Lumbee Homecoming Celebrates 50 Years - Carolina Country

Lumbee Homecoming Celebrates 50 Years

Cultural event is all about pride, heritage and community

By Gordon Byrd

Lumbee Homecoming Celebrates 50 Years

The brilliant blue sky and vernal green of the trees and grass are mirrored perfectly in the traditional dress of the Lumbee Nation, gathered for last year’s Lumbee Homecoming. Every summer, the small town of Pembroke is flooded with more than 40,000 Lumbee Indians. The small rural town, home to UNC Pembroke, is annually spun into a buzz with golf carts, street vendors, parades, a Powwow, beauty pageants and countless other events throughout the week of Lumbee Homecoming.

“My family from all over the U.S.A. comes home to visit. Lumbee Homecoming is all about family,” says Joseph Bell, MD, of Pembroke Pediatrics. “Nobody misses this. Truly, it is the social, cultural event of the year. It’s priceless.”

The sun is high as a westbound train rolls past the UNCP campus. The whistle acts as a signal to begin the parade from the university to the library across town. The mile-long route is lined with lawn chairs, parked golf carts, and thousands of tailgate tents. Onlookers are well-equipped and prepared for the hours of floats, Sudan Temple go-karts, and congressional campaign signs. Children eagerly dart out to lift hard candy from the hot streets and collect them in their grandparents’ pockets.

Later, the tents will be put up and the crowd will wander to the university lawn, where elaborately decorated Native American dancers perform at the outdoor Powwow. Among the viewers, Clayton Maynor, currently living in Rocky Mount, mingles among old friends and myriads of impromptu artisanal shops. 

“This is more than just a reunion for me,” Maynor says. “I can enjoy the family, friends, and food; but also this is where everybody I went to Purnell Swett High School with is going to be. This is home.”

Jordan McGirt, a math teacher at that same high school, Purnell Swett, and a recent graduate from UNCP’s School of Education, displays his creative side as an art vendor. His friend, Madi, assists would-be art patrons with questions about McGirt’s digital art. This is her first homecoming and, besides overwhelming, the experience is unique. 

“This is a time for the community to come together and celebrate,” McGirt says. “What better chance to share our culture with one another and new members.” 

The sheer number of people, golf carts, and dreamcatchers is breathtaking. At the beginning of the University’s fall semester, Pembroke’s population swells by 200 percent. During homecoming, Pembroke grows by more than 1,200 percent. Streets that rarely see traffic are jammed with loyal members of the state-recognized Lumbee Tribe. Parking is scarce, but that doesn’t slow any of the festivities. Rather than driving a car to town, most people bring their family from out of town onto Main Street riding on golf carts.  

This year’s event is due to be highlighted with exceptional fireworks, a car show, and the return of the renowned Collard Sandwich and Grape Ice Cream. (This dynamic duo of deliciousness delivers a quintessential aspect of the allure the Lumbee Homecoming.) 

Most notably, this year’s Lumbee Homecoming will mark the 50th anniversary of the celebration since its historic beginnings at the Cultural Center in Pembroke — serving as a celebration of pride and heritage for the Lumbee people.

2018 Lumbee Homecoming

Main events: June 29–July 7, Pembroke | 910-521-8602 | lumbeehomecoming.com

About the Author

Gordon Byrd is a veteran who works for UNC Pembroke. He tries to keep things interesting with a little homebuilding, some writing, triathlons and a lot of time with his family and church.

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