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Interview with Simeon Cummings

Cummings, Simeon Foster
Gardner, Susan
Date of Interview: 
Lumbee Indian culture; Methodist Church; Christianity; Native American stereotypes; segregation; prejudice; education; ministry; Lumbee history; Native American history; farming
The Reverend Simeon Foster Cummings reflects upon his life as a religious leader and educator to the Lumbee people in this 1995 interview conducted by Susan Gardner. The interview begins with a discussion of Cumming’s family history as farmers in Robeson County, North Carolina, where they cultivated the cash crops of tobacco, cotton, and corn. Although most of his extended family were not victims of this, Cummings describes how many Lumbee Indians lost their land to pay debts which were often insignificant in comparison with the value of the land. Focusing on his own experience, Cummings stresses the importance of education within the Lumbee community and the significance of Pembroke College. He also describes his own path to ministry within the Methodist Church and the impact of Christianity on Lumbee Indian culture. Throughout the interview there are many references to racial relations, segregation, and racial prejudice.
Robeson County, NC, early 1900s-1995
Interview Setting: 
Branch St United Methodist Church, Lumberton, NC
Native Carolinian and Indian Elders Collection
Interviewer's Notes:
The Rev. Simeon F. Cummings exemplifies the combination of secular and spiritual leadership characteristic of Lumbee political leaders; no outsider can hope to comprehend Lumbee political developments without exploring the role of (Protestant) churches and kinship in community organization and development. "Brother Simeon," as his parishioners/constituents call him, was born on June 24, 1920, in Robeson Co., the heart of Lumbee Indian country, in southeastern North Carolina. A veteran of U.S. Army service (1940-45), he then graduated from Pembroke State University,[1] in 1948 and returned to civilian life as a teacher in the (racially segregated) Robeson Co. public schools for eight years. But then, following his call to the ministry, he studied at Duke University Divinity School and Cambridge University.
In 1953, he became the first Native American appointed by a bishop to become a full-time pastor of a United Methodist Church. During his 20-year service at Prospect United Methodist Church, its congregation became, and remains, the largest Native American congregation in the United States.
In the politically active 1960s, Reverend Simeon founded, and became first chairman of, the Lumbee Regional Development Association, Inc.;[2] in 1969, he was one of the organizers of the Robeson Co. Church and Community Center, Inc.[3] In 1973, he was the first Native American chair of the Dept. of Social Services, Board of Directors, Robeson Co., NC (a follow-up interview will focus on his political career).
Concurrent with his political activities, Rev. Simeon continued to take the lead in Native American ministry. He was the first Native American to serve on the staff of the NC Annual Conference Council on Ministries in Raleigh (1973); the first elected Native American delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (1976). From 1984-86 he was first chairperson, and from 1986-91, first director, of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Association for Native American Ministries of the United Methodist Church: as he explains during the interview below, it was during this tenure that he established the Chief Junaluska Memorial Statue at the SEJANAM administrative headquarters at Lake Junaluska, NC. In addition to serving on the SEJ Administrative Council from 1988-91, he was among the first members of the Native American International Caucus (NAIC) of the United Methodist Church. "First," "best," and "longest" are words frequently applied to his multi-faceted contributions.
I first met Rev. Simeon at the annual SEJANAM conference at Lake Junaluska in June, 1995. He invited me to a church breakfast in Robeson Co. the following weekend, a fund-raiser for the endowment mentioned below. Our interview took place later that day at Branch St United Methodist Church, Case St, Lumberton, NC 28358. Rev. Cummings was on the eve of leaving retirement (after 37 years of full-time pastoral service) to take up a new appointment as pastor here the following day.

SG: Were you born in Robeson County?
SC: Yes.
SG: Whereabouts?
SC: About two-and-a-half miles out of Pembroke, towards Union Chapel. It's about two-and-a-half miles, out on a farm there. You've never been out that way, have you?
SG: Not down Union Chapel Road--
SC: But it's north--it's not north Prospect, not north, let's make it about northeast, or something like that. But it's two-and-a-half miles out of Pembroke on the Union Chapel Road.
SG: Right. Is the house still there?
SC: It's been renovated; it's changed, took up a new face. My niece lives at the house now.
SG: And did your parents own the land?
SC: Yes. I guess my grandfather--he owned much of it, about 400 acres of land. And he had five children, and in his will, why, in his will, he willed each of the children a portion of this land.
