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Monday, February 5, 2007

Local experts contribute to History Channel documentary

When local legend Henry Berry Lowrie disappeared into the swamps in 1872, a truly great story of American history almost went with him.

DVD CoverLowrie’s life and times have been re-energized with the help of the UNC Pembroke community and the History Channel documentary, “Aftershock: Beyond the Civil War.” The 90-minute documentary outlines politics and racial violence during the Reconstruction era.

Lowrie’s mysterious disappearance offers a dramatic story of action, adventure, romance, revenge and a fight against injustice. The Lowrie War began in 1865 and Lowrie emerged as a national figure with a price on his head that was twice as much as the reward for Jesse James at one time.

 “Aftershock” premiered in late December 2006 on the History Channel. Besides reenactments of the Lowrie Gang’s adventures, it featured commentary by a team of local experts.

Five individuals provided interviews, and four are part of the UNCP family:

  • Dr. Linda E. Oxendine, former chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department;
  • Lawrence T. Locklear, a University and Community Relations staff member, former speaker of the Lumbee Tribal Council and 2005 graduate;
  • Harvey Godwin, actor, business owner and 1991 graduate; and
  • Kenneth Clark, cultural enrichment specialist at the Indian Education Resource Center of the Public Schools of Robeson County and a 1987 graduate.

Also offering commentary was Josephine Humphreys, author of “No Where Else on Earth,” the story of Lowrie’s wife Rhoda Strong.

Linda Oxendine

Dr. Linda Oxendine

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Dr. Oxendine said the documentary did a good job setting the Lowrie story in historical context.

“I thought it was a good documentary, and I’m glad to see Henry Berry Lowrie is getting the attention he deserves,” Dr. Oxendine said. “It is one of the great stories of American history.”

Clark, an American Indian Studies major at UNCP, said he learned a lot from the documentary.

“Reconstruction was like a second Civil War, and I had not thought of it in quite that way,” Clark said.

Director David Padrusch also selected several local actors including Godwin, his son, Quinn, who portrayed Lowrie and Kimberly Hunt of Pembroke as Rhoda.

Harvey Godwin, who played the role of Henry Berry Lowrie in the local outdoor drama “Strike at the Wind,” said the documentary was “more that we had hoped for.”

“They did a great job with the story, and I believe the documentary presented Lumbees in a positive way,” Godwin said. “They did considerable research and asked for input on wardrobe and other historical issues.”

Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Clark

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The re-enactments were shot in Massachusetts and the interviews were shot in the Indian Education Resource Center next to the University.

“We had a lot of fun during the shooting,” Godwin said. “Shooting it in Massachusetts seemed strange, but when you see it on TV, it could pass for Moss Neck.”

Locklear said he was contacted by the producers in January 2006 and did the interview two days later. Being an “expert” is hard work, he said.

“I talked for about two or three hours, going over and over my comments,” Locklear said. “I was mentally exhausted afterward.

“The crew was very courteous and very professional,” he said. “They had done their homework.”

Dr. Oxendine introduced the 10-minute segment on Lowrie.

“Racial tension during the period of Reconstruction is generally thought to be between blacks and whites, but it included American Indians in Robeson County,” she said.

Locklear discussed the tensions over the status of Robeson County Indians, who were “classified as free persons of color” and forced to help construct Ft. Fisher in Wilmington, N.C.

Harvey Godwin

Harvey Godwin

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“In 1865, the Civil War was ending, but the war in Robeson County was just getting started,” he said.

Godwin discussed the hard times at the close of the war and Lowrie’s rise to fame as a Robin Hood who stole from the rich to feed the poor. The murder of Lowrie’s father and brother caused him to “choose a path of revenge for the deaths of his family members,” Godwin said. “There was no turning back.”

“Aftershock” re-enacted the ambush at Harper’s Ferry when Lowrie fought off as many as 18 members of a local militia. Another defining moment came when the outlaw bluffed authorities into releasing from jail the wives of the gang that included Rhoda.

“I can imagine that the gang members were not happy about their wives being taken into custody,” Locklear said. “This is the time when the myth, the aura surrounding Henry Berry Lowrie grew.”

The segment on the Lowrie War was one of five recounted in “Aftershock.” The documentary contends that slavery was not ended by the Civil War.

Lawrence T. Locklear

Lawrence T. Locklear

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The post-war chaos was a breeding ground for opportunists, criminals and politicians. Reconstruction marked a painful period of recovery that was marked by race and tax riots, marauders and insurgents, profiteers, carpetbaggers, scalawags, the KKK, Jesse James and Henry Berry Lowrie.

Dr. Oxendine reflected on the period.

“As Americans, we are quick to judge other nations suffering from instability and terrorism, but we forget our own history,” she said. “This documentary is a valuable contribution to understanding our past, ourselves.”

“Aftershock: Beyond the Civil War” is available for $24.95 on DVD for shipment on March 27.

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