PEMBROKE — Lumbee Homecoming has made many memories in the hometown of the tribe for more than 50 years.
The celebration has been more successful than its founders ever imagined, attracting thousands to numerous events, ranging from Miss Lumbee Pageants to the Homecoming Parade, for more than two weeks. As the founders hoped, Homecoming is a major point of pride and identity for the Lumbee Tribe.
The Robesonian talked with some of the people who have been involved with Lumbee Homecoming over the years. They all said they are proud of its success as one of America’s most unique events.
Lumbee Regional Development Association began planning the event in 1968, and it debuted in 1969. James Hardin, LRDA’s longtime director, has been involved in organizing the event since 1977.
The event has grown from its humble roots as only a parade and the Miss Lumbee Pageant, which began in 1966, the year Dr. Cheryl Ransom Locklear was crowned. The parade was an instant success. Pembroke loves a parade, Hardin said.
The Miss Lumbee pageants also remain a key part of Homecoming. The pageants sold out the 1,600 seats in The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Givens Performing Arts Center in two hours this year, said Joyce Locklear, who helps organize the two pageants for LDRA and the crowning of four “ambassadors.”
Lumbee Homecoming stretches out over more than two weeks around the Fourth of July. The outdoor drama “Strike at The Wind!” came along in the 1970s and debuted during Homecoming.
Pembroke Town Clerk Amira Hunt and her twin sister, Amilia Elk, were cast members in the original show. Hunt recalls many Homecoming memories that are familiar to thousands of others.
“I can remember as a little girl that my two sisters and I would ride in our grandfather’s horse and buggy,” Hunt said. “I was 5 or 6; that’s a good memory.
“I still come to the parade and get some grape ice cream and a collard sandwich.”
The vendors, who open for business on Monday this year, started small but grew quickly. Besides grape ice cream, there will be hand-crafted jewelry, T-shirts, food and more.
“The first vendors were in Pembroke Park, and now they run all the way down the university to LRDA,” Hardin said. “The economic impact of Lumbee Homecoming continues to grow.”
Joyce Locklear has worked with the two pageants for 20 years. She procures judges and produces the program, which is 116 pages this year.
“It gets better every year, and more work,” Locklear said. “We start on it in late May and work nonstop until the pageant.
“My personal favorite event in the Junior Miss Lumbee Pageant. It’s amazing how talented the contestants are, and it’s a good experience for the young ladies, win or lose.”
Besides the hard work, Locklear is proud of the entire Lumbee Homecoming.
“Sometimes I wonder how we can get 10 more people into Pembroke for Homecoming,” she said. “I enjoy the food, but watching the people is the best part.”
Lumbee Homecoming is not just an event, it is embedded into the Lumbee Tribe’s heritage. Like Locklear said, it’s about the people.
“It means a lot to the community,” Hardin said. “Lumbee Homecoming helps young people learn culture and pride, something you can’t put a dollar value on.”
The homecoming aspect plays an important role also, Hardin said. Historically, many Lumbees migrated north after World War II to work in factories. Civil rights also had a role in the invention of Lumbee Homecoming.
“During the Civil Rights era, we stepped up and put our culture to the forefront. There was black pride, and for Indians, there was red pride. Homecoming was part of a rebirth of our American Indian culture and heritage.”
Lumbee Homecoming is the largest American Indian event in the Southeastern United States, Hardin said.
The one feature of Homecoming that stands out is its uniqueness to the Lumbee, he said. It was not modeled on any other event in the nation and is a unique invention of the Lumbee people.
“There is only one Lumbee Homecoming,” he said. “It’s unique and getting better all the time.”
Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]