Bruce Barton: Historian made some of his own

Bruce Barton, who in the early 1970s established the Carolina Indian Voice and was its long-time editor, was never reluctant to use its pages to direct over-the-top criticism toward The Robesonian — often, in our view, unfairly.

We remember one instance when we published a syndicated column in which the author challenged the romanticizing of American Indian history, specifically the idea that they were the nation’s first conservationists. Barton pounced, unveiling for the first time what he apparently kept on a save key, calling the person who wrote today’s Our View the “white, racist editor of The Robesonian.”

Then he did without apology — or even permission — what we had done, which was to publish the exact same column he criticized us for, implicitly saying that when we did so it was to hurt 40 percent of the county, but that when he did so, it was to explain why this newspaper was racist and hateful.

What we came to understand, however, is that for those who have been denied a voice for so long — in this instance Lumbee Indians — that being heard often requires being shrill and hyperbolic. Barton and his sister Connee Brayboy, who also worked with the Carolina Indian Voice, understood that strategy and used it ably and often with that publication.

The years softened Barton’s position in regard to this newspaper, and in the winter of his life he would call occasionally to congratulate us when he felt like we had gotten something right.

Barton died a month ago today, which this newspaper’s editorial leadership only learned last week, and that explains the tardiness of an article that was published yesterday recalling his life, and today’s Our View, during which we hope to further honor him.

Although Barton was widely known as a pioneer in the field of journalism, that was just one slice of his pie. He also wrote books, taught, advocated on behalf of a population with a local history of oppression, and he was a noted historian, able to recall facts pertinent to his people without looking beyond his own mind.

He was constantly championing a new cause, among them working to end the practice of double-voting, speaking out against what he saw as police brutality directed at minorities, working to keep UNCP’s historic Old Main from being demolished, promoting literacy, and putting in print accomplishments of Lumbee icons such as Henry Berry Lowrie, as well as writing about local American Indian athletes whose feats would have been vanquished by the calendar.

As always happens when a person advocates and does so strongly, Barton had plenty of friends and enemies when he died July 7 at the age of 74. We aren’t sure where we would fall on that list, but any animosity we held has been wiped away by the wisdom that perspective provides.

We understand that Barton’s rock-in-the-shoe approach was needed in a county which during most of his life was stacked so heavily against his people, and we know that the historian helped to write some better chapters for Lumbee Indians by changing what is now part of their recent history.

His people will miss him.

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