SG: So, smaller farms?
SC: Kind of smaller farms. The boys, I guess, received a larger acreage; the daughters, they received a smaller acreage, which is about 15-16 acres of land, something like that.
SG: How far back in that area do you think your people go? Did your grandfather's people also live thereabouts?
SC: Yes, my grandparents lived there within 3/4 of a mile from where I was born. My mother's--my father's parents, they lived near my mother's family, in the same community.
SG: Was that how your parents met, then?
SC: I guess that's how they met. They know each other, I guess, kind of growing up, since they were children.
SG: Because Miss Jessie[4] was telling me how she's the youngest of 12 children, and she was the only one who married out of her community--
SC: Is that right?
SG: Yeah, and I was beginning to think they must have run out of people [to marry] after awhile. [Both laugh]
SC: Well, there weren't too many people back then; the population was no ways like it is today. You may travel half a mile, back when I was a boy, you wouldn't see a house. [? On my grandfather's land, they had about five houses.]
SG: Was there a church there?
SC: Yes, Sandy Plains United Methodist Church; that's the church that I attended when I was an infant. My father was one of the beginners of the church,[5] the establishment of a church. He started off with a brush arbor—
SG: Oh, really?
SC: Yeah, from a brush arbor to a frame building.
SG: Did he ever say anything about--I don't know if "reconciling" is the right word--but finding Christianity and Native American beliefs congruent?
SC: No, no, we were mostly educated with the non-Indian religion that we have today, Christianity. All the preachers that I heard were--some of the preachers came in as ordained ministers in the church. Then we had some of our own preachers, ministers, such as Rev. D.F. Lowery; we had Walter Smith and others, Methodists; W.L. Moore, did you ever meet anyone who made mention of W.L. Moore?[6]
SG: He's been mentioned, that's it.
SC: Well, he was a pastor at one time. Of course, he came in this area from another county [Columbus Co., NC] he was interested in education, church, ministry. Of course, he's one who got--established Pembroke State.
SG: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
SC: Oh, there were 11 of us, 11 children. Let's see, I think we were five boys and six girls.
SG: Did any others become ministers? What did they become?
SC: Well, I had one brother who was a local--what we call a local pastor; he wasn't trained but he [became a (supply) preacher]. He is the one who helped establish this church here, in this community. He moved in this community here and he and his children started a worship service over at his house and, of course, as it grew, you know, they began to think about building a church. Well, at first they started off in a garage. The garage is where they--well, you saw the picture, didn't you, in the Lumbee [Methodists] book?[7]
SG: Yes!
SC: That was the beginning, and then of course it started here [in the present building].
SG: Was this farm a tobacco farm?
SC: It was cotton, tobacco, and corn. Those were the three main money crops. And later on, why then, people started with wheat to make their bread with. And then they had milch for cattle, for mules.
SG: Was any of that land ever lost?
SC: Ah--my aunt, she lost her farm. And I have an uncle who lost his farm. I guess he must have had about 80 or 90 acres. He lost for it for very little, about the price of a mule and a wagon, I guess. But he couldn't take care of it: Pate Supply took his farm.[8]
SG: Had they supplied the credit?
SC: Yeah, they supplied the credit, yes. Well, this was during the Depression days; people just didn't have the money back then. Lots of the people--farmers--almost lost their land. Of course, our father and mother almost lost our farm. If it had not been for the Federal Land Bank, the Federal Land Bank, this organization that farmers, they made them pay off, the biggest part of their business tried to take over ( ). The Federal Land Bank ( )
SG: That's very fortunate, I've read so many horror tales about land loss during those years.
SC: They would take your land for just a little of--very [vury] little. In fact, they got a scheme was set up--Pates Supply got quite a bit of land that way.
SG: I'm reminded of, the two summers I spent out at Pine Ridge reservation, how much land was leased to white ranchers. It struck me as very similar, in a way, and that was the main source of income for a lot of people, the lease money, which wasn't much, of course, at all. So that the reservation itself is nibbled into all the time: either the military does, or the local ranchers do. It's like a sort of postage stamp compared to what its original size was supposed to have been. What did your mother do, then, with 11 kids?
SC: Ah, she was just a housewife--
SG: "Just"!
