A Walking Tour Of Baltimore's Lumbee Community
60 years ago, so many members of the Lumbee Indian Tribe migrated from North Carolina to East Baltimore, that the area was known as “the reservation.” Today folklorist Ashley Minner is working to preserve this history and the memories of Lumbee elders. She guides us through the walking tour she’s created, which includes the Baltimore American Indian Center and Heritage Museum.
Check out her Google map here. Click on the sites and the images to see more information.
This interview originally aired on October 19, 2020.
Sheilah Kast: Good morning, I'm Sheilah Kast. We are On the Record. How do you reconstruct local history when time and development have wiped structures from the landscape? What does it take to piece together the stores, restaurants, churches and businesses that loom large in stories but left no physical traces? That's the difficult work Ashley Minner is doing for the Lumbee Indian community of East Baltimore. Ashley Minner is a community artist and an enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. She is a professor of the practice and folklorist in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she also directs the minor in public humanities. When we spoke in October, I asked her to first tell us a bit about the history of the Lumbee people.
Ashley Minner: OK, well, the Lumbee people are the descendants of Siouxon, Algonquian and Iroquoian speaking peoples who claimed the area between the James River, which is now in Virginia, and the Great River now in South Carolina as their homeland and as refugees from disease, colonial warfare and enslavement. Many ancestors of the Lumbee migrated to what is now Robeson County, North Carolina, and formed a distinct community long before the formation of the United States. So we come from various groups of ancestors and we've been a cohesive group for hundreds of years.
Sheilah Kast: How did the Lumbee come to be in Baltimore?
Ashley Minner: So we do have evidence that Lumbee folks were here prior to the turn of the 20th century, for example, we have Governor Worth Locklear, who's noted as the first Lumbee physician, and he was a graduate in eighteen ninety three from Baltimore University School of Medicine, which is today Johns Hopkins University. So he was an early migrant to Baltimore City. And then members of his family showed up in the big wave of Lumbees who came to the city following the Second World War. And that was because many of our people found themselves sharecropping on their tribal homeland. They lost their land through the southern agricultural system. Melinda Maynor Lowery draws a comparison between what happened in North Carolina to what happened out west with Indian removal. So sharecropping is a very hard way to, I won't even say make a living to survive. And lore holds that Lumbee soldiers returning from World War Two passed through major urban centers and realized it would be much easier to make a living in a factory. So literally thousands of Lumbee folks moved up here and settled in a particular area that bridges the neighborhoods of Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill.
Sheilah Kast: So a big wave after World War Two, is there still the same concentration of the community in East Baltimore today?
Ashley Minner: No, we're not concentrated as we once were in that area. I mean, there's still a big Lumbee population in the Baltimore area, but it's dispersed. Most of us, I would say, live in Baltimore County today and in the surrounding suburbs, still mostly in what is considered east Baltimore or southeast Baltimore County, but not in that part of the city as much.
Sheilah Kast: You've been working for several years to develop a walking tour. Where did that idea come from?
Ashley Minner: Well, I was giving like a mini walking tour of the places that I grew up with, South Broadway Baptist Church, the Baltimore American Indian Center, the day care that the Indian center used to own on East Lombard Street to a class of museum studies students. And on this particular day, one of my elder sister, Linda Cox, was with me and she stopped us just beside the church and said, wait, don't you want to tell these folks about the store, the Indian store that used to be here? And I couldn't, of course, because the store was gone before I was born, I would have no memory of it. And I never knew that it was there because the area has been so transformed. So that just sort of sent me down the rabbit hole of archives, searching through old periodicals and convening more elders to talk about the neighborhood that they they lived in and that they helped to build when they were young.
Sheilah Kast: So how many sites are on the tour that you're constructing?
Ashley Minner: Well, I have a suggested walking route and that includes maybe 10 or 15 sites that are close together. But as the years went on, the community dispersed. There are other points of interest throughout the city that aren't really in walking distance. So maybe we have 40 sites on the map altogether.
Sheilah Kast: And the sites important in this history, do most of them still exist today?
Ashley Minner: No. Well, it depends. You know, how do you define exist? They exist in memory. They exist in the archives. And even when you're walking the neighborhood, you can see traces of what what once was. And that's super fascinating to me. Like there's always an absence that marks a presence, you know, in some way. You can see like on the old Indian Center daycare, you can see a border around the door. That's that's an Indian geometric design.
Sheilah Kast: This is On the Record on WYPR. I'm Sheilah Kast speaking with folklorist Ashley Minner, who's creating a walking tour of the history of Baltimore's Lumbee Indian community. Tell us more about your research process.
