by Jefferson Currie II
You see, David Cecelski was supposed to go down to Lumbee Homecoming with me, because I over-researched my final paper in his class last fall. The paper showed up little late and now I owe him a trip to Robeson County. Since David, in his words, “punked out” on this trip, you’re stuck with me. I hope you enjoy it.
Lumbee Homecoming is held on the weekend around July 4th in the Robeson County town of Pembroke, in Southeastern North Carolina. Although “homecoming” is held near Independence Day it’s not solely a celebration of our nation’s birthday. Homecoming is kin to the church tradition, a time when Lumbee and Tuscarora Indian folks who stay off, like me, come back to visit their mamas, daddies, grandmas, granddaddies, cousins, and friends. The festivities run throughout the week with an art auction, the Miss Lumbee pageant, and a golf tournament, but this year the real action began at 10 AM on Saturday, July 5th, with the parade. Since my crew and I left the house a little late we slid down a back street and parked in the ABC store parking lot, and walked up towards the center of Pembroke. The parade was just getting started and we were in time to see the Florence, South Carolina, Shriner clowns, local politicians in SUVs, Indian pageant princesses in convertibles, and Lumbee tribal leaders on floats. People shouted up at the floats to friends and cousins while they rolled by at a crawl, and everybody seemed to clap and show their respect when a float carrying military veterans passed. My favorite part of the parade was the Lumbee Legends rap group booming their latest song from a tricked-out SUV, followed up a few minutes later by the gospel sounds of the band from the Rock Church. After the parade, we circled back around town and moved the car over to the Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot.
At Lumbee Homecoming, there is a powwow over on the quad at UNC-Pembroke, where you’ll also find the Museum of the Native American Resource Center, housing exhibits about the history of the Lumbee community and American Indians in general. My group and I walked up Prospect Road and by the massive show of classic cars, lined up with their hoods open for engine gawkers. Booths were set up all over town with people selling things like Harley Davidson and Lumbee Homecoming t-shirts, hand-sewn throw pillows, hand-made hair bows, woven pine needle baskets, and carved bread bowls. We headed over to Beadz & More and bought a bracelet for a three-year old with a dollar burning a hole in her pocket, and the Committee to Re-Elect Judge Jeff Moore knew our blood sugar was low and offered us a free bottle of water and a cupcake. Lavender Locklear thought she could eat it all in one bite (see picture), but I was a little clumsy and fed most of mine to the fire ants.
That cupcake just made me mad so I threw young Lavender on my shoulders and walked over toward the Lumbee Regional Development Association offices, where people were set up in tents and trailers selling all sorts of local goodies. Lumbee folks eat what everybody else eats in Southeastern North Carolina and Northeastern South Carolina: Southern fare like pork barbecue, chicken and pastry, potato salad, and cream corn accented with a couple of regional dishes like pork liver hash and chicken bogg. Now, I didn’t see any liver hash, a dish of minced pork liver and rib meat seasoned with black and crushed red pepper, but I don’t see it much these days. I guess that one day I’ll have to figure out how my Aunts Alice and Nurze used to make it so good. I did see chicken bogg, and that’s some fine eating. A bogg is chicken, rice, smoked sausage, and some spices cooked down to a bog consistency—you know kind of thick. And it’s yellow, BRIGHT YELLOW. Somehow, most of my early memories of eating chicken bogg are associated with death. Mr. J. C. Locklear would always bring a big pot over to my family’s house when somebody died, and I remember sitting with a bowl of bogg on my lap feeling more content than the situation allowed.But I didn’t come to homecoming to eat chicken bogg. I came for something that is so local that I’ve never seen it unless a Lumbee was making it, in Robeson County. I came for the collard sandwiches.
I don’t know exactly how collard sandwiches got their start, that’s all legend these days anyway, but I do remember the first one I had at the Lumbee Fall powwow a few years ago. I was so excited that someone had the vision—and it had to be some kind of vision—to combine three of my favorite foods: collards. fried corn bread, and fatback/whiteside. Wow! Think of it; what is the South, what is my childhood, but endless meals of greens, corn, and pork?. And with the invention of the collard sandwich, why would I ever have to eat another meal, ever again? Give me some blackberry or peach cobbler for dessert and some sweet tea to wash it down, and I got all my food groups covered. I scoped out all the booths that offered the collard sandwich and decided that the long line at Ms. Dorsey Hunt’s place with the big airbrushed sign advertising “Homemade Ice Cream, Collard Sandwiches and Chicken Bogg,” would offer up the best of Homecoming. I stood in line and paid my five dollars and was handed green and gold goodness wrapped in a tin foil pouch. And it was good: the two pieces of corn bread about the size of my hand were fried crispy on the outside and just soft enough on the inside. Sandwiched in-between were the juicy collards and a nice piece of fatback (on the bone). I devoured the sandwich.
I talked a while with the proprietor of the collard sandwich stand, Ms. Dorsey Hunt from the Prospect community, and she promptly introduced me to her husband, Mr. Glen Hunt.
Ms. Dorsey introduced me to the cooks, Willie F. Bryant Jr., Larry Barton, and Connie Ree Locklear, and the servers, Jackie Faye Locklear and Bettie Jo Barton.
Ms. Dorsey even threw in a hello from Arree Bryant, Carla Locklear, Jennifer Hunt, and Donavon Hunt, who were all working hard on this hot day taking and filling orders for the Homecoming crowd. Everybody was very gracious and I took a few pictures while we chatted about how folks outside of Robeson County have never heard of collard sandwiches. I’m sure glad I have. It seems that Ms. Dorsey has the collard sandwich, and will travel, to a fair or festival near you. If you want to know how to reach them, let me know. I’m sure they’d be glad to fill your belly like they did mine.
If you want to see a few more pictures of some food and fun at Lumbee Homecoming, check them out on flickr at,http://www.flickr.com/photos/28420620@N07/.
Photos by Jefferson Currie II