SC: Just a housewife. She prepared the meals for the family till the girls got of age, and then they begin to help her, some. But it was quite--quite a job, just taking care of the family. Back then, people had large families; very seldom you ever saw a family with one or two children. They was usually large families. It seemed like they majored in children [both laugh]. Well, back then, our children was a lot of help on the farms. You had children because it was hard to get labor. Usually, the families--they had a large family for a couple of-- [Interrupted by telephone]
SG: Yeah, if I go back in my family, too, the families get bigger, because they were also farmers. Yeah, the need for the labor--
SC: Whenever a family had eight, nine or ten children, they were an asset to the economy (running) of the farm. They needed the children. Of course, they were clearing the ground, and they were also--once they cleared the ground, then they began to plant crops.
SG: I was talking to Lonnie Revels[9] at Lake Junaluska, and we were talking about why I seemed to be interviewing more older women than men, the differences in the mortality, and he said he reckoned on the farm, people "mixed their own poisons," because they were using arsenic to keep insects off the tobacco. He thinks that may have had a bad effect especially on the young boys' health, although they may not have noticed it at the time. Do you think that was the case?
SC: Not with our family. Of course, we had the poisons, but our family could either read and write, you know, and they would follow directions, and mix the poisons. Yeah, that was very important. But our family, usually they lived a good long life, with the exception of one, I think he died in early life. But others span a life, years.
SG: Did both of your parents go to school?
SC: Very little schooling. My father, he could read and write, and my mother could read and write. They went to very little school.
SG: Was there a school? When they were young, in that area?
SC: I don't think there was very much schooling. They talk about schooling--of course, they had the three races, the Indian, the Black and the white. Each race had their own school. Back then, that's when they wanted to put the Indian with the Black, of course that's the time... I don't think it's racism, it's just that they [i.e., Indians] didn't believe in mixing races of people. So they didn't go to school because of that. They were more or less self-educated; they educated themselves.
SG: But by the time you were going to school, to what grade level did it go?
SC: Ah, we had the--the high school. And then, of course, we had the regular two years' normal school for the [teacher] trainin'.
SG: So that was all in place?
SC: Yeah. Yes, I went to grade school, and they had seven grades, and then from 7th you went to the 11th; they didn't have the 12th grade back then, it was 11 grades, did you know that?
SG: I just gathered it from talking with Miss Jessie. At first I wasn't sure what she was talking about; I had to ask her again.
SC: Once you had finished the 11th grade, you had finished high school. Then, of course, if you were interested in furthering your education, then there was the two years' normal that you went to. And then, later, we had then four years of college, Pembroke State College.
SG: So you really--it sounds like, if you wanted a higher education, you had to go to Pembroke, what is now Pembroke State,[10] or else you had to go out of state?
SC: You had to go out of state, yeah. Well, even to go out of state--not too many went out of state. McKendree College [Lebanon, IL] was a lot of help to educate, I guess you saw that--
SG: I read it in //The Lumbee Methodists//-- [p. 72]
SC: The Methodist church was helpful, they educated some of our leaders in education. I went to Peabody [College] for a summer; I was thinking at the time of a master's degree in education. And Albert Hunt, that summer, went to Peabody. Well, after that, I was planning on going back the next summer, but something happened--the Lord called me to preach; I didn't go back. And that's when I received the (?); once you finished college, if you lived in this area, Pembroke area, that's about as far as you--they were trained, many women, for the teachers, for the Indian people. And we had a lot of non-Indian professors who were coming to the school, to teach in the high school, to teach in the college.
SG: But up until that level you would just have had Indian teachers?
SC: Ah, mostly, mostly Indian. All in the elementary school that I went to were Native American or Indian teachers.
SG: When you were growing up apart--I mean, the officially-imposed segregation obviously made people think in terms of differences, [but] that strikes me as rather negative, though; were there positive meanings associated with being Indian?
SC: Ah, retaining your race?
SG: Yeah, and culture--
SC: With us, with the Indian people, of course, we didn't have Lumbees back then, we had different names [laughs]--[11]
SG: So many different names!
SC: But mostly, we viewed that, to retain your color, and not to mix, because, if you mixed into the Black race, why naturally your children could drift into Blackness, you see? So, they wanted to retain their Indianness. And, of course, if you married white, then of course it meant that you couldn't live in the county, you had to leave the county. We had one man--and his picture's in the book--James K. Braboy. You remember him. He married a local white.[12]
SG: Oh, did he?
