Lumbee Community Histories of Baltimore City
Updated: Jul 18
BHW 24: July 15, 2023
This article was updated on July 18, 2023, after thoughtful email correspondence with Lumbee scholar Ashley Minner Jones. We are very grateful for the clarifying details provided by Jones, all of which are incorporated into this updated version. You can view the full list of corrections here.
As early as the 1890s and especially after World War II, many members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina migrated to Baltimore City. When we talked to Lumbee scholar Ashley Minner Jones, she said, “The earliest Lumbee person to migrate to Baltimore whom I have encountered in my research is Dr. Governor Worth Locklear. He was an 1893 graduate of the Baltimore University Schools of Medicine.” Lumbee people of Baltimore established a community in Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill.  One anthropologist describes this as “perhaps the single largest grouping of Indians [sic] from the same tribe in an American urban area.”  Jones, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe, is the leading voice in public scholarship on this group. She told us, “I earned an MFA in Community Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Maryland College Park. I was formerly a Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the inaugural director of the Public Humanities program there.” Jones now works as Assistant Curator for History and Culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.  Her voice will be placed at the center of this analysis as she provides a recent embodiment of Lumbee thought and one that is firmly located in Baltimore. Historian Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery is also an enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe, but is not Baltimore-focused.  Nevertheless, she is the leading voice in academic focused scholarship on the group. Taken together, these two Lumbee women provide a Lumbee-led vision of the community’s past and present. While their backgrounds differ, Jones made clear to us that her and Lowery, “Both study history, work with institutional archives, and with living people. We also frequently work together.”  Let us explore historical sources and scholarship on the Lumbee people, with a strong focus on amplifying Lumbee perspectives in the Baltimore area.
This Native American group took the name “Lumbee” in the 1950s. Before this, they had various names and complex histories located primarily around North Carolina.  As Lowery writes, “One tribal name or a single cultural origin is insufficient to explain Lumbee history, because Lumbee ancestors belonged to many of the dozens of nations that lived in a 44,000-square-mile territory. The names of these diverse communities varied depending on where the people lived and on what Europeans wrote about them.”  The great diversity of people who made up this group added to the federal government’s uncertainty about how to classify them.  For the people themselves, group classification is not complicated, it simply relies on family connections. 
Lowery’s work focuses on Lumbee groups broadly and over history, while Jones's work focuses on Lumbee people who came to Baltimore particularly after World War II. These distinctions are due in large part to the archives that these scholars make the focus of their respective work. Lowery admits that it is difficult to reconstruct antebellum Lumbee history since, “We do not have a written record of a Lumbee voicing the tribe’s history until a white man named Hamilton McMillan recorded George Lowry’s account in 1865.”  She persists in studying this history by reading against the grain of the archive to amplify Lumbee voices. Jones, on the other hand, focuses on the living archive. She defers authority to Lumbee elders to tell their stories through oral histories and community programming.  As journalist Isabel Spiegel wrote for Smithsonian Magazine in 2020, “By collaborating with the elders, Jones is offering them the opportunity to decide how their personal and collective history will be presented.”  We should arguably take this a step further to assert that the only way Jones could do justice to this history is by deferring to those with lived experience. Lowery does not contend with this same dynamic since many of the people she studies passed away long ago. Jones also focuses specifically on the history of the Baltimore Lumbee community, of which she is a part. This local focus empowers collaborative Lumbee knowledge-building in and around Baltimore City.
Before moving on to Lumbee stories in Baltimore City, it is important to acknowledge that the Lumbee were not the original caretakers of this land. To eschew the corporatization of land acknowledgements, we will defer to one from respected local social and environmental justice leader Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis.  Dr. Mel writes, “I live and work on Piscataway and Susquehannock land, also known as Baltimore, MD. I also acknowledge the Lumbee and Cherokee communities who have made this city home. I recognize their continuing connection to land, water, and community.”  We hope that while we explore and learn about Baltimore Lumbee communities this diverse regional Indigenous heritage is kept in mind.
