A Truly Great Way to Resolve the Washington Redskins Controversy

In the event that you are not a football fan, let me give you some background on the subject of this post: There is a football team called the Washington Redskins. They’ve been around for a while; the Wikipedia article states that the team began as the Boston Braves in 1932, and then eventually became the Washington Redskins in 1937. As a Chicago Bears fan, this is what I consider to be my favorite game involving the Washington Redskins.

Now, there are a lot of people who consider the name of the team to be offensive (to clarify, we are referring to the “Redskins” portion of the name, though one could be forgiven for thinking that we are referring to the “Washington” portion). The Washington Post has even gone so far as to state that it will no longer refer to its hometown team as “the Redskins.” But the Redskins front office–led by owner Daniel Snyder–is refusing to change the name.

Stephen Carter has come up with what I believe to be an excellent solution:

My suggestion — in all seriousness — is that the team be called the Washington Lumbee, after the North Carolina tribe of that name. Before I explain my reasons, let me note the advantages from the point of view of the team’s traditionalist supporters. The name fits easily into the team’s fight song. (“Hail to the Lumbee.”) The name honors an actual tribe, an important and accomplished one. A public association with the football team in the nation’s capital would provide a huge boost to the Lumbee’s cherished dream, so far denied, of official recognition by the federal government. And, for what it’s worth, an actual Lumbee Indian, Sean Locklear, started four games for Washington in 2011.

Now — who are the Lumbee? Why choose them as a model?

The Lumbee, located mostly in North Carolina, have long attracted controversy. Although tribe members insist that both archaeological and DNA evidence demonstrates their claim to American Indian ancestry, some contemporary observers — including many American Indians — disagree, insisting that the Lumbee are mostly a mixture of African and European blood.

The state of North Carolina, however, officially recognized the Lumbee tribe in 1885 and treated them as American Indians much earlier in its history. The Lumbee were considered neither black nor white. During the Jim Crow era, the heavily Lumbee county of Robeson maintained not two but three separate school systems — one for whites, one for blacks and one for American Indians.

The Lumbee, for their part, have never quite gotten the recognition they deserve for their role in what has been called the Battle of Hayes Pond, a shootout with the Ku Klux Klan that took place 56 years ago.

James Cole, self-proclaimed grand dragon of the Klan in the Carolinas, found the Lumbees irritating because of their long history of mixing with other races. In January 1958, Cole’s followers burned crosses on several Lumbee lawns to warn them against “mongrelization.” Cole then scheduled a Klan rally for the night of Jan. 18 in a field near the town of Maxton, in Robeson County.

Even in the 1950s, people often cowered when the Klan came calling. The Lumbee chose a different path. They decided to confront the Klan and protect their homes and their families. The sheriff even warned Cole that if he proceeded with the rally, his life might be in danger. But backing down at that point would have meant a serious loss of face. So the event went off as planned.

The historian Malinda Maynor Lowery, in her book “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South,” picks up the tale: “Klansmen circled their cars in the center of the field and set up a small generator with a P.A. system and a light bulb. As Cole began to speak, he must have feared that the sheriff’s prediction would come true.” One of the Lumbee shot out the lightbulb. Another “wrestled a Klansman’s gun from his hands.” After that, “a deafening roar emanated from the Indian crowd; Indians began firing shots.”

The Klansmen were taken entirely by surprise. They were not prepared for resistance. “Cole took off running into the swamps,” Lowery writes. “His panicked followers dropped their guns, jumped in their cars and drove in all directions, some straight into the ditches that surrounded the field.”

As Carter goes on to mention, “with the marketing and financial might of the Washington football establishment behind them,” the Lumbee would be able to use the name change to achieve their long-desired goal of being recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which would entitle the Lumbee “to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States.”

So, what is Daniel Snyder waiting for? Take Carter’s suggestion and change the nickname of Washington’s football team to the Lumbee. It would be a huge public relations coup, it would silence the controversy, and it would pay homage to a group of people who routed and humiliated the Ku Klux Klan and revealed them for the cowards that they are. What’s not to love about this idea?