If you head east down the two-lane Blue Highway NC 74-Alternate out of Laurinburg, cross Shoe Heel Creek, hang a left on N. Chicken Road, pass over the black waters of the Lumber River and turn left again into old Scuffletown, you will arrive in the world of the Lumbees, an indigenous Native American tribe with a clear sense of place, a prideful sense of identity and a palpable urgency to be recognized as a distinct entity — all the while functioning as vibrant thread of the fabric that makes up the diverse and richly colorful tapestry that is the Old North State.
Initially, I was going to Pembroke to do a Community Journalism Roadshow workshop with the local tribal community newspaper, Native Visions, but I soon realized that my host, 32-year veteran newspaperman and founding editor/publisher James Locklear, needed no such instruction — and that I was the student in need of schooling regarding all things Lumbee.
Locklear’s career trajectory is that of a journeyman community journalist. Born in nearby Wakulla, Locklear began his journalism career in 1984 at Red Springs High School as a photographer for the yearbook. While at UNC-Pembroke he majored in journalism with a minor in history. Also he worked for both the school yearbook and newspaper, which subsequently led to the sports editorship of the St. Pauls Review and Red Springs Citizen, his hometown newspaper. In 1995 James transferred to Fayetteville State University where he played football. Then he bounced back to UNC-P when he was promoted to editor of the Red Springs Citizen, 1995-98, when he became full-time with the Fayetteville Observer. Fulfilling a life-long dream to have his own paper, he co-founded the Robeson Journal in 2003, but stepped away from that position in 2006 to devote himself full-time to Native Visions, which he claims is now the largest privately owned Native American publication in the U.S. And most recently he has taken on another full-time position as director of public information for the Lumbee tribe — a role that appears to dovetail neatly with the rest of his career.
Name: Native Visions Magazine
Founded: Aug. 2005 by James Locklear
Publication Cycle: Monthly.
Content: Often thematic, ex: annual Lumbee homecoming, annual pow wow, Lumbees’ role in fighting the KKK, their role in the civil rights struggle, World War II heroes, the history of the tribe, etc.
Circulation: 10,000, free, distributed over the four-county region, drop spots in Roberson, Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland Counties; plus out of region mailing.
Size: Tabloid, full color, page count ranges from 48 to 64 pages; printed in Fayetteville by the Fayetteville Observer.
Staff: James is editor-publisher and does most all the writing; has one full-time staff plus “some part-time folks,” he says.
Origin Story: After 16 years of covering crime (“stab and jab reporting”) he says he had enough. “You take that stuff home with you…I got to the point where I felt my calling was to be writing about my people.”
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And so he has. Spend 30 minutes with an issue of the Native Visions Magazine and you see how James’ college minor in history has paid off. Every magazine is chocked full with the back story on the Lumbees, their origins, their development, their struggles, their accomplishments and their hopes for the future.
In short, NVM is all about community-building and James is a one-man promotion machine.
Walking me through the Tribe Headquarters building, James introduces me to every single person there, calling them by their names and titles with equal respect, from receptionist to the tribal administrator, who significantly pinned me with a Lumbee tribal lapel pin, with its distinctive red white, black and yellow logo design.
Then out into the community we went, with James driving slowly with one hand and waving left and right with another, like the tour guide to all things Lumbee, directing my attention to this side of the street and then that side…
A Lumbee doctor has her office here…a Lumbee owns this big hardware store…a retired Lumbee educator over there…a Lumbee judge’s office there…a Lumbee-owned bank on the corner…all the while never talking about himself, but rather his people.
That lack of ego comes through in the pages of his magazine too. “I want the magazine to reflect a sense of pride of who we are,” he explains. “We’ve got a pretty decent following here,” he said. “It’s just a great community with wonderful people.”
James Locklear is a big man, built like the former defensive lineman that he once was. A salt and pepper goatee frames a permanent grin; a tiny silver feather figure dangles from his left ear. “I wear it because it represents American Indian culture,” he tells me when I ask about the ear piece. “…to honor my ancestry.”
His pride in his people isn’t just rooted in the past. A mentor to troubled teens, both academically and in the gym, James tells them. “I been there. I know. Don’t repeat the mistakes I made. Drinking…drugs and partying too much.” So James makes his protégés do their homework first if they want two hours of working out with the big man — and afterward he fills them up with Burger King, and says with a grin, “After that, they don’t have time to be hanging out with those knuckleheads out there on the street!”
To cap off my visit to Pembroke, James insisted on taking me out to lunch at his favorite down-home country café in the nearby rural community Prospect. The moment we walked in The Cozy Corner I knew I was in for a treat.
As I dug into a plate of catfish, slaw, yams and hushpuppies, local folks decided that the visiting perfesser from up yonder in Chapel Hill needed a lesson or two in “Lumb-phonics,” as the Rev. Dwayne Lowery put it with a sly grin, and he took to trying to educate me about how to catch, kill and cook a wild boar.
“It’s what you white people call a Eurasian pig…we call ‘em Russian pigs…kill ‘em with a knife, like a MAN,” my Lowery exclaimed proudly.
As I was leaving, I thought back to the Lumbee logo on my lapel pin, the symbol of the circle, symbolic of “the coming together of the old and the new,” James told me — and the with the four quarters in bright colors representing not only the four points of the compass: (red for south, black for west, white for north and yellow for east), but also the four qualities of a balanced life: spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical.
And it occurred to me that James Locklear himself, after all these years, has found that balance in his life.