Thousands of Lumbee people migrated from Baltimore from North Carolina in the mid-twentieth century. There were some Lumbee in Baltimore as early as the 1930s, but the major impetus came when World War II ended and segregation meant Lumbee wartime workers lost their jobs to white people.  Baltimore Lumbee newcomers largely set down roots around Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill. While Lumbee people also migrated to other cities at this time such as Philadelphia and Detroit, Baltimore was the primary destination. Better jobs and life opportunities motivated the migrations, and Lumbee people found a sense of home in a new place by settling near each other.  This was around the time that the community formally adopted the name “Lumbee.” As Lowery argues, “For Robeson County Indians, taking the name ‘Lumbee’ in the 1950s was a monumental act of self-determination; it was the first name they had ever chosen for themselves.”  It is important to emphasize the concurrence of this self renaming with migratory events, as many migrating group members likely associated migration with shaping their identities under the new name.
It is no coincidence that this Lumbee migration occurred around the same time as the 1915 to 1970 Great Migration of African Americans from the U.S. South to northern cities.  In both cases, racism and segregation fueled decisions to move to more formally inclusive parts of the country. Also in both cases, there was a strong desire to maintain distinct collective identities. Beyond this, many expected new opportunities to openly express racial or tribal identities without facing prejudice.  As Jones argues, it is unfortunate that Indigenous migrations of this era are not typically including in Great Migration analysis.  Given the large number of people who chose Baltimore in both the Great Migration and the Lumbee migration, it makes sense to consider them together. 
Lumbee newcomers asserted their presence in their Baltimore community, leading some to refer to the area of the city they inhabited as “the reservation.” Jones makes this place-based identity a major focus of her work, mapping culturally significant sites and leading informative tours around the city. For the debut tour, she was joined by a local Lumbee elder to whom she was quick to defer.  The interactive map that she compiled as part of her community research is very impressive and is certainly worth checking out. The project also has a new online home which you can check out here. With this use of digital public history tools, Jones is at the top of her field in developing accessible and engaging learning experiences about Indigenous history.  She also told us that there is "a free print map available at many local cultural institutions (the central branch of the Enoch Pratt, the Peale, the Maryland Center for History and Culture, Baltimore National Heritage Area, etc.) and a free mobile walking tour app, the Guide to Indigenous Baltimore.” Additionally, Jones presents the map as “an in-progress project,” which adds great possibilities for direct community contributions from other Lumbee people.  One of the featured sites on the map is the Baltimore American Indian Center (Figure 1), created by Lumbee people in 1968 but now open to “Native community members from all tribes and nations.”  The longevity and growth of this community institution, which now includes a museum, speaks to the strength of the Baltimore Lumbee community. 
The Lumbee people who came to Baltimore in the middle of the twentieth century created a place where their distinctive Native American identities could thrive. For many, the migration was part of searching for a better quality of life. These Lumbee migrants prioritized community cohesion and cultural preservation as vital to life quality. In the twenty-first century, many Lumbee moved out of the city into Baltimore County or elsewhere.  Yet, for the second-half of the twentieth century a large group of Lumbee people made Baltimore City home. This is an insightful example of a Native American cultural narrative that goes against general settler-colonial narratives about Native American history. Lowery writes that land is a key part of Lumbee life, just as it is for many Indigenous groups. Contrary to the urban "reservation" discussed by Jones, Lowery stresses that Lumbee do not live on reservations.  The reservation system is a legacy of U.S. colonialism that Lumbee people avoid. But this does not lessen their connection to the land, which still carries monumental meaning while technically owned or leased. As Lowery makes clear, Lumbee made Baltimore City an important place of Native American survival. By their very existence, these Lumbee urban spaces pushed back against centuries of settler-colonial cultural genocide.  For many Lumbee people, Baltimore living spaces became powerful homes for them to raise families submersed in their own culture, beliefs, and principles.
