Papers, 1910-1943 (APAP-069)

Record Number: 

Estabrook, Arthur H. Papers, 1910-1943 (APAP-069). Albany, New York. M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York


Arthur Estabrook, a eugenicist, was interested in Robeson County and the Lumbees because of his research for the book Mongrel Virginians: The WIN Tribe (1926), which he coauthored with Ivan E. McDougle of Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland. A section of the book (pages 188-194), called “Robin County, North Carolina,” discusses Indians called “Rivers” and is based on the Lumbee (then known, by state statute, as Cherokee Indians of Robeson County).

This annotation is based solely on photocopies obtained from Box 1, Folders 1-6 and 31. The Finding Aid ( for this manuscript collection includes a very detailed inventory for each folder of the collection, as well as a brief biographical sketch on Estabrook. The materials in the collection are copyrighted. Researchers can contact, via e-mail, the librarians at the Special Collections and Archives and ask to have photocopies made of the items of interest. Be sure to be specific about the box and folder number of each item needed. A librarian will reply with the total cost of photocopying and shipping.

Included in the papers described above are letters written or received between 1924 and 1926 referring to the book and discussing the possibility of testing Lumbee schoolchildren. Estabrook’s correspondence is with his coauthor Ivan E. McDougle; A. F. Corbin, a popular vocational instructor at the Cherokee Normal School (now UNC-Pembroke) who taught students about scientific agriculture, especially selective breeding of livestock [see David K. Eliades and Linda Ellen Oxendine, Pembroke State University: A centennial history, 1986, pp. 39-40); and A. N. Locklear, then a fourth-grade teacher at Pembroke Graded School (see The Pembroke Herald, vol. 1, no. 7 (March 1924), p. 1.

Estabrook sought to help the Lumbees maintain “the purity of the race” by studying the history of the people and also by performing tests of both “the average stock of the race; also some of the best families.” The tests would allow the creation of standards so that “then you can say to the people; if you come within this standard, you belong to us, if not, then we do not claim you” (Arthur H. Estabrook, letter to A. N. Locklear, July 24, 1924).

A. N. Locklear and A. F. Corbin, both in their own letters to Estabrook and, implicitly, in Estabrook’s mentions of them in his other correspondence, were in favor of the tests. Both men discussed obstacles to the plan, such as identifying teachers who would support having their students tested; convincing parents and community members of the value of the tests; working through ministers to pave the way for the studies, and people’s distrust of outsiders due to articles about them that had recently appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer [based on the inventory of this collection, the articles are probably Ben Dixon MacNeill’s “Riddle of the Lumbee Indians,” January 31, 1926 and February 7, 14, and 21, 1926].

A. N. Locklear favored the guidance these “mental tests” would give parents by enabling them to know what sort of higher education or career their children might be capable of. Estabrook wrote to A. F. Corbin, reinforcing with him the argument that both parents and the school system should be in favor of “mental tests” for identifying students of “special ability” and guiding their education with this information in mind.Estabrook received letters from coauthor Ivan McDougal and from the State Registrar of the Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia discussing Virginia’s racial integrity law, which defined the amount of Indian blood one could have, and also required no prior classification as black, free negro, colored, etc., in order to be classified by the state as white. The Registrar of Virginia had written someone in North Carolina, recommending that the legislature pursue a similar law. A. F. Corbin commented, in an April 24, 1924, letter to Estabrook, about some controversy that arose in the Lumbee community over some picture-taking that was done of a student, presumably at the Cherokee Indian Normal School. People were apprehensive that the picture would be used by Estabrook as representative of the Normal School’s students. Corbin noted, in a 1926 letter to Estabrook, that he visited the Eugenics Records Office at Cold Springs Harbor, New York, “several years ago.”

Estabrook wrote to Corbin in a June 23, 1924, letter about the importance of competent testing of the Lumbees immediately, to determine standards that would help them keep their race pure and help them obtain legislation for that purpose. In this letter, Estabrook recommended, referring to a conversation he had about the Lumbee with “Dr. Wissler, the anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History,” as follows:

“It has been suggested that physical and other measurements be made of some of the Indians that proper standards be set down. Not only the physical traits should be gone over but also the mental traits. I think any of the leaders of the Indians at Pembroke would at once see the value of actual figures as to the school proficiency of the children now in the Indian schools. The figures thus incurred can be used for direct requests not only for bettering the present schools but even college opportunities for many who now cannot have them except in rare instances.”

A. N. Locklear wrote an interesting letter to Estabrook on July 10, 1924, providing Estabrook with background information on Lumbee history. He touched on the following: local Indians’ dislike of the name “Croatan” (he says that Hamilton MacMillan acknowledged to him that he had made a mistake in applying it); and that “the most ancient of our Fathers said, ‘We belong to the Cherokee Nation.’” He also stated that “Most of our Tribe went West, ... and ‘We’ the ‘Remnant,’ remained at Home, between the Great Pee Dee and the Cape Fear, on Lumbee.”

First Appeared in 1994 Book?: 
Publication Type: 
Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Other Features of Work: 
To view some of the photographs of Robeson County Indians that were taken during Estabrook's research for this book, visit the website, Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement (URL below). Click on "Enter the Archive," then click on "Search the Image Archive." Click to Accept the usage guidelines of the site. Enter one the these three ID numbers: id1261, id1262, id1263. Then click on any of the subject heading links provided for the match.