SC: Yes, and he had to leave the state, he had to go to South Carolina.
SG: Who said he had to leave?
SC: Oh, it was against the law.
SG: In other words, it wasn't his own people--
SC: No, it was state law that you wouldn't mix races.[13] But I always thought--he was a smart man, and God brought some good out of that, 'cause if James hadn't gone to South Carolina, I don't know what the Indian people would have done. He was their teacher, he was the only teacher who they had. And they built a school and he was school-master. [Phone rings] That's unusual, they're not supposed to know that I'm here.
SG: So when you were growing up, were you thinking in terms of being a teacher, and it wasn't till later that the ministry occurred to you?
SC: I guess my experience came--it was after World War II. I could always see how far my people were behind other people and it just come on to me that if I ever got back home I wanted to be a leader, to help my Indian people. So I was in service about five years; then I was discharged. I had a wife and two children.[14] So I enrolled at PSU and so I went to school. I had two years' college, so I went on and finished college. I received a certificate in teaching. So I graduated from college and I taught school for eight years. When I was teaching school, I talked to (?) --to me, it was in the church, we had our minister, Rev. D.F. Lowry, and he was our only ordained minister. And the thought came to me, when Rev. Lowry deceased, I said, who's going to be the pastor 'round here?[15] And He kept this in my mind. Now I think, the Lord just placed it there. I tried excuses--I had six children at that time and I said, how in the world can a man be a full-time minister with six children? There's no parsonages large enough for that! I knew the commitment that I'd have to be trained-- But anyway, I made that decision that I wanted to be an ordained minister in the Methodist church. And I made it known, and of course the Bishop, [Paul N.] Barber who was the bishop at that time, he says, "you'll always be taken care of, don't worry." So I became an ordained minister and I and my wife had three more children come along, so I came with three more children.
SG: By the time you were ordained?
SC: No, ah, before. Let's see--while I was in the beginning years at Prospect. I had six when I went to Prospect, so I stayed there three years, I came up with nine children. I stayed at Prospect for 20 years. And when I was going there--it already was a large community; membership of the church must have been about 1975 or 85, like that. But now when I left in '73 there's about 650 people in the church. There was a lot of growth. We built an education building, fellowship hall, I believe it educated our Indian people. I knew they were behind, I said (?). And I was the first one who started with a worship service, a planned worship service, like I've got in the bulletin here. So, I told the administrative board--the preacher board, we called it back then--"Give me six months with planned worship," and I says, "After six months you want to go right back where you were," I said, "Well, you should go back where you were." So they said, "All right," so I got my pianist, trained my pianist, got my order of service, got my choir, and I asked them--after six months, I says, "Do you want to go back now to where you were?" "No, let's go on, not back where we were." So yes, I started the meeting, the order of service.
SG: How did your wife feel, I wonder, about this change of "career", I guess? It sounds more like a change of vocation or a calling--
SC: Well, there's some mixed feelings as to whether we could make it, but she never questioned it. She says, "We'll do what we can." And, of course, if it hadn't of been for her support, I would have never made it. But we had nine children and we had about 24, 25 acres of land... The children, my wife, they took care of the little farm, and I did the pastoral work. But I had people to help with that, and I would go in and help: I would get up early in the morning and do some things around the house, then I'd go to the church. But it took a lot of work to do it.
SG: How did you meet her?
SC: Oh, I met her when she was just a young girl, she must have been 16, about 16 years old. Our two communities joined: it was the Union Chapel community and the Pembroke community. I happened to meet her. I went out to a football game, and I met her--
SG: I was wondering how young folk met?
SC: Usually, you had a rivalry between communities. You had Pembroke community, Union Chapel community, [ ] community--they were just like tribes. Prospect community. And there was a rivalry between them, and a lot of times they didn't want boys from other communities coming in their community to see their girls. Sometimes you had to have just a lot of nerve to visit! But that's how we got together.
SG: Well, when you were growing up, I suppose then the venue of social life was to a large extent the church?
SC: It was the church, yes. That's where the people all got together, they sang, they prayed, they'd fellowship together, they had the box suppers, they had--to raise money for the church, and so forth. It's a place to get together. And they had the school--they called it "school breakin'" back then; that's when schools closed. That would be a big day. They had the big days--far between, but they'd wait for it.
