Meet Malinda Maynor Lowery: Historian returns home to teach Carolina’s first Lumbee Indian course
Malinda Maynor Lowery’s path to her current post as assistant professor in UNC’s Department of History includes numerous prestigious academic stops like Harvard, Stanford and UNC. She has taught at Duke, N.C. State and San Francisco State, produced numerous documentary films and served on various non–profit boards and committees.
But Lowery says what’s most important is the place where it all began, where she began her life’s journey that would also become her life’s work–in Robeson County, North Carolina, with her Lumbee Indian nation.
Lowery is not just a Lumbee Indian, she is a scholar of Native American history and people, she created and teaches Carolina’s first Lumbee Indian history course and was instrumental in bringing to UNC a scholar of American Indian history in the 20th century to the American studies department.
Her new book, “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race Identity, and the Making of a Nation,” published in March 2010 by UNC Press, explores how Lumbee Indians constructed their identity during an era defined by racial segregation in the South and paternalistic policies for Indians throughout the nation.
According to Lowery, being Lumbee is less about the presence or absence of various ethnic bloodlines, and more about building layers that tie together kin and place, race and class, tribe and nation. That’s why being born in Robeson County among her kinsmen was so important to Lowery’s parents, and then to Lowery when her daughter was born. It established a geographic as well as familial connection to their heritage, and established Lumberton and Robeson County as more than just points on a map, but the beginning of being Lumbee.
North Carolina’s Lumbee Indians are the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi, yet little to no scholarship has been created on the subject. UNC aimed to change that and led the charge more than a decade ago to determine why a flagship public university in a state with the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi had no organized program focused on American Indian Studies.
In 2001, the Provost’s Committee on Native American Issues was formed to support efforts to build programs of teaching, research and service relevant to American Indians.
In 2006, the University opened the American Indian Center, cementing the University’s pledge to permanently establish American Indian scholarship as part of the University’s intellectual life.
Today, students are traveling to Robeson County with Lowery and others to explore the Lumbee Nation firsthand, meet its people and learn its traditions. Lowery says she was drawn back to her home state from Harvard’s hallowed halls to help pioneer that scholarship and because Carolina had something Harvard did not: a commitment to establish one of the best programs in Native American studies in the country.
“People often categorize history as one-dimensional and solely a recollection of past facts,” Lowery said. “I would argue that history not only recounts the past, but also informs and guides the future. Being Lumbee or a member of any Native American tribe is a birthright deserving acknowledgment for its own sake, and we are just beginning to bring our heritage into our scholarship where it belongs.”
Lowery has recently been named a Faculty Engaged Scholar and also is nominated for a New Directions Fellowship from the Mellon Foundation in New York to further her scholarship and inform her teaching. She hopes to expand her research to include other Indian nations across the country and explore geographic and spatial aspects of Native American history.