Ashley Minner: Well, the elders are front and center and everything that I do, because they're the ones who have the institutional memory of what once was. And I've been going between their memories, their stories and the documentary record to have a fuller picture of the past. And then also, you know, lately I've been walking the neighborhood with my good friend and collaborator, photographer Sean Scheidt. And you can really understand in an embodied way what it was to walk from the Indian Center around to the Volcano bar to the church, to, you know, wherever these folks would have would have walked.
Sheilah Kast: Is there much written research or photographic research that helped shape this tour?
Ashley Minner: There's more than I thought at the first place, I, I didn't think I would find any records. And Melinda Maynor Lowery again, she was like Lumbee people are people like like any people who live in a city. They're certainly documented. And you just have to know what to look for. And having run the Title seven Indian education program of Baltimore City Public Schools for so many years, I already had this particular skill set where I knew what last names to look for, what phone numbers, what part of the city, like what streets were probably likely who's related to who. So I found a wealth of photos in the Baltimore News American Archive, the vertical files at the downtown branch of the Enoch Pratt Library has original newsletters from the American Indian Studies Center. What would become the Baltimore American Indian center mailed by Elizabeth Locklear, who was one of the founders, right to the library because she knew that would be important. She's been a wonderful archivist. And then things happen like one day my Aunt Jeanette called me and she said, I have some old papers here. I don't know if you'd be interested in them. And I, I see what she has in there. Actually, the building committee notes from one working class Lumbee people got together and raised ninety thousand dollars to purchase the church that we still have today at 211 South Broadway.
Sheilah Kast: Wow. That must have been exciting.
Ashley Minner: Oh, it was so exciting. I saw my Uncle John's name. You could see what roles people were carrying on in the meetings. And you could more than anything, you know, the thing that still makes me emotional is you can see their good intentions and what they wanted to do for their people and how and just like me, having inherited all of that good work, like living the benefit of what they put in place for us.
Sheilah Kast: Let's start with the Baltimore American Indian Center and Heritage Museum, you mentioned it's at 113 South Broadway. You trace the building's history back to the 40s. But I want to pick up in the summer of 1968 when it was founded as the American Indian Study Center. Tell us about this place.
Ashley Minner: It's definitely a cornerstone of the community and to this day, and I do want to just prior to the sixties, I traced the history of this building back to the dirt, which was so exciting for me. And I was able to do that with the assistance of Lauren Schiszik, who who works at the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, CHAP for the Baltimore City Department of Planning. And I just like to give a plug to planners and archivists and librarians because they're the real MVP's. So the Baltimore American Indian Center was founded as the American Indian Studies Center, and this is actually from the very first newsletter that they still occasionally put out, called the Smoke Signal. And it was written by Herbert Lochlear, another founder. He said the center evolved out of an identified need for a place where Indian culture, Indian life history and craft could be shared with one another in the center and with other interested people in the community. The center also evolved from an identified need to preserve, protect and nourish Indian history and culture, with an emphasis upon establishing and maintaining proper image of the American Indian in the interest of all peoples concerned. And this came out of the fact that when Lumbee folks and other native folks arrived in Baltimore City to work, they were not understood in the city. You could be black or white. And here are these folks saying they're Indian and they don't look like the Indians on TV. And you have to remember, Westerns were all the rage and they were just being, you know, affected by stereotypes that are still very present in the minds of everybody in America, because that's that's what happens through Hollywood.
Sheilah Kast: So what role does the Baltimore American Indian Center play in the community today?
Ashley Minner: The center is struggling to keep its doors open, they threw the work of my mother, for example, Frida Minner and Mr. Stan Markowitz, who was in OSI Baltimore Community Fellow and a bunch of other really dedicated folks, they were able to establish a heritage museum within the center. And that's still open, I think, a couple of days a week despite the pandemic. T hey also hosted cultural events from time to time. In a typical year, we would have a big powwow, and that's the main fundraising event of the year. Of course, the powwow was canceled due to covid. So they're trying to figure out other ways to raise money to keep the place afloat.
Sheilah Kast: Not too far away is another landmark, you mentioned South Broadway Baptist Church, the oldest congregation established by Lumbee Indians in Baltimore City. How is the church changed and evolved over the years?
