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Another family whose name is a giveaway for their African heritage is that of Locklear - yes, the same one that Heather, the blond bombshell of the TV series, "Melrose Place," claims as her own. Although as Anglo Saxon sounding as you can make it, the name is, in fact, an Indian one and in the language of the Tuscarora tribes means "hold fast." Indeed, it would appear that Ms. Locklear's family, at least on her father's side, once belonged to a segment of the population which in academic terminology is referred to as a tri-racial isolate - a community of individuals whose ancestry is a mixture of European, Indian and Black and who intermarried only with each other.
For much of our history the particular group with which her surname is so definitively identified has enigmatically been designated as "Lumbee." Numbering nearly forty thousand today and centering in Robeson Co., North Carolina, the Lumbees are the largest of these tri-racial groups. The official ideology of its members today, however, is that they are 100 percent Indian. A similar group known as the Melungeons originated in Tennesee while the Brass Ankle, Red Bone and Turk populations all developed in the Carolinas.
It should be noted that the modern ethnological word for such groups - isolates- is misleading. It reflects the restrictive social conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the "one drop" rule defining an African American would not be legally instituted anywhere in the nation until after Reconstruction, this definition does not take into account the fact that throughout the seventeen and early eighteen hundreds free people of black and white ancestry intermarried not only among themselves but with families of Indian and white ancestry. Furthermore, members of mixed race families intermarried with the surrounding whites, despite the fact that many states had passed laws outlawing such unions.
Virginia Easley Demarce, a specialist in this area of research points out, that one of the major contentions of tri-racial Americans is that they were more likely bi-racial or Indian and white. As she point out, "The reason why tri-racial ancestry has been downplayed is clear. Throughout most of American history the legal, social, educational, and economic disadvantages of being African -American were so great that it was preferable for a person to be considered almost anything else."
Few of these groups have a tribal identification that can be traced back to the colonial period. Over the years, through acculturation and assimilation, they have lost whatever Indian languages and traditions they might have descended from. Many have worked very hard to attain legal recognition as Indian tribes over the last few years but some are still not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Indian adoption during the colonial period of English surnames such as Blunt, Tucker, Revels and Harris only adds to the difficulty of tracing Indian forbears. Thanks, however, to the contribution of an anthropologist with some linguistic expertise, the Locklears can point to their own name as one instance of the Lumbee group's Native American origins.
Researched and Written by Mario de Valdes y Cocom an historian of the African diaspora.