ETHNONYMS: Cherokees, Croatans, Indians of Robeson County, Scuffletonians
The Lumbee are English-speaking descendants of the remnants of various Native American groups who now live principally along the Lumbee River in Robeson County, North Carolina, and in adjacent counties in North and South Carolina. The Lumbee number about forty thousand, making them the fifth largest American Indian group in the United States and the largest in the East. Today Lumbee are found in small concentrations in Greensboro, North Carolina, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit, although most migrants do return to Robeson County. Lumbee ancestry includes tribal groups that largely disappeared from the Carolinas in the eighteenth century and perhaps some African and European intermixture as well, leading to their classification as American Isolates. Lumbee oral tradition traces their ancestry to Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony at Roanoke. Today, Lumbee self-identity is based on having a socially defined Lumbee parent and no socially defined African-American parent.
In the nineteenth century the Lumbee shared a common culture and life-style with their White neighbors that included landownership, farming, and Baptist and Methodist religious affiliation. Until 1835 they also shared the same civil rights, but in that year the Lumbee, along with other "free persons of color" in North Carolina, were stripped of most of those rights and began to suffer discrimination and impoverishment at the hands of Whites that persisted until well after the Civil War. In the 1880s the prejudice they faced lessened to a degree and some of their civil rights were restored. During the 1960s Lumbee began to develop a pan-Indian consciousness and increasingly became politically active.
From the late 1800s well into the twentieth century the Lumbee were employed mostly as farm laborers and sharecroppers and occupied a depressed social stratum in a society dominated by White farmers and landowners. Beginning early in the twentieth century the modernization of farming in the region reduced labor demands, resulting in unemployment and underemployment for the Lumbee. In the 1960s industrial development in Robeson County offered some hope. Most Lumbee, however, were not able to take advantage of the new job opportunities as they lacked the necessary skills and education, a product of more than a century of "separate, but equal" schools. In the 1960s Lumbee began to move into white-collar and skilled blue-collar occupations, but those doing so have been forced to migrate to urban areas to find employment.
Blu, Karen I. (1980). The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an Indian People. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Evans, W. McKee (1979). "The North Carolina Lumbees: From Assimilation to Revitalization." In Southeastern Indians, edited by Walter L. Williams, 49-71. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Makofsky, Abraham (1980). "Tradition and Change in the Lumbee Indian Community in Baltimore." Maryland Historical Magazine 75:55-71.