the rifle after he arrested Lowrie, and how the weapon had been hidden in a bank vault for 20 years for fear it would be stolen.
The businessman said it was only right that the rifle go to her, Lowery said. She wanted to loan it to the Lumbee Tribe so it could be displayed at the tribe’s headquarters building so “the people can see and appreciate it,” Lowery said.
The rifle’s historical authenticity has not been verified, she said.
Lowery presented the rifle to Godwin, who held it above his head with one hand and evoked a thunderous round of applause and cheers from the more than 400 people in the gymnasium. The rifle later was placed on a table in a case with a clear front so people could come see it and take photographs.
The tribe’s past was a dominant theme in the day’s events and in the words spoken. But so was the present.
Godwin spoke of many programs from this past year that were beneficial to the Lumbee people. Among them was a housing project in Union Chapel that will see the construction of 50 homes. Not just houses, Godwin said.
“We don’t want to build houses. We want to build homes,” Godwin said.
Building homes is part of building stronger Lumbee families, he said. To that end, tribal leaders are speaking with local financial institutions about a program in which tribal members can learn how to make better financial decisions.
Tribal leaders also continue to work with the Lumber River Council of Governments, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and other partners to foster job growth and create job-training programs to continue economic development that will benefit the tribe and its people.
Godwin also spoke of education and how 49 percent of the students in Public Schools of Robeson County classrooms are from the Lumbee Tribe. The chairman stressed that parents and tribal leaders must continue efforts to help the children succeed in the classroom.
Godwin touched on leadership, and how the tribe’s leaders need to always do what’s best for the people.
“Years from now our grandchildren will be looking back to determine their course and asking what sort of leaders were we,” Godwin said.
The tribe’s proposed fiscal year 2018-19 budget was presented by Godwin. The $22.9 million spending plan includes $19.1 million in federal Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act money and $1.7 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The proposed budget also includes $688,760 for Project ACCESS, an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education with the goal of improving access to higher education and career preparedness for American Indian youth of Robeson County. Tribal programming such as the powwow, Cultural Center and the Senior Miss Lumbee Pageant are budgeted for a total of $242,788.
The Battle of Hayes Pond, the confrontation that took place on Jan. 18, 1958, and resulted in the Ku Klux Klan being run out of Robeson County, weighed heavily in Godwin’s remarks about the men and women who shaped the development of the Lumbee Tribe. He spoke of their courage, their dedication to the tribe’s culture and their reverence for nature. He urged present-day tribe members to emulate their character and help guide the tribe to a bright and successful future.
“May God bless the United States of America, and may God bless the great people of the Lumbee Tribe,” he said.
After Godwin spoke tribal leaders and audience members moved to the water feature next to N.C. 711 at the Lumbee tribal headquarters complex to dedicate a memorial to the Battle of Hayes Pond. The smooth-faced, engraved boulder was unveiled and dedicated in a ceremony that included a Tobacco Ceremony, silent prayer and song.
“This is for all of us,” Godwin said before the unveiling.
The first line on the boulder reads, “BATTLE OF HAYES POND.”
Below that, in smaller capital letters, is, “The Lumbee and other American Indians ousted the Ku Klux Klan from Maxton. January 18, 1958.”
The rest of the wording on the monument tells of how a historical marker is at N.C. 130 and Hayes Pond Road.
The battle deserved a monument because it is a moment in history that shaped the state and defined the tribe, said Kevin Cherry, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and director of the Office of Archives and History. And it deserves to be more than just a physical monument.
“It deserves to be a monument to how we act out our lives,” Cherry said.
It was a moment in time when members of the tribe and other county residents said no to hate, Godwin said.
“The only thing that can take down hate is love,” he said.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.