SG: Do you know if your father may have been a member of the Red Men's lodge?[16]
SC: I don't think he was, no. I know he didn't speak about that. He was busy providing for his family. At one time he was thinking he'd have to go into Georgia--that's back when they--
SG: The turpentining? [Harvesting pine sap for turpentine][17]
SC: Yeah, he was thinking one time that he' would have to--something must have happened; he got a little--he saw some light, he said, "I'm goin' to go out of state."
SG: Things must have been tough for him to think of it.
SC: Yeah, to go that distance, leave your families, to work.
SG: So, in effect it was migrant labor?
SC: At that time we had a few men, later they took their families.
SG: Also, when you were growing up, was there any contact at all between Indians and Black people?
SC: Ah, very little.
SG: What form would it take, if there was any?
SC: There was no mixing, no mixing even of races. Usually the white--they wanted to treat Indians the way they'd treat the Black, they wanted to be separate, you know, just a race of people. They were separate, they had their own church, they had their own schools, and they had their own functions. But later--we had some white teachers who would come in, and they would teach--help out with education, especially when they were at the normal, and in the college we had white men, we even had some white teachers in our high school. They more or less I guess felt like kind of a mission work; they wanted to help us.
SG: The savages in their jungle! Was it that bad?
SC: Ah, well, we had some good people, they were sincere. We had some great teachers.
SG: How did you hear about Henry Berry Lowery when you were growing up? How was he portrayed?[18]
SC: Well, he happened to be a relative of my father! And we just looked at him as an outlaw, you know He didn't receive the credit that he's given today, back then. I don't know, it was more or less--it shouldn't have been that way, you know, you oughtn't to think of murdering, killing people. And yet they would finally say it took that to get people to see, you know, that we ought to be doing things together, but then we were separate, you know.
SG: That's probably true of lots of folk heroes, looked at from one perspective they're outlaws; from another they're champions of the poor and the oppressed. Of course, he was one of the very first people I heard about when I came here! It seemed to me everybody was related to him, and I was beginning to think, this can't BE! But on second thought I think--yes, they can!
SC: A lot of people were related, back then, to each other, to many people. But he was a close relative of my family, very close.
SG: But when you were growing up he was regarded as something of an outlaw, rather than--?
SC: Yeah, as an outlaw, yeah. But later, when you begin to develop who you are, who you were as a people, you can see what caused him to be that way. And he had a right to be that way. I expect that if things would happen to go back the way they were back then, you would probably have some outlaws now! [Laughs]
SG: Do you think your upbringing differed very greatly from that of a rural Black or a rural white family? I guess I'm really asking what may have been specifically Indian about it.
SC: The thing about it is, you knew that if you would better yourself, you had to get an education--education was the key to it. Not only education, but the church was very important in the life of the Native American. The home was very important. You had the three together. The home, the church, and the school. And really, that's what made the individual. He was disciplined in the home, he was disciplined in the school, and then he went to church to learn about love, to love each other. And they all went--they worked together. So, really, we just felt like, if you were going to help your people, you would establish good Christian homes, schools, and the church. And most of your leaders today--of the Lumbee people--were people who were brought up with that philosophy of life.
SG: I think I've always been somewhat puzzled--puzzled and impressed--by the Christian beliefs I've found among so-called "minority" peoples, when you see that the white Christian churches were not exactly acting in the spirit of love--
SC: I get the--the minority people have usually taken the church, the doctrine of the Bible, the teaching seriously; they believe very seriously. And I guess it was--let's say, the white man [something about getting liberal in theology]. When the Indian people go to church, they believe what the Bible's saying, and they try to live like the Bible says. They were fundamental, and they taught it that way. And then they had the other--would creep in, and be liberal in their theology, I guess that's where we've got today, where we have all this liberal theology.
SG: I felt this morning [at the fund-raising breakfast] that I detected some notes of--well, that it's been a real struggle, I guess, within the church, to have your identities affirmed, your culture affirmed?
SC: Well, you had to be (?) to be successful in my day, you had to kind of deny who you were, your culture, you had to hide it. You would be segregated, you would be looked down on, if you tried to retain your Indianness. They'd look down... With our ministry, you know, when they--the Methodist Church was a white organization, a white church, and especially when we had the liberal whites. But if you went to the conference, meetings, at the time, you had to deny who you were, or keep to yourself, or something. But you always had some friends who accepted--especially if you were--had--a dark complexion, you weren't accepted too well. They would accept those of light complexion. They went for coloring.
