PEMBROKE — Local artist Gloria Tara Lowery says that she nearly fainted when she first saw the rifle that some believe belonged to Lumbee American Indian hero Henry Berry Lowrie.
“When I saw it in the trunk of his car, I got really, really weak,” Lowery said.
That was 40 years ago.
Gloria and her husband, Wendell, recently loaned the rifle to the Lumbee people. She presented the rifle to the tribe on July 5 during the State of the Lumbee Tribe Address ceremony. On that day, Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. lifted the rifle into the air — a gesture met with raucous applause.
“To actually see something that Henry Berry Lowrie held in his hand … I get chill bumps just thinking about it and I know they (Lumbees) will feel the same way,” Gloria said.
The Spencer repeating rifle was used by soldiers in the 1860s during the Civil War — and was far superior than muzzle-loaders, Wendell said.
“It’s one of the first — not the first — one of the first Spencer repeating rifles,” Wendell said. “Anyone who knows anything about rifles would understand that was before the lever rifles you see in the movies.”
It was by chance that the couple became owners of the rifle.
Gloria said that about 40 years ago she was asked to create a painting for the historical drama “Strike at the Wind!” that depicts the story of Lowrie. In her painting, she decided to showcase Lowrie and his “gang of buddies.” As part of the project, Gloria began to examine Lowrie’s life. She met a local white businessman and historian whom she does not wish to name.
“We didn’t have that many white friends back then in the ‘70s, but he liked us, and we liked him,” she said.
Wendell suggested to Gloria that she speak with the friend about Lowrie for her studies because of his knowledge of history and to get a different racial perspective. To Gloria’s understanding, the businessman was the great-grandson of Reuben King, a former the Robeson County sheriff.
“He just had wonderful information about the Civil War period and how people interacted, and he said the natives in this area were just considered like any other group of people,” she said. “They had equal rights to everything until the Civil War. After the Civil War, anyone who was of color was separated from the white.”
The businessman’s impression of Henry Berry Lowrie was unexpected, Gloria said. While speaking with Gloria, he brought her out to the trunk of the car and showed her the rifle and two pistols that he said belonged to Lowrie.
“Just like what I had studied that Henry Berry Lowrie had owned,” she said. “… I believed him because he was just that kind of man.”
The man told Gloria that the weapons, which were confiscated when Lowrie was arrested in Lumberton, were passed down from generation to generation in his family and he kept them locked in a bank vault.
“He said ‘I want you and Wendell to have this and use it however you choose,’” she said.
The couple chose to loan it to the Museum of the Southeast American Indian at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where it sat on display until this year.
“We felt that it was time that it was brought out in the open. I wanted people to know that the man that owned that gun said that it was Henry Berry Lowrie’s gun,” Gloria said. “That’s why we decided to give it to the Lumbee Tribe.”
Godwin said he was humbled to take on such a big responsibility.
“We are very proud to put something like this on display for the Lumbee people,” Godwin said.
“He’d treasure it as much as [us]. All the tribal members can come by that and see it,” Gloria said. “We knew that Harvey would take good care of it.”
The rifle now sits high at the front entrance of the Tribe Administration Complex, known as The Turtle.
It is unclear how long it will be displayed, but it is on loan.
“We would like for it to just continue in our family,” Gloria said.
It’s significant because of what it represents not just the Lumbee people, but all of the people that were oppressed, Godwin said. Lowrie is considered a freedom fighter.
With the loaning of the rifle, celebrating the 50th Lumbee Homecoming, the dedication of historic highway marker at Hayes Pond near Maxton and remembering the prominent Lumbee Tribe member Julian T. Pierce on the 30th anniversary of his death, Godwin believes that 2018 has been a great year of remembrance for the fight for civil rights.
“It’s amazing,” he said.