Ashley Minner: You know, I feel like it hasn't too much, it's pretty much, you know, what's changed is not as many people go now. When I was little, that church was packed on a regular Sunday and it was like a fashion show, people dressed out and they were so fervent in their worship. To this day, there's still a Lumbee preacher from North Carolina and it's still a majority Lumbee population, but it's much smaller. Attendance is down for sure. The inside looks virtually the same as it ever did. You know, since since the communities had it. Prior to it being the home to South Broadway Baptist Congregation, though, the Indian center actually got its start in the church, as did the Title seven, well the Indian education program of Baltimore city public schools at different times used that building. So it's been an important cornerstone of the community as well.
Sheilah Kast: We need to interrupt our tour for a brief break, our guide is folklorist Ashley Minner, who's working to preserve the history of the Lumbee tribe in Baltimore. And when we're back, we'll get into some of the other important sites on her walking tour. I'm Sheilah Kast. Stay with us.
Nathan Sterner: This is the On the Record podcast, a service of Your Public Radio, member supported 88-1 WYPR. You can support this podcast and everything you hear from WYPR, become a member. Come to wypr.org and click the donate link.
Sheilah Kast: Welcome back to On the Record, I'm Sheilah Kast. A walking tour developed by a local historian and artist aims to preserve an area of East Baltimore known in its heyday as the reservation, 64 blocks between Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill, where members of the Lumbee tribe lived, worked and worshipped. And that historian is our guest this morning, Ashley Minner, an enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. She's a professor of the practice and folklorist in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Let's turn to an infamous site on your tour, The Volcano bar. What did you find out in your research about this bar?
Ashley Minner: Well, the is certainly the most storied bar in the history of the reservation, in the words of one Lumbee man, it was a place full of shootins and cuttins and fightins. And even when I was walking the neighborhood with Sean to take pictures, we ran into one of my former coworkers from Baltimore City schools, and she she knew what I was up to. And she's like, you know, I heard just down the hill there was this Indian bar called The Volcano. And my friend said every Friday night it would erupt. Yeah, that's true. All of the press I found about the place points to that being the truth. So it was a Greek owned bar and it became almost an exclusively Lumbee clientele and eventually it was shut down due to the violence. And today it's kind of hard to tell even what corner of the intersection of Ann and Fairmont, The Volcano occupied. But we do know just through stories, we're able to know where it was. And the only photo I've been able to find of the place so far is actually from The Afro in 1968 following the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where an African-American man got beat up at The Volcano. So you see him in front with a bandage on his head and The Volcano in the back.
Sheilah Kast: Yeah, that's interesting because The Volcano had a bouncer who had a reputation for taking care of any problems. There is a great picture of him on your Google map to tell us about Clyde Oxendine.
Ashley Minner: Yes, Clyde Oxendine. He was a former boxer and he's just known for being the bouncer of The Volcano. And I found those pictures of him in the Baltimore News American Photo Archive down at College Park. He's still living. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him, but he is fondly remembered by folks who knew him. And and incidentally, Sean's grandfather was a police officer during the time that Clyde worked in the volcano. And Sean's grandfather said the police wouldn't even interfere if there was some kind of disturbance there. They just let Clyde handle it.
Sheilah Kast: Rosa's Bakery is located at 2101 East Monument Street, a bit a little bit outside the area you're focused on. It's been open since 1978. Who runs Rose's Bakery?
Ashley Minner: Rosa's Bakery is owned and run by my cousins, James Bowen, he just turned 85, and his daughter, Rosie Bowen. They are distant cousins on my Sampson side, which will mean something to Lumbee folks listening. And they've had that bakery since the 70s, like you say, and they're still open today. Rosie's been featured in numerous Sun articles for the traditional Lumbee foods that she offers. In addition to amazing sweets and treats, she actually goes to North Carolina really regularly and she'll bring back sweet potatoes from there just to make her sweet potato pies. And she and her daughter were awarded a master apprenticeship grant from Maryland Traditions so that Rosie could pass on the tradition of making Lumbee chicken and pastry. So the coolest thing for me that came out of that was they made documentation of Adriana learning to make chicken and pastry. And as part of that, I saw Adriana in their house in North Carolina interviewing elders like she was continuing the work. And that's just the dream to me. So, like, I know this isn't just my project and they aren't just my stories. And it's really important that other Lumbee people get involved. And it just it thrilled me to no end to see Adriana doing that.
Sheilah Kast: I can imagine that that was thrilling. That's artist, historian and folklorist Ashley Minner On the Record on WYPR . I'm Sheilah Kast. Minner's working to preserve the legacy of the Lumbee tribe in Baltimore. I want to play a clip from an oral history you collected from Linda Cox in 2011.
