Age 70: James E. Locklear
Published: March 20, 2013
When James E. Locklear arrived in Baltimore in 1959, he was amazed by the size of the buildings. “When I got out and seen all these buildings, I had never seen a building like [the ones] in the city,” he says over lunch inside the Native American Senior Citizens of the Baltimore American Indian Center on East Lombard Street. “It was just amazing what I’d walked into.”
The section of eastern North Carolina that is home to the Lumbee Indians is remarkably flat—spatially and culturally. The previous year, the Klu Klux Klan came through a Lumbee community to threaten them but were met by nearly the entire male Lumbee population, armed. The Klan fled into the swamp, providing the Lumbee with a sense of “pride and security,” says Locklear, whose brother participated in the rout of the Klan. There was still some prejudice, but it was the economy that drove most Lumbee north. Locklear was working on a farm for $2.50 a day when he decided to follow his two sisters and an uncle up to Baltimore.
Locklear lived with his uncle in the center of the Lumbee community on Broadway until he got a job with a Greek painting contractor who was painting a bridge by the city jail—a job that influenced much of the rest of Locklear’s career.
After a short stint with General Motors (“Generous Motors,” as Jonesy, a 75-year-old Lumbee man at lunch, put it), Locklear started working with a company that he stayed with for 36 years, usually painting bridges or towers high in the air. He painted the smokestacks for BGE, the BRESCO stacks, and numerous bridges—not only in Baltimore but all around the country.
While working on a railroad project at Havre de Grace, Locklear had a dream. “The next morning, going to work, I was telling the guys, ‘Man I had this dream about Earl’s wife.’ Said we was all in the water naked looking for something, and Earl’s wife was on the bow of the boat and we were all naked looking for something and I don’t know what we were looking for.”
About 10:30 that morning, the foreman yelled “man overboard,” and everybody stripped off their clothes and jumped in the water looking for him. “Then the tugboat comes up and there’s his wife standing there on the bow of the boat and everybody’s looking at me because I had told this story.”
They found the guy, but he was dead before he hit the water.
After he got married in 1967, Locklear’s wife—a white woman who grew up in Dundalk—was always frightened by such stories. “I brought him lunch one day,” she says. “That was enough for me.”
As an interracial couple, the Locklears never had any trouble in Baltimore. But when they went to visit his hometown, “people would come out the stores watching us walk down the street,” Locklear says. “It was crazy. She’d make fun of them.”
“I’d say, ‘What are you looking at?’” she says. “I didn’t even know that there were Indians before I met him.”
The couple had three daughters and eventually moved near Dundalk, where Mrs. Locklear worked at Bethlehem Steel. Locklear left his job in 1997 to found his own company, Native American Painters. He says he still misses the early days when the Lumbee community was all together around Broadway. “I miss the friends I had back then. I was away traveling for my job. When I got back, a lot of them had passed away,” he says, though he spends each Thursday eating lunch with other Lumbee only blocks away from the apartment he first stayed at on Broadway. “I wonder why I’m left. Why am I here? I guess He’s got something else for me to do. I just want to know what that is.”
Age 10: Jaya Mandala | Age 20: Jaclyn Jones | Age 30: Andrew Syropoulos
Age 40: Samuel E. Lee Jr. | Age 50: Maureen Kramer | Age 60: Andrew Der
Age 70: James E. Locklear | Age 80: Mario Carrion | Age 90: Laura Johnson
Age 100: Lucille Brooks
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