SG: Some days I think young people can hardly understand this. I think of some of my African American students. They don't want to hear a word about slavery, from a white person, anyway. They think of the civil rights movement as almost boring, as if that's past, now everything's ok. Oh dear, I think they've got to learn more about what the history was like then! Everything isn't ok, anyway, and that's just within a generation!
SC: I know. Of course, back here in the 1940s, we had the races separated, of course in the Army, you know, you had the whites and you had the Blacks in their outfits. But with the Indians (?) [Rev. Simeon means that Robeson Co. Indians were assigned to "white" units]. Back home--if you'd come back home from out of service, why, they didn't want you to come into the rest room because you were Indians. They'd say, "We don't serve Indians." I had to tell one fellow, I said, "You know, I sleep with your people, and I go with your people, and your people's just like any other people." Once you get exposed to that, you just kind of say, "Well, I don't go in for what you're teaching." Kind of broke--prized the doors open a little better, and you know, you go to a person, to the front door, and they say, "Well, you go to the side door and I'll talk to you," hey, you say, "No kiddin'! Me?" But that's how isolated--someone said, the good old days!
SG: How do you see the future of the Lumbee people as distinct, then? Will they continue to be so?
SC: I think the Lumbee people will be proud of your Indianness, but be acceptable as a person. Wherever you are. Now, my son who is a heart surgeon at Pinehurst, now he operates on the white, Black, and the Indian. If you're qualified, if you can do the job, then you're accepted, you see. So people now's looking at your qualifications. No matter who you are, but go ahead and get your education, put yourself in society, and be part of society. Some people say, we want to do it like Grandpa used to do it. But you can't do it like Grandpa used to do it! Education makes a difference. You educate your people, and then they see different. Training has a lot to do with it. I was in the time to speak to a church about the order of service, "We're not goin' to have no order of service, we come in, sing a song, sing until we get tired, have our prayers, and then the preachin'." But now they've been introduced to my order of worship, and they like that, you know. So it's a process of educating them. And I've been in favor of that educating, of the Indian people.
SG: The Lumbees seem to have been extraordinary in that regard; the way they have looked after themselves educationally, when the state would not, it's just such an impressive record. Adaptation but without losing a sense of who you are. It's as Ruth Revels says, being able to walk in both worlds.
SC: The main thing is, always be proud of who you are, accept who you are as an individual. Like I tell a person, I'm proud of who I am, and then I'm proud that I'm a United Methodist, and then I'm proud that I'm a Christian. So, with that--I know when I was in Raleigh, I was there five years, and I worked at the Council of Ministries, and I went into Anglo churches, very few white churches that I go to, but I covered the conference, and I always tell the people who I am, I'm proud of who I am, my blood, but I'm proud I'm a Christian, and a brother of the United Methodist Church. It seems like people accept you very well when you tell them that. I spoke at one church--it was out from Charlotte, I don't recall the name of the church, and after I preached I was standing in the vestry when this lady came by, and I think I told this lady about [Chief] Junaluska, and she says, "You don't look like an Indian!" I said, "How does an Indian look?" But she was thinking in terms of wearing the feathers, you know, and the face paint, and that's the image that a lot of white people have of Native Americans.
SG: I just stopped at a filling station, and there they were, these little busts of the eagle-feathered Indian--probably made in Taiwan--
SC: That's not the culture that people find here, that's the people, the Native Americans in the West you know, who wore them, the feather bonnets, you know; the Cherokees, they never did wear them--
SG: Nor the Catawbas, and yet I've seen them wear them at the after-Thanksgiving festival they have in the fall. I've heard [former Assistant Chief] Fred Sanders quoted, "People expect Indians, so we'll give them Indians!" How do you feel about that? In effect, isn't he saying, we can't be ourselves, even though that's Indian, because it doesn't fit the stereotype?
SC: I don't know, I guess wearing the feathers kind of helps people identify, they say who you are, but really, if you understand the Indian tribes, they had a different culture.
SG: The first time you left home, now when was that--got out of the county? Was that when you went in the military, or before?
