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A color photo of a group of Lumbee elders posing during their regular mall walk in East Point Mall in Baltimore
(l-r) James Earl Locklear, Minnie S. Maynor, Jeanette Jones and Heyman Jones, all Lumbee, walk Eastpoint Mall in Dundalk, Maryland. Part of the 2024 American Folklife Center Community Collections Grant project, Beyond Baltimore Street: Living Lumbee Legacies, led by Dr. Ashley Minner Jones. Photo by Jill Fannon Prevas, 2024. Used with permission.

Catching up with Community Collections Grant Recipient Ashley Minner Jones on Beyond Baltimore Street: Living Lumbee Legacies

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The following is an interview with community-based artist and folklorist Dr. Ashley Minner Jones about her 2024 Community Collections Grant project, Beyond Baltimore Street: Living Lumbee Legacies. This post is part of the Of the People blog series featuring the awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grant program. The Community Collections Grants program is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, which seeks to create new opportunities to engage with the Library of Congress and enrich the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story. 

A color photo of a group of Lumbee elders posing during their regular mall walk in East Point Mall in Baltimore
(l-r) James Earl Locklear, Minnie S. Maynor, Jeanette Jones, and Heyman Jones, all Lumbee, walk Eastpoint Mall in Dundalk, Maryland. Photo by Jill Fannon Prevas, 2024. Used with permission.

First, a hearty congratulations to you on the Community Collections Grant, Ashley! Let’s start with the interwoven historical, cultural, and geographical context of your project, Beyond Baltimore Street: Living Lumbee Legacies, which focuses on the longstanding Lumbee community in – as claimed on its many public benches – “The Greatest City in America.” What and who is at the heart of Beyond Baltimore Street?

Thanks Michelle! At the heart of Beyond Baltimore Street are Lumbee elders who moved from our tribal homeland in North Carolina to Baltimore as young people, in the mid-twentieth century, for work and a better quality of life. Literally thousands settled along and around East Baltimore Street in an area that bridges the neighborhoods of Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill, establishing what would become a vibrant urban American Indian community. They affectionately referred to it as their “reservation” in its heyday.

Though little-known, this community is significant. It became an organizing hub for Indians throughout the Mid-Atlantic and a model for urban Indian communities everywhere. In the decades since, due to a complex set of factors ranging from upward mobility to civil unrest, and to Urban Renewal and gentrification, this area was transformed, and most Indian people moved away. Recent generations never experienced the reservation as such. Today, even most Baltimoreans are surprised to learn it ever existed, but this is changing.

Beyond Baltimore Street is an oral history and photo documentary project that celebrates the fascinating everyday lives of those elders who manage to remain in community with one another despite the loss of their reservation. One of the reasons their lives are so noteworthy is that they are transplants from one very specific place—the Lumbee tribal homeland—and they enmeshed themselves in another very specific place—East Baltimore—and they act accordingly. Their perception of the world is uniquely colored by their experiences of farming under segregation in tribal territory as youths and their contributions to Baltimore industry as adults. They speak Lumbee English with East Baltimore turns of phrase. They drink half-and-half (in Baltimore, half lemonade and half iced tea) with their Carolina fried chicken. They have adapted their gardening to back yards and small community plots from acreages of fields at “home” (Lumbee shorthand for our tribal homeland in North Carolina). Their clothing, their home interiors, their leisure activities—everything about them reflects that they are of these two places. They are the progenitors of a whole new culture that has been inherited and riffed upon by the generations of Baltimore Lumbee that descend from them.

I know you’ve been instrumental for decades, as an artist and folklorist, in putting Baltimore’s Lumbee community on the map – figuratively and literally. So, how did this project come about?

I don’t know if I could take credit for that. But for almost a decade now, I have been collaborating with about 40 elders of our community and a whole creative team to produce reconstructions of the Baltimore reservation in the forms of a print guide, a website (, a walking tour, mobile walking tour apps, a photo exhibition, a new public archival collection, and a forthcoming book. Our methods have included oral history, archival research, mapping, drawing, walking and more. It cannot be overstated that this work, which has gained local, national, and international attention, has only been made possible through collaboration with the elders who hold the cultural memory of our erased geographic community and all clues for searching the documentary record in institutional holdings.

