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UMBC professor uncovers, documents history of East Baltimore’s Lumbee Indian community

Ashley Minner included only three stops at first on the tour she created of the Lumbee Indian Community of East Baltimore: South Broadway Baptist Church, the Baltimore American Indian Center, and the Vera Shank Daycare and Native American Senior Citizens building.

Then in October 2016, as she gave the tour to a group of students, a Lumbee elder, Linda Cox, told her that El Salvador Restaurant on South Broadway used to be a jewelry shop called Hokahey Indian Trading Post. It was co-owned by members of the Lumbee and Coharie Tribes.

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The discovery left Minner, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe, with a burning question: “How can I find what we used to have?”

Ashley Minner, is a community artist, folklorist, professor, and enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe. She is creating a Lumbee Indian archive to be housed at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Ashley Minner, is a community artist, folklorist, professor, and enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe. She is creating a Lumbee Indian archive to be housed at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. (Jill Fannon)

Finding the answer led the folklorist, visual artist and American Studies professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to start mapping and reconstructing East Baltimore’s historic Lumbee Indian community. She is creating an archive of what she finds.

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Minner said the archive is not purely academic, but also an urgent project of reclamation — of history, of space, of belonging and the power of collective memory.

“You almost disappear if you buy into what people think about Indians in Baltimore, because no one expects to see one,” Minner said. “Nobody believes we’re here; half the people in the United States think we’re extinct. It’s really important to have the ability to point and reference that we have this history, we’re a people, we have a culture.”

The Lumbee are the ninth largest tribe in the country and are indigenous to North Carolina, but have been in Baltimore for over a century, Minner said. They came in search of jobs and a better quality of life.

After World War II, many members of the Lumbee Indian Tribe migrated to Baltimore’s Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill. By the mid-1950s, at least 2,000 Lumbee lived in East Baltimore, Minner said. Some estimate the population was as high as 7,000. Elders estimate that 400 Indians lived on each of the city blocks that made up the heart of the area centered around E. Baltimore and Ann streets.

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Minner estimates that at least 2,000 Lumbees still reside in Baltimore today, though much of the original Lumbee-occupied spaces were lost due to upward mobility and urban renewal in the early 1970s.

About 40 elders, along with many archivists and librarians, have helped Minner with her research. She said she has mitigated the limitations of institutional archives from the city and state by including oral histories and contributions from elders’ personal collections of photos, newspaper clippings and maps.

“She wants to make sure that we’re not lost,” said Cox, 70, who was Minner’s Sunday school teacher and connected her with other elders for the archive project.

Minner said the archive research has yielded surprise after surprise: “You’re supposed to be quiet in a library, but every time I find something, I holler.”

For instance, she was surprised to learn that a woman pastor was instrumental in forming the congregation that would eventually become the South Broadway Baptist Church, which is Baltimore’s first congregation founded by Lumbee Indians. She uncovered that her great, great, great uncle was Dr. Governor Worth Locklear, the first American Indian physician in Robeson County, North Carolina. He was an 1893 graduate of Baltimore University School of Medicine (now Johns Hopkins University).

Education runs in the family. Minner created and oversaw an after-school art program for Native American youth for a decade until 2017. Minner also worked on the Indian Education Program in the Baltimore Public School District from 2005 to 2016, advocating for Indian students and cultural competencies within the system. She maintains close relationships with students she used to tutor, who are now adults.

The Lumbee archive will be named the Ashley Minner Collection and assembled within the Maryland Folklife Archives housed at UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library. While the full collection could take as long as five years to assemble, some of the digital archives will become publicly accessible in the spring. Funding for the archive comes from the Maryland State Arts Council, American Folklore Society and the UMBC library.

Meanwhile, an updated walking tour of the Lumbee’s place in area history now includes over 30 sites across East Baltimore. In October, Minner offered a virtual version of the tour for the Oral History Association’s annual meeting, showcasing some of what she already has discovered.

Stephanie Garcia is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers issues relevant to Latino communities. Follow her at @HagiaStephia.

This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor, Sundra Hominik at shominik@baltsun.com.

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