Linda Cox: I find that we have a hard time fitting in. Pretty much. We do better when we are with our own. We feel more comfortable when you go to places and you can, you don't have to tell nobody who you are. You can just be you when you're around your own people. But I'm finding now that I'm 61, that a lot of people it don't matter. Some people it does, but a lot of people it just you know, you can just be you. They can respect you for, who you are. You don't have to have to have your feathers on, you don't have to have on your makeup. You just can be yourself and be people and not be considered, you know, hey, I'm Indian and I need to prove it to you. I find that I'm just me.
Sheilah Kast: You know, many people, even if they've been around Baltimore while, aren't aware of the Lumbee presence here. How do people react when they meet you? What what assumptions do they make?
Ashley Minner: Well, when they meet me in particular, most people assume that I'm Latino and I'm not. Part of that has to do with context because, you know, the Latino community moved in where the Lumbee community moved out. And they they see me in this place with my physical features. And that's just an assumption that they make. But oftentimes in my life, when I've explained to people who I am and what I am, they don't believe me. And it's because they have this image of what an Indian should look like from Hollywood or, you know, from museums. And I don't fit that image. So they just can't believe it.
Sheilah Kast: So how does that feel?
Ashley Minner: Well, you know, it seems like a common theme when I talk to other folks who have lived outside of our tribal homeland that, you know, sometimes you think your parents lied to you like, am I really Indian? When you get some kind of validation, you're like, oh, it's true. Like it does something to you psychologically.
Sheilah Kast: What do you hope people take away from this tour?
Ashley Minner: I hope they realize not only that we once had a very vibrant, thriving community in the area, but that we're still present. And that American Indians are their neighbors and their coworkers and sometimes their family members, that we occupy all kinds of positions in life and we're alive and well, we're good and worthy and complex like any kind of people. But we're here.
Sheilah Kast: I mean, there certainly seems to be throughout the tour, some of the sites, a real spirit of entrepreneurship, as well as sort of devotion to the community in Baltimore. And I'm not sure that other people recognize, other people outside the the Lumbee community understand that.
Ashley Minner: Well, they should. I mean, we have a lot in common with all of the ethnic communities of East Baltimore, people move here seeking opportunity and jobs. They expand their presence by sending for their relatives to come live with them and work with them. They help each other find jobs and get the resources that they need. And that's not specific to Lumbee people. I mean, the Italian American community did that. Also, the Latinx community did that also. And none of us are a monolith, by the way, there's so much diversity within each of these big labels, the Polish community in that particular neighborhood. We had a big population of Russian Jewish folks and Polish folks at one time, and they prior to that, even Germans and Irish immigrants. So they should really understand, you know, it's just what happens. And one thing I've come to learn through this research process, and especially from reading Antero Pietela's most recent book, is that neighborhoods don't really belong to anyone. They just change through time. And maybe you're there for a little while. But they always hold the traces of every population that's lived there. And that's been really cool.
Sheilah Kast: How do you see this tour developing?
Ashley Minner: Well, we're in the process of developing, designing and developing a print map. I'm also working with a team out of east Tennessee to do ARC GIS mapping of the reservation and to do a real Web site, not just a Google map that shows the area through time, along with the archival images and articles. And then finally, I was recently approached by my friend and colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Rule, who is Chickasaw, and she has developed an app called Guide to Indigenous D.C., which you can download and it'll take you around to the important sites in D.C.. So we're we're discussing how to turn my map into an app for Baltimore.
Sheilah Kast: That's terrific. Thank you for walking us through it, Ashley.
Ashley Minner: Thank you for having me, Sheilah. It's a pleasure.
Sheilah Kast: Ashley Minner is an enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. She serves as a professor of the practice and folklorist in the Department of American Studies at UMBC. You can catch Ashley Minner virtually week after next. On Monday, April 5th, at an event hosted by Baltimore's Center Stage. And at the end of the following week, on Friday, April 16th, in a conversation presented by the Community College of Baltimore County at the On the Record page at wypr.org, we have links to these events, as well as to the Google Map page that lists all of the sites on her walking tour. I'm Sheilah Kast. Glad we're together on the record. Join us again tomorrow.
Nathan Sterner: Thanks for listening to this segment of On the Record with Sheilah Kast, you can catch the show on the radio Monday through Friday, 9:30 to 10 a.m. on 88.1, WYPR, your NPR News station. And you can support on the record and all the other public radio programs that WYPR brings to you. Just click the donate link at the top of the page. And thanks.