Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Gloria Barton Gates
Robeson County, NC
North Carolina history—Robeson County, in particular—has always played an important role in Gloria Barton’s life. Growing up in Pembroke, her family understood the importance of agriculture and food in southeastern North Carolina. They worked as migrant laborers and harvested everything from cotton to cucumbers. “We turned the money into our families…It wasn’t like we were doing that for spending money,” she recalls. “We were doing it to put food on the table.”
Food would end up defining much of Gates’s career as a writer. Her father, a teacher and historian, stressed the importance of education. His teaching work—as well as his own published writing—was his daughter’s inspiration to become a historian as well. “A long time ago, Indians realized that if you were going to get anywhere, you would need education,” Barton explains. “Most Indians valued education.” In particular, Gates sensed a need to collect the history of Lumbee food culture, an influential but vastly under appreciated culinary heritage. Her interviews with elders ceded dozens of recipes and other stories of Lumbee culture, usually handed down by word of mouth.
Gates is the researcher and author of The Scuffletown Cookbook, a collection of Lumbee memories and recipes gathered from tribal elders in Robeson County. Lumbee cooking, she says, is “southern cooking—with a twist to it. It’s just in certain foods.” Many of the elder women did not have written recipes but shared them with Gates as she jotted them down with her sharpened pencil. Her work has exceeded even her own expectations. “The book has touched people in a way I didn’t expect it to,” she says, explaining how readers have reached out to her with words of gratitude and support. “I’ve been surprised at how many have bought the book and how far it’s gone—I mean, to other states!”
Lumbee cooking is a vital part of North Carolina’s culture. The collard sandwich is a treasured staple available only in Robeson County. Chicken pastry is a specialty available nowhere else. And the cornbread is one of a kind. Gates is a student turned expert—she is proud of her Lumbee culture and shares it generously with audiences throughout the state.