SC: The first time I left the county is whenever I went to Raeford. I went with my mother and my father on a wagon to take some wheat to make flour. From Raeford from home, it's about 15 miles, 18 miles, something like that. In the wagon, you know; we didn't have cars back then. But I ate all the ice I could find, it was so hot! And coming back I was so sick, and I walked and I walked, and I held onto the wagon, and I walked and that's how I stayed alive! But that was the first--that was my experience--I guess whenever I joined the Army, in 1940, was my [next] experience.
SG: It sounds like that first time was a culture shock! Was it a white town?
SC: Raeford, yeah. White. I says, a Indian boy, goin' out with his parents, we were poor; in fact there were no--I guess there were very few rich people at that time. But it wasn't too bad. But I had no problem when I went into service, just like anyone else. And since that time I've been to, I guess, more than 11 different countries, I guess people all are the same. All of us have desires; we want to be loved.
SG: Is there anything you'd like to add? I've just been firing these questions off--
SC: I think the brochure probably speaks well of what I did. It showed my concern for our people. It's just that I'm glad that the Lord let me bring them forward.


1 What became Pembroke State University of the North Carolina university system was founded as the Croatan Normal School in 1887 with a small grant from the state legislature (1885) to provide (segregated) education for the Indians of Robeson County and environs. Indian children could only attend schools established for them. Up to 1938, Indian public education in Robeson Co. only went as far as the first year of college, and the only profession it qualified students for was teaching: hence Pembroke State was the source of Indian teachers for the people. During its years as a normal school, it took 37 years to graduate successive classes from high school (Smith & Smith 63). Until 1939 the school was a combined high school-junior college. In 1941 the state legislature recognized the school as "Pembroke State College for Indians." In 1945, enrollment was opened to any Indians from federally-recognized tribes, and from 1940-53 it was the only state four-year college for Indians in the country. (Smith & Smith 8)
2 The LRDA "functions as a kind of tribal coalition representing all the Lumbee of Robeson Co. as well as the smaller populations in adjoining Hoke County and the cities of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland" (Dial 105). It developed from the Regional Development Association--"not exactly a tribal council; nothing that specific or that organized" (Sider 262)--and the government-financed Lumber River Legal Services, Inc., a poverty law program. RDA and then LRDA, with an all-Indian board of directors by 1970 and a Lumbee focus, "became the center of the Lumbee struggle for rights and for recognition within and then against the practices and claims of the federal government" (263).
3 In addition to providing food, clothing and shelter for "thousands" (Smith & Smith 9), the RCCCC sponsored voter registration.
4 See interview with Mrs. Jessie Belle Smith Maynor, whom I had interviewed the evening before.
5 Sandy Plains United Methodist Church, 2.5 miles north of Pembroke on the Union Chapel Road, was organized in 1904 by Rev. Simeon's father, N.P. Cummings, and other community leaders. "At the turn of the century, the Sandy Plains community was sparsely settled, principally with Indian families. Most were tenant farmers; but some owned their land and were prosperous.... The first church building was a 'brush arbor', on the Bryant D. Oxendine farm near the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad" (Smith & Smith 35).
6 Doctor Fuller Lowery (1881-1977) was Rev. Simeon's mentor. A teacher for 20 years (from 1906) and a devotee of scientific agriculture, he began his preaching career at Sandy Plains Church in 1913. Eventually he pastored all Indian Methodist churches in the county, and founded Pembroke First Church. Appointed in 1919 as the first Robeson Indian rural letter carrier, he filled the position for 30 years, "and a door was opened for Indians who would seek civil service jobs in the future" (Smith & Smith 69). James Walter Smith (1886-1955) was a barber, public school principal for 39 years, the first Indian postmaster of Pembroke, and a minister for 27 years. Rev. Simeon recalls him as "a spiritual giant" who would travel 35-40 miles to preach a sermon to under a dozen people (Smith & Smith 71). William Luther Moore (1857-1930) was the first headmaster and teacher at the "Croatan Normal School." Among other achievements, he is remembered for arriving in Robeson Co. to sell Bibles and for reciting all four gospels from memory! His wife, Mary Catherine Oxendine, became the first female Indian public schoolteacher. His grandson was Adolph Dial, the outstanding Lumbee historian, politician and businessman, who died in December 1995. (Smith & Smith 64-5)
7 Joseph Michael Smith, general researcher and writer, and Lula Jane Smith, ed. The Lumbee Methodists: Getting to Know Them. A Folk History. Rev. Oscar Cummings, a Lumbee supply preacher, started the "miracle church" on Branch St, Lumberton, in 1960, with an open-air service on a vacant lot, and continued it in an old garage pictured on p. 52 of Smith & Smith. The neighborhood is one of "welfare recipients and unskilled laborers, many lacking education and jobs" (53). Cummings was aided by D.F. Lowry. Rev. Simeon pastored there earlier, 1978-81, and his son, S. Dufrene Cummings, from 1985-89.
