Lumbee kinship, community, and the success of the Red Banks Mutual Association

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Anderson, Ryan K. “Lumbee kinship, community, and the success of the Red Banks Mutual Association.” American Indian Quarterly 23.2 (Spring 1999): 39-58. Key source


This detailed history of the Red Banks Mutual Association project begins with a useful discussion of conditions Lumbee farmers were enduring, thus explaining the need for the project. By the late 1920's, many Lumbee were working as sharecroppers, farming cotton or tobacco. They constantly owed money to local stores (which were operated by landowners), and the money they owed was charged against their share of the year's crop proceeds. During the Great Depression, when landowners were paid to take some of their land out of production, Lumbee sharecroppers were often thrown off the land they had been farming. Whites were shown preference when they applied for local relief funds.

Anderson gives specific, moving examples from government reports of the vicious cycle for Lumbee farmers: sharecroppers' low compensation; reliance on credit at high interest rates; falling crop prices; unreasonable mortgage rates exacted from those who were small landowners; having land foreclosed on due to inability to make mortgage payments; and working as a sharecropper only eight months of the year and being unable to find work during the other months. Anderson quotes from 1934 correspondence from H.R. Barton of Maxton to Mrs. Thomas O'Berry in Raleigh (an officer of the State Relief Administration) concerning the competition Lumbee farmers faced, in trying to get government aid, from Whites who were also losing their land due to mortgage foreclosures: “There are at least eight or ten thousand Indians...turned away when they apply to these local relief offices here in the county.”

After setting the stage for the need for Red Banks, Anderson discusses John Collier, who became Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933. Collier had worked as an anthropologist and had assisted Indian rights groups for many year. He strived, as Commissioner, to “restore traditional Indian culture, political autonomy, and communal land ownership.” Anderson notes the strong efforts, during this period, of Joseph Brooks, Chief of the Siouan Council, to get relief for Lumbee people. [Note: the tribal name “Lumbee” is used in this annotation for purposes of clarity and simplicity. The tribal name "Lumbee" was not legally adopted until 1953.] In 1934 there was a strong movement to enact the tribal name Siouan Indians.] Brooks wrote repeatedly to Collier, describing the Lumbee struggle with poverty, land loss, and sharecropping. The 1935 visit to Robeson County by Indian Agent Fred Baker, and his detailed report on the Lumbees' reliability, desire for help, and obvious needs, brought action. Pembroke Farms (which later contained the smaller communal Red Banks area) began in late summer, 1935. It was administered by the state office of the Farm Security Administration. The entire Pembroke Farms project consisted of 9,287 acres, between Pembroke and Maxton. Individual farms on the project contained a 5- or 7-room house and outbuildings. Red Banks Mutual Association was established in 1938 as a subdivision of Pembroke Farms. It was a cooperative farming effort, run by the Indian families themselves (up to fifteen at a time), who worked 1,720 acres through a 99-year lease. They operated independently of Pembroke Farms and made annual reports to the federal government on their loan.

Collier wanted the Siouans to obtain federal recognition, so the BIA, in 1936, sent anthropologist Carl Seltzer to measure the Siouan peoples' "Indianness" by skull shape, body measurements, and skin color. His methods, which have been derided as racist (for more details, see The Lumbee Indians: an annotated bibliography, items 57, 610, and 666), certified 22 of 209 applicants as 1/2 or more Indian blood. In the original government correspondence about Pembroke Farms, the intent was to allow people of at least 1/32 Indian blood to obtain land. The change to 1/2 Indian blood had to do with political concessions tied to passage of the Indian Reorganization Act. The project was suddenly shifted from oversight by the BIA to the Farm Security Administration (which was within the Department of Agriculture), thus allowing people other than the 22 “certified” individuals to obtain land. Another roadblock Anderson describes was the visit to Washington by a group of members of a White church adjacent to Pembroke Farms who complained that the Indian farms would spoil the view from their sanctuary and were also unhappy that the project excluded Whites. As a compromise, a row of trees was planted between the sanctuary and the farms; and some small plots were given to White and Black farmers.

This article gives a wide range of interesting details on the history of Red Banks. The project was dissolved in 1968 in such a way that the remaining members could become individual landowners. The article is well researched and documented. Anderson makes extensive use of primary sources such as government reports from the Red Banks period; correspondence between Lumbee tenants/leaders and government officials; minutes of the Red Banks Mutual Association (held by Lumbee River Legal Services); the papers of Earl Deese, who was a manager of Red Banks (held by Dr. Linda Oxendine); and a number of relevant secondary sources, such as books, journal articles, newspaper articles specifically on Red Banks, the Lumbee petition, and masters theses.

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