People and place: Croatan Indians in Jim Crow Georgia, 1890-1920.

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Maynor, Malinda M. "People and place: Croatan Indians in Jim Crow Georgia, 1890-1920." Thesis. U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002. 43 p. 100 references (primary and secondary). Key source


This meticulously researched, eminently readable thesis tells the story of the Croatan Indian migration to Bulloch County, Georgia in 1890, the settlement that lasted there until 1920, and the ways in which Croatans (Croatan was the tribal name for the Lumbee during that period) retained and asserted their Indian identity in this biracial environment. Maynor provides enough background information and citations to other works in her text and footnotes to make the story clear to readers not deeply familiar with Lumbee history, yet she also carefully documents both her new historical insights and the theoretical perspectives she is applying to the Bulloch County settlement.

Maynor begins her discussion of Croatans’ identity with a cogent distinction between two ways of defining Indian identity. Some writers have held that Indians must have obvious differences in “blood,” “land,” and “community” from non-Indians; and for people with this perspective, the Lumbee would not seem to be “real” Indians. Maynor asserts that “. . . such measures are social constructions responding more to particular historical circumstances and non-Indian concerns that anything ‘true’ or ‘natural’ about Indian communities, even those outside the South. Indian groups negotiate their identities in a variety of ways that are not recognizable by outsiders and which take place entirely in their absence. . . . contested identities and visible change within communities do not represent a loss of identity but rather demonstrate that identity, like culture, is subject to constant renegotiation. This negotiation takes the form of a conversation between the group’s internal ways of recognizing one another and outsiders’ recognition of their distinctiveness as a group” (pp. 6-7).

In their settlement in Georgia, Croatans recognized Indianness in three important ways: kinship identification, control of labor, and creating Indian-only social institutions (a school, a church, and a cemetery). [Maynor raises, and documents, the important distinction that Whites used race to differentiate Indians from Blacks, but Croatans used kinship networks to distinguish themselves from both Whites and Blacks.] Details and extended illustrations are provided for the following:

  • Differences between Black and Croatan turpentine workers in Bulloch County and how these differences showed the Croatans’ process of creating a community and maintaining their Indian identity;
  • Migrations to and from, and continuing contact with, family and friends in Robeson County;
  • Croatans’ transition in Bulloch County from naval stores work to tenant farming;
  • Croatan women’s roles in Bulloch County, compared to those of White and Black women, and how Croatan women’s domestic roles contributed to community- and identity-building;
  • Croatans’ choice not to purchase land in Bulloch County;
  • a detailed explanation of how, by establishing a separate church and school in Adabelle, “Croatans embraced segregationist ideology to protect their ethnic community identity” (p. 27); and
  • Forces that prompted the Croatans to move back to Robeson County in 1920.

In sum, this excellent work uses meticulous research and a clear presentation of the products of that research to present an entirely new take on the important topic of Lumbee identity. Perhaps most significant is the fact that this work provides an extended case study of the ways in which Lumbee people themselves define and negotiate their Indian identity.

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Another edition of this thesis appears as follows: Maynor, Malinda, "Croatan Indians in Bulloch County." Bulloch County Historical Society Publications, 38. 2002.

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Download a PDF of the Bulloch County Historical Society Publications edition at this URL.