One chilly March afternoon in 2018, Ashley Minner, a community artist, folklorist, professor and enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, gathered the elders together for a luncheon at Vinny’s, an Italian eatery on the outskirts of Baltimore. The group crowded around a family-style table, eager to chat with friends after a long winter. Over a dessert of cannoli and Minner’s homemade banana pudding, she got down to business to show the group what she had found—a 1969 federally commissioned map of the Lumbee Indian community in Baltimore as it stood in its heyday.
Her discovery was met with bewildered expressions.
“The elders said, ‘This is wrong. This is all wrong.’ They couldn’t even fix it,” Minner recalls from her seat at a large oak desk in Hornbake Library’s Special Collections room. When she speaks, she embodies a down-to-earth, solid presence, with an air of humility that her University of Maryland students will tell you is how she conducts her classes. That day, she wore no jewelry or makeup, just a T-shirt, jeans and a bright purple windbreaker.
At the luncheon, plates were cleared but questions remained. The elders drafted a rough sketch of the neighborhood based on their recollections. Now it was Minner’s turn to be perplexed. Though she has lived all her life in the Baltimore area, nothing looked remotely familiar.
“It wasn’t until my Aunt Jeanette took me to Baltimore Street, and pointed and said, ‘This is where I used to live,’ that I realized the reason I wasn’t getting it was because it’s a park now. The whole landscape has been transformed.”
Baltimore may be famous for John Waters, Edgar Allan Poe, and steamed crabs, but very few people are aware that there was once a sizeable population of American Indians, the Lumbee tribe, who lived in the neighborhoods of Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill. By the 1960s, there were so many Native Americans living in the area that many Lumbee affectionately referred to it as “The Reservation.” In the early 1970s, this part of Baltimore underwent a massive urban renewal development project and many Lumbee residences were destroyed, including most of the 1700 block of East Baltimore Street. “Almost every Lumbee-occupied space was turned into a vacant lot or a green space,” Minner says. The population of “The Reservation” continued to decrease between 1970 and 1980, when thousands of Baltimoreans moved out of the city to Baltimore County, including many Lumbee.