American Indian History, Culture, and Resilience

Author: Secretary Reid Wilson

On the night of January 18, 1954, the Ku Klux Klan planned to hold a rally in the Robeson County town of Maxton.  The local Lumbee tribal community had a different idea.  Hundreds of Lumbee men and women gathered in opposition to the planned rally.  In a skirmish covered by LIFE magazine, the Lumbee and KKK engaged in a gunfight, and the roughly 50 Klansmen turned and fled.  The Lumbee had emphatically said “NO” to racism, bigotry, and hatred.

Photo taken by Bill Shaw, Fayetteville Observer newspaper photographer. Photo used as state's evidence in North Carolina Supreme Court Case Number 722, State vs James Garland Martin, Spring Term 1959. Image for State Archives of North Carolina

The events of that night constitute an important moment in our state’s history, but it’s a story most people have never heard.  The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is committed to telling more inclusive, accurate, and representative stories about the people and history of our state -- a rich and complex history that began with American Indians.

We seek to promote diversity and cultural inclusion in every way we can, including preserving and interpreting history that might have been previously overlooked, inaccurately portrayed, or purposely ignored.  North Carolina history includes the good, the bad, and the ugly, just like anywhere else.  We think it’s critical to educate the public about all of that, because if we can understand our shared past, it can help create unity today.  And if we’re paying close enough attention to that history, it can lead us down a path toward a brighter tomorrow.

During November, which Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed as American Indian Heritage Month, many DNCR sites are featuring and celebrating both American Indian history and the culture of today’s tribal communities.  This included the annual American Indian Heritage Celebration at the NC Museum of History on November 19, an inspiring event attended by nearly 6,000 people.  Nearly 30,000 participated in virtual education programming the day before.

Another important development in terms of American Indian history and culture is that the new NC American Indian Heritage Commission held its first meeting last month.  Governor Cooper addressed the representatives from the eight state-recognized tribes and four urban tribal organizations.  The commission, created in the 2021-22 budget, is charged with advising and assisting our department in the preservation, interpretation, and promotion of American Indian history, arts, customs, and culture.  It’s a great group of people and I look forward to their important contributions.

Last month I visited Waccamaw-Siouan tribal leaders in Columbus County and spent a day with Lumbee leaders in Robeson County, including visits to the site where the Maxton standoff took place and to UNC-Pembroke, home of the impressive Museum of the Southeast American Indian.  I also recently attended the Inter-Tribal Pow Wow at Dix Park in Raleigh and toured ancient tribal mounds near Cherokee.

What I’ve seen is that today’s American Indian culture remains vibrant and vital, not only in ceremonial events, but also through the many daily contributions made by American Indians to our society.  Despite centuries of discrimination, mistreatment, murder, and theft of land, the courage and resilience shown in the face of the Klan nearly 70 years ago remain strong in the American Indian community today.

DNCR is committed to telling these stories across the state and throughout the year. 

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