Yet since the work began, the world has entered and not exited a deadly pandemic. During this time, many of the elders reached their 80s and 12 with whom I have personally known and loved and collaborated have passed away. I thought a Community Collections Grant would be a great and timely way to resource an honoring, recognition, and preservation of not only the lives these folks have lived, but the lives they are living right now.

A close-up photo of Iron Mackfee Locklear playing checkers outside.
Iron Mackfee Locklear (Lumbee) plays checkers with granddaughter Valerie Fox in his Glen Burnie back yard. Photo by Jill Fannon Prevas, 2024. Used with permission.

I am also wondering about the living Lumbee legacies of today that are also at the heart of the project. Although it only began some months ago, are there any aspects of community activities that you can share?

Mall-walking was a revelation! A group of Lumbee elders has been gathering to walk Eastpoint Mall in the mornings every weekday for years. I have been threatening to crash the party for years too and this project finally made me do it. First of all, not everybody walks together as I expected. Everyone has a set number of laps they like to do and they might walk in pairs or small groups or alone and that’s ok. Everyone knows everyone else’s preferences. They also know each other’s struggles and difficulties and they try to advocate for one another in small ways as they go along.

I have a lifelong relationship with most of the elders who are participating in the project, but we recently went to visit a gentleman I don’t know very well. Mr. Iron Mackfee Locklear is a 98-year-old WWII Navy veteran who fought in some of the most significant battles in both the European and Pacific theatres, but that didn’t turn out to be the main focus of his interview. We also talked about loves of his life, taking pride in the way things went even if they were difficult, acceptance, and the Golden Rule. Spending so many hours on ships at sea, Mr. Locklear got very good at checkers and remains (almost) undefeated. He beat his granddaughter at a game in our presence.

The Community Collections Grant program seeks to remove barriers – financial and logistical – to undertaking documentation of community cultural histories, living heritages, traditions, and expressions. I’m curious about your approaches to cultural documentation and the methods you are using.

For this project, I am collaborating with the amazingly talented Jill Fannon Prevas (see Like me, Jill is a Baltimore girl through and through. As an artist and photographer, her goal is to create thriving relationships that are built on thoughtful communication and result in authentic photographs that tell stories through atmosphere, light and connection. (Her impressive list of clients includes the Baltimore Ravens—which is most exciting to brag about to the elders.)

We proposed that I record individual oral history interviews with 15 Lumbee elders and Jill would photograph them doing whatever they like to do for fun. We have been going on outings with the elders in groups and individually—wherever they invite us. So far, we’ve eaten at the Boulevard Diner and walked at Eastpoint Mall in Dundalk, witnessed an intense game of checkers in a backyard in Glen Burnie, and Bingo in Pasadena. We have a big fishing trip coming up on the Magothy River, as well as an evening out at the Port Deposit Flea Market, and an 85th birthday party either at South Broadway Baptist Church or a public park (TBD). I really hope we get to go to a Waffle House, too.

Sometimes I interview and Jill takes photographs on the same outing. Sometimes it’s just one or the other. We both really value and enjoy knowing and spending time with the people we’re documenting, so that always takes precedence over the actual documentary activity. We’re allowing the project to evolve organically according to elders’ wishes and comfort level.

A close-up photo of Mrs. Mattie "Ty" Fields in a red shirt seated at a table while playing Bingo
Mrs. Mattie “Ty” Fields (Lumbee) plays Bingo at the Orchard Beach Volunteer Fire Department Hall in Pasadena. Photo by Jill Fannon Prevas, 2024. Used with permission.

The Community Collections Grant program equally serves to support the preservation of the documentation you and your team generate, as stewarded as a collection in the AFC archives, and eventually being made available on the Library of Congress website. Why is this significant, and what are lasting impacts of your work?

The Baltimore Lumbee community is not currently well-represented in institutional archives, save a new collection based on our research to-date that we are building right now at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where I imagine the materials we are producing for this project will also live. I say not “well-represented” because: 1) there is a general dearth of information; and 2) the information that is out there is often incorrect and offensive. I’m thankful for this opportunity to submit materials representing our folks authentically, on our own terms, and in reflection of this contemporary moment. I’m thankful the materials will be forever accessible to the public. It means a lot to our elders to be recognized by the Library of Congress and it will mean a lot to all of us to have these enduring records of their lives and contributions.

Thank you, Ashley, and best of luck with the rest of this important project!

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