PEMBROKE — An estimated 30,000 spectators lined the streets in downtown Pembroke on Saturday for the annual Lumbee Homecoming parade, an event that organizers say gets bigger and better each year.
Saturday marked the final day of the annual week-long celebration of Lumbee culture, heritage and community pride. The festivities concluded Saturday night with a gospel concert and fireworks display.
“What has impressed me is the number of our youth that have participated in this year’s homecoming,” said James Hardin, executive director of the Lumbee Regional Development Association. Hardin said his association has been sponsoring and overseeing the Lumbee Homecoming for the past 46 years.
“For Lumbee youth, it helps them develop a sense of identity of being a member of a tribal community,” Hardin said. “They learn about their roots and heritage, which is important if Indian culture is to remain.”
Hardin said that this year’s parade consisted of about 150 units, topping last year’s 120 units. Parade entries came not only from Robeson County, he said, but from across the state.
“When the weather is cool, the parade crowd is larger,” said Hardin.
With perfect weather, spectators for the 10 a.m. parade already lined the parade route by 8 a.m. Some had camped overnight to ensure that they had their favorite spot to view the parade.
Darren Barnes, from Maryland, and members of his family, were among those Saturday enjoying homecoming events. Barnes, a government contractor, is originally from Robeson County and a graduate of Pembroke State University, now The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He has lived in the Marlboro, Md., area for the past 20 years.
“There is nothing like home and the beauty and culture of my people,” he said. “I owe everything I do and have accomplished to the strength, tenacity, and pride of my people.”
Barnes said that the tribe must continue to “instill pride in our kids.”
“Given the opportunity they can compete with anyone,” he said.
Both of his daughters, Barnes said, always spend Lumbee Homecoming week in Robeson County.
“I want to move here,” said Peyton Barnes, 13. “I want to compete in a (Lumbee) pageant.”
Donnie Hunt, of Lumberton, is a regular at the parade.
“This is all about our heritage and culture,” he said. “It’s about seeing family and friends that we haven’t seen in a while.”
Margaret Sanderson, of Pembroke, also said the parade and homecoming in general are a chance for Lumbee tribal members to learn about their heritage and culture.
“I like the parade, but my favorite part of the homecoming is the gospel singing in the park on Saturday night before the fireworks,” she said.
And state Rep. Charles Graham, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, also emphasized the importance of Lumbee Homecoming as a chance for the community to celebrate its culture and heritage.
“It’s a great day for the parade,” he said. “People from all across the country are here.”
Immediately after the parade, there was a car show and powwow. Vendors selling food, American Indian crafts, and other items were scattered throughout the downtown area.