 Don Woods, “Side of Baltimore American Indian Center, viewed from sidewalk,” photograph (Baltimore, January 1, 2011), Creative Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BAIC2.jpg.
 Ashley Minner Jones, “A quest to reconstruct Baltimore’s American Indian ‘reservation,’” The Conversation, April 23, 2019, https://theconversation.com/a-quest-to-reconstruct-baltimores-american-indian-reservation-110562; Ashley Minner Jones, email message to author, July 17, 2023.
 Abraham Makofsky, “Struggling to Maintain Identity: Lumbee Indians in Baltimore,” Anthropological Quarterly 55, no. 2 (April 1982): 76, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3318154.
 Ashley Minner Jones, email message to author, July 17, 2023; Ashley Minner Jones, “About,” Ashley Minner Jones | Community Artist, March 31, 2023, https://ashleyminnerart.com/about; “Ashley Minner,” LinkedIn Profile, https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashleyminner/.
 Malinda Maynor Lowery, “About Me,” Malinda Maynor Lowery, accessed July 1, 2023, https://www.malindalowery.com/.
 Ashley Minner Jones, email message to author, July 17, 2023.
 Malinda Maynor Lowery, The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 253, open access eBook, https://uncpress.org/book/9781469666105/the-lumbee-indians/.
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 53.
 Gerald M. Sider, Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, Ethnicity, and Indian Identity in the Southern United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), xv-xvi, https://archive.org/details/lumbeeindianhist0000side.
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 73.
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 59.
 Ashley Minner Jones, “A Tour of Baltimore’s American Indian ‘Reservation,’” American Indian: Magazine of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian vol. 23, no. 2 (Summer 2022), https://www.americanindianmagazine.org/story/touring-Baltimore-American-Indian-reservation?fbclid=IwAR3oLToLrNC8IbWtIEHpcJtXBfbbQjfXkx84heVytTmU_936sCpvbOqrtvM.
 Isabel Spiegel, “A Native American Community in Baltimore Reclaims Its History,” Smithsonian Magazine, October 5, 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/native-american-community-baltimore-reclaims-its-history-180975948/.
 Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis, “Home Page,” Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis, accessed July 1, 2023, https://melmichellelewis.com/.
 Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis, “Land and Labor Acknowledgement,” Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis, October 13, 2022, https://melmichellelewis.com/resources/land-acknowledgement/.
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 257.
 Jones, “A quest to reconstruct Baltimore’s American Indian ‘reservation.’”
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 253.
 Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (New York: Random House, 2010), 8, https://archive.org/details/greatmigration00wilk.
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 257.
 Ashley Minner Jones, “The Lumbee Community: Revisiting the Reservation of Baltimore’s Fells Point,” in Baltimore Revisited: Stories of Inequality and Resistance in a U.S. City, ed. P. Nicole King, Kate Drabinski, and Joshua Clark Davis (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2019), 187, Kindle edition.
 Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 398.
 Jones, “A Tour of Baltimore’s American Indian ‘Reservation.’”
 Ashley Minner Jones, “The Historic Lumbee Community of East Baltimore,” Google Maps, published July 27, 2020, https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1Qn0-0XpRKaE4VMGkVBxHB-5FGe8EHa8l&ll=39.28953940127171%2C-76.5934814&z=14.
 Ashley Minner Jones, email message to author, July 17, 2023; Ashley Minner Jones, “Mapping the Reservation,” Ashley Minner Jones | Community Artist, February 15, 2022, https://ashleyminnerart.com/projects/mapping-the-reservation.
 “About,” Baltimore American Indian Center, accessed July 1, 2023, https://www.baltimoreamericanindiancenter.org/about.
 “Museum,” Baltimore American Indian Center, accessed July 2, 2023, https://www.baltimoreamericanindiancenter.org/museum.
 Jones, “The Lumbee Community,” 192.
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 38-39.
 Lowery, The Lumbee Indians, 15.