Growing up in Montgomery County as a Native American, Jessica Locklear felt she lived in a seemingly Black and white environment.
“The struggle is trying to figure out where I socially fit in,” said Locklear, a public history master’s student. “It’s just been a lot of pain, telling people this is who I am and trying to figure out where I fit in, but I’m not sorry if it doesn’t fit people’s expectations.”
Locklear, who is a part of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, started Lumbees of Philadelphia project last year after seeing a lack of research about local Philadelphia Lumbee citizens. Earlier this month, she won a $2,500 grant from the Leeway Foundation, an organization that focuses on women enacting change within their community.
Locklear’s project will preserve the oral histories of Lumbee citizens, which she hopes will start conversations about what it means to be indigenous in modern societies. She’s collaborating with the Temple’s Center for Public History and with the community. She hopes to use the grant to fund her project and events on Main Campus for Lumbee citizens to share their stories.
“Historically speaking, this is a significant story,” she said. “Native history is under-represented in the archives.”
Lumbee Native Americans migrated from North Carolina to Philadelphia in the late 20th century, looking for employment in northern cities.
Tribe citizens have historically maintained records of its history, Malinda Maynor Lowery, a Lumbee Indian, and associate professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the UNC-Chapel Hill, told News & Record in March.
Interviews with the Lumbee community provide Locklear with generational perspectives on working life and the hardships they faced, she said.
Her grandmother, Carolyn Chavis, moved to Philadelphia in the early ‘60s, Locklear said.
“She moved here because she didn’t want to farm, and she didn’t want to pick cotton for the rest of her life,” she added. “There were a lot of opportunities here in factories.”
Jason Harris, who is of Lumbee descent, is one of Locklear’s interviewees. His family migrated to Philadelphia in the late 20th century. His grandfather was a pastor at the now-closed Native American Church on Frankford and Allegheny avenues.
“We are a tenacious people that have been overlooked by society,” Harris said. “There are some really great people who have come from our tribe, and I like to think that you recognize people’s groups for the types of people they produce, and I’m one of them.”
Harris is the first person in his family to graduate high school and receive a master’s in teaching from the University of the Arts. He is the superintendent of the Morrisville School District in Bucks County, and credits his success to the Lumbees who came before him.
“There are significant Lumbee Indians who lived and still live in the area who survived significant odds,” he said.
Locklear’s work is published on her blog, and she’ll also produce a thesis on her research. Her work is being considered to become archived at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in the Southern Oral History program.
“When we talk about Native Americans we have a tendency to talk about them in the past tense,” said Seth Bruggeman, the director of the Center for Public History. “What [Locklear] is doing is reminding us that these people are not past tense and that this is very much a solidarity that remains present in our lives today.”
Locklear is capturing the Lumbee experience to ensure its Lumbee history is not erased, he added.
“At the end of the day, we all know who we are, we know who our people are, and we know who our ancestors are,” Locklear said. “We deserve to be recognized, and it is my job to tell everyone about the reality.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated a quote by Seth Bruggeman. The correct word in the quote is “reminding,” not “reviving.”