PEMBROKE — On the 30th anniversary of the death of prominent Lumbee Tribe member Julian T. Pierce, the community celebrated the fact that $148,000 has been raised in the past five years to benefit higher education.
Area residents on Friday kicked off the 50th annual Lumbee Homecoming with the sixth annual Julian T. Pierce Memorial Art Dinner at the University Center Annex on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The event, which was expected to raise $50,000, was a sold-out affair attended by 260 ticket-buying participants.
Proceeds from the auction benefit students at UNCP, where Pierce graduated in 1966; Robeson Community College; and North Carolina Central University, where Pierce received his law degree in 1976. In the past five years $21,500 has been given to Central, $57,500 has been given to RCC, and $69,000 has been given to UNCP.
“We look forward to passing the $200,000 mark,” Rebekah Lowry, a member of the event’s planning committee, said with confidence.
Proceeds also benefit the Julian T. Pierce Memorial at the North Carolina Legal Aid office in Pembroke
While guest dined Friday, 25 items were up for bid during the silent auction and eight items were auctioned live.
Auctioneer Benjamin Farrell made jokes to help loosen up members of the crowd and make them more willing to give.
“Our job is to have fun here and celebrate,” Farrell said as the auctions began. “When someone makes a bid, I want you to cheer them on. Don’t get quiet.”
The items that received the most bids during the silent auction were two hand-painted gourds, and handmade jewelry by Sandi Carter, who is on the planning board, and Julia Pierce, Julian Pierce’s daughter. Quilts, regalia, art and pottery also were up for bid.
Delois Clark and Marion Bullard, of the Scotland County Elders Group, said this is the third year they have made a quilt for the auction. This year’s quilt was titled “Medicine Wheel” and took about three weeks to make. The women said they enjoy helping a good cause and knowing where the money is going.
“It’s putting some young person in college,” Clark said.
One particularly eye-catching item was a mixed-media piece titled “Pierce in the Eye” by local artist Melvin Morris. The art depicted an eagle with a mirrored eye crying tears of blood.
During the live auction, the item receiving the highest bid of the night was “Lumbee Blood,” a sketch by Shelia Godwin, wife of Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. The sketch depicting the original Pembroke College, Henry Berry Lowrie and the Lumbee defeat of the Ku Klux Klan sold for $3,500.
“Every time you see this (auction items) in your home, you are reminded of the vision,” Farrell said.
The vision driving the dinner and auction is to see students go to college and bring their knowledge back to community, as did my father, Julia Pierce said.
Julian Pierce was a prominent attorney and civil rights activist who fought for education and equality for all people. He was the founder of Lumbee River Legal Services, a poverty law office in Pembroke, known today as North Carolina Legal Aid.
Pierce was killed in 1988 while running for election to the Superior Court. He was 42 years old.
“You think there’s turmoil now, that was turmoil,” Harvey Godwin said when talking about Pierce’s legacy.
If elected, he would have been the first American Indian to hold the position of Superior Court judge in North Carolina.
“I feel like we share the efforts for the young people who want to achieve their goals,” Julia Pierce said. “It represents us at our best.”
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.