The Lumbee Indian Nurses

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Pollitt, Phoebe. “The Lumbee Indian Nurses.” Minority Nurse, Springer Publishing Company. November 19, 2015.


The origins of the Lumbee Tribe are unclear. Many people think they are the descendents of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Island “Lost Colonists” of 1587. The Lumbees are recognized as a tribe by North Carolina, but they are still working to achieve federal recognition. “For the first half of the twentieth century, North Carolina laws called for triple segregation—separate schools for African American, Lumbee, and white students, with African American and Lumbee schools far inferior in funding, equipment, and general support to white schools. Lumbee were also frequently discriminated against in employment, housing, recreation, and health until the 1960s” (para. 1). Despite hardships like segregation and discrimination, a few Lumbee women became nurses.

There were a few women from the Lumbee Tribe who never returned to Robeson County after their training. Viola E Lowry Armstrong was the first Native American nurse to enroll at the Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing. She graduated in 1923 and worked as a nurse in Knoxville. Two of Armstrong’s cousins, Lorraine C Lowry Evans and Lessie Lowry Blakeslee, also became nurses. Evans graduated from the nursing program at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Blakeslee graduated from Philadelphia General Hospital School of Nursing and later became US Army nurse. Another Lumbee Nurse was Bertha Locklear Berkheimer, who moved to Philadelphia to live and work as a nurse.

The first Lumbee RN who returned to Robeson County after her training was Velma Mae Lowry Maynor. She went to Philadelphia for her nurse training and returned after the Great Depression because President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal established a homestead community called Pembroke Farms in Robeson County. Maynor was the nurse at Pembroke Farms. She was in several articles in The Robesonian during the four years she worked on the farm. After WWII ended the Pembroke Farms program, Maynor worked at several more places in the community.

Eva Brewington Sampson was another Lumbee nurse who served Robeson County. She was the Director of Student Health Services at UNC-P. Sampson was active on campus and in the community, volunteering and serving on the Board of Directors for many organizations.

Today, there are two prominent Lumbee nurses serving the profession, Bobby Lowery and Cherry Maynor Beasley. Lowery has spent the last 30 years in the medical community. He has served on many boards and directed nursing programs. Cherry Beasley is the first Lumbee to have earned a baccalaureate, master's, and doctor of philosophy all in nursing. She is a part of many nursing organizations. Most recently, she was selected as the first Secretary of Health of the Lumbee Tribe. “A generation of nursing students have benefited from her dedication to and excellence in nursing education” (para. 16).

Despite suffering racial discrimination and segregation, the Lumbee Tribe has produced many outstanding nurses. “These nurses have both provided care to vulnerable people under difficult circumstances and enhanced the nursing profession” and they left a legacy in the Lumbee Nation (para. 17).

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