8 Rev. Simeon is alluding to the system of agricultural credit in Robeson Co. which steadily and systematically turned many Indians from farmers to share-croppers and day laborers. See Sider 62-8; indeed, his entire study, for discussion of white agarian capital accumulation and Indian near-dispossession in Robeson Co.
9 A leader of relocated Indians in Greensboro, NC, Mr. Revels has served as a Greensboro City Council Member and on the NC Commission of Indian Affairs. His wife Ruth (Locklear) Revels is a founder and director of the Guilford Co. Native American Association (see interview with Thelma Huggins); his sister, Rosa Revels Winfree, is the Indian Education Specialist at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools.
10 Now, despite considerable contention, officially The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the title erasing its segregated Indian origins.
11 Lumbee Indians, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi, are Federally-unrecognized and have never lived on a reservation. The state legislature dubbed them Croatans in the 1880s; Indians of Robeson Co. in 1911 and, in 1913, Cherokee Indians of Robeson Co. The Lumbee name dates from the early 1950s; Rev. D.F. was a major advocate of naming this remnant, amalgamated people for the Lumber River flowing through their heartland. In 1956 the Lumbee name was recognized by the US Congress, although the tribe is only recognized by the state government.
12 Lay leader James K. Braboy (1906-1976) served the Fairview United Methodist Church in Dillon Co., SC, for 43 years. When first visiting this poor Native parish in 1933, he recorded: "I was deeply moved by what I saw. There were terrible social and living conditions--so many were misfits and outcasts of society. I knew I had to come and do what I could. I just wanted to help those who really needed help" (Smith & Smith 40). In 1969 he was named South Carolina's Teacher of the Year, and became one of five finalists for National Teacher of the Year; his first school consisted of two rooms and did not close until 1970. There he was principal, teacher of three grades, school bus driver, janitor, and adult education night teacher!
13 The "miscegenation" law was not repealed until 1960.
14 Rev. Cummings and his wife, Maude, eventually became the parents of nine children, including a pastor, a city manager, a cardiothoracic surgeon, a computer corporation CEO and Vice-President, and a nurse. In 1994 the children established the Simeon F. Cummings Native American Endowment of the Native American Concerns Committee of the NC Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church to provide continual funding for Native American ministries in the Southeast.
15 Rev. D.F. is also is widely remembered as a Native preacher excelling in mission work, a founder of churches and shepherd of local Methodist supply preachers. He was the first recipient--in 1972--of the Henry Berry Lowery Award for Outstanding Leadership in Indian Affairs.
16 The Red Men's Lodges, or Siouan Lodges, were a male-only secret, fraternal organization dating from the 1880s that seems to have declined by World War II. During the Indian Reorganization period, from 1934, they urged recognition by Congress of the Robeson Co. Indians as Siouan Indians of the Lumber River. Sider comments: "In the early 1930s, the Siouan Lodge had developed and sustained countywide Indian leaders, local councils with local leaders, regular local and mass meetings, celebrations and festivals, membership rolls--a whole panoply of tribal institutions satisfying to its substantial membership and impressive to outsiders" (145-46).
17 "The rich pine forests in Robeson County had made the gathering of turpentine profitable prior to the Civil War, but after Sherman's troops burned many of the forests to the ground, the industry fell into decline, and fewer and fewer Lumbees could make a living tapping the pines. In the 1880s, some workers left their homes for Georgia, where the turpentine industry was still thriving. For most, the move proved painful; they missed...the unique Lumbee way of life that...could not be duplicated in a new state or anywhere outside of Robeson County" (Dial 87).
18 "Henry Bear" is the great Lumbee folk hero, an outlaw whose guerrilla band "robbed the rich to save the poor" during the Civil War and into Reconstruction. See Sider 157 ff. and William McKee Evans, To Die Game: the Story of the Lowry Band, Indian Guerrillas of Reconstruction; also Dial, and Dial and Eliades.