LUMBERTON — The Lumbee Tribe lost an historian and advocate with the death of Bruce Barton, longtime editor of the Carolina Indian Voice newspaper, who gave a voice to Americans Indians trying to overcome a history of discrimination.
“The newspaper was a voice for the Lumbee people. At a time when our voice was not always heard. Bruce was a gifted writer and used the pen mightily to get his words and ideas across,” said his younger brother, Rick.
Barton, an author, journalist, teacher and activist, died on July 9 at the age of 74.
Barton started the Carolina Indian Voice, a weekly publication, in Pembroke in January 1973. He served as its editor until 1998, when he decided to attend The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in pursuit of a teaching career, and his sister Connee took the helm. In circulation until 2005, the paper carried the tag line “Dedicated to the best in all of us.”
“We hope … to turn discrimination and poverty and other related ills inside out by honest, objective reporting of happenings in Robeson County,” Barton was quoted as saying in the 1975 book “The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee Indians.”
Barton was known for his efforts to end the practice of double-voting, which prior to the merger of Robeson County schools allowed city residents to vote for members of both the city and county school boards. He also spoke out against police brutality, helped to get Indian officials elected and worked to prevent UNCP’s historic Old Main from being demolished. As an author, Barton was a scholar on Lumbee legend Henry Berry Lowrie and also wrote about American Indian basketball players in and around Robeson County.
“Bruce was the historian of the Lumbee tribe and over the years had collected boxes and boxes of family information. His desk at home has stacks and stacks of papers containing Barton and Lumbee trivia that he had collected. His walls were adorned with hundreds of family photos,” Rick said.
James Locklear, editor, publisher and owner of Pembroke-based Native Visions Magazine, called Barton the “godfather” of Lumbee journalism and “a true Lumbee warrior” who never wavered in his dedication to his people. Locklear said although Barton was best known for his journalistic pursuits, he was “probably an even better historian.”
“He defended the rights of our people with a flame-throwing pen that spewed words of napalm,” Locklear said. ” … Bruce knew more about the Lumbees than anybody I ever knew. Anytime I had a question on something I did not know, I could count on Bruce for an answer.
Kim Pevia, past president of the Pembroke Chamber of Commerce, said she learned about Barton’s reputation as a child living in Baltimore.
“My parents subscribed to the Carolina Indian Voice and after they read each issue I read it,” Pevia said. “This is the way we kept up with the news from back home.”
Pevia said after returning to Pembroke she had the chance to work with Barton as part of an inter-tribal talking circle sponsored through the University of North Carolina.
“He was a mentor for me,” Pevia said. “He was a wealth of information. I loved to hear him tell stories.”
According to Rick Barton, his older brother was deeply religious — he recalled one day when Barton’s wife, Barbara, heard him speaking to someone in the other room and Barton told her he had been talking to God. Barton also had a deep love for books. As Rick tells it, Bruce, sent on an errand one day when he was young, failed to return home when it began to rain. His siblings found him outside, with his nose in a book.
“He was so involved in the story that he was reading that he was unaware that it was raining and had forgotten where he was supposed to be,” Rick Barton said.
An Army veteran, Barton was a founder of the UNCP Braves Club, the Pembroke Chamber of Commerce and the Indian History Museum at the Public Schools of Robeson County’s Indian Education Resource Center. In addition to his degree from UNCP, Barton held a master’s of Education from the University of Southern Mississippi. He taught at Pembroke Senior High and taught the Upward Bound Program at UNCP, then called Pembroke State University.
He served on various boards, including for the State Advisory Council on Indian Education, the Indian Monument of the Carolinas, the Public Library of Robeson County, and the North Carolina Governor’s School. He received the 1974 Pembroke Jaycees Distinguished Service Award, and in 1981, he received the Henry Berry Lowrie Memorial Award.
“On behalf of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, I offer my sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Bruce Barton,” Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin said. “He was a Lumbee icon as well as an educator and mentor to many. Bruce is probably known best for his work as a journalist and founder of the Carolina Indian Voice newspaper. But, he was a man of many skills who always advocated for the advancement of Indian people. Our tribe was fortunate to have been blessed with a man with such passion for his people.”