The historical drama “Strike At The Wind!” will be resurrected for two performances this summer, the first time the play will be performed in public in a decade. The performances, a joint effort between The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, will be presented June 23 and 24 on the stage of The Givens Performing Arts Center.
The return not only brings back the celebrated drama but reaffirms UNCP’s place in the preservation of local history.
The impetus for the revered local drama occurred on Dec. 5, 1940, when about 600 people crowded into the gym on the campus of The Cherokee Indian Normal School of Robeson County to see a play written and directed by Ella C. Deloria, an anthropologist from South Dakota, named “The Life Story of A People.” The play traced the history of the Indian people from their theoretical origins as descendants of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony.
In 1968, the Robeson County Historical Drama Association was created and Hector MacLean was elected as its first chairman. The success of two North Carolina dramas, “The Lost Colony” and “Unto These Hills,” inspired the desire for a new “historical pageant” that would provide a public venue to celebrate the history and heritage of Robeson County Indians and bring tourism dollars to Robeson County.
The historical committee considered reviving “The Life Story of A People,” but that idea was disregarded in favor of a new approach. Randolph Umberger, drama professor at North Carolina Central University, was suggested by Paul Green, author of “The Lost Colony,” to write the new drama. The social and political climate of the time, coupled with renewed interest in the folklore of Henry Berry Lowery, provided the catalyst, and in August 1972, Umberger delivered the script.
On July 1, 1976, “Strike At The Wind!” premiered, and over the summer, 18,000 people attended 21 performances, six of which sold out. For two decades, the play continued to be produced, and according to historian Dr. Christopher Arris Oakley, chairman and associate professor of history at East Carolina University, “thousands of Lumbees were directly involved in the play,” and it became “an important cultural and social event for the local Lumbee Indians.” Lower box office receipts forced the play into hiatus from 1996 to 1999, and after a short return, the final performance took place in 2007.
In 2014, Dr. Jonathan Drahos, director of UNCP Theatre, came to the university from California, and learned of the dormant historical drama.
“I was determined to reach out to the local community with a theatre project that had some impact on the community,” Drahos said. “The story of Henry Berry Lowery and the small slice of the Lowery Gang legacy depicted in this play contributes to the celebration of the extraordinary contemporary Lumbee Indian culture — a culture that endures and continues to inspire.”
In 2015, Dr. Robin Gary Cummings, a native of Pembroke, became the sixth chancellor of UNCP. He saw an obvious importance in reviving the historical drama and a sense of pride in seeing that new audiences have a chance to experience what he considers an important piece of work.
“Given UNC Pembroke’s history and our central role in the Lumbee community, we embraced the opportunity to partner with the tribe to revive ‘Strike at the Wind!’” said Cummings. “The play was beloved by generations during its decades-long run, and I am proud the university is helping to introduce the important work to new audiences.”
Cummings began meeting with other leaders in the county to discuss ways to work collaboratively, according to UNCP General Counsel Joshua Malcolm, who assisted in securing the rights for the production.
“Mr. Godwin said it was his goal to bring back “Strike At The Wind!’” Malcolm said. “That’s where Chairman Godwin and Chancellor Cummings agreed to do everything they could to revive it.”
“The partnership with UNCP is critical to the Tribe and to the drama,” said Lumbee Tribal Chair Harvey Godwin, who portrayed Henry Berry Lowery in six seasons. “We were able to secure the rights to the music and script for three years. Along with the expertise, funding, talent, and infrastructure offered by UNCP, this drama will be brought back to life. There has been a void, especially among our young people, since this drama has been gone. Working with UNCP, there will be a new look, a new vision, under new direction.”
Godwin added that the partnership goes beyond the production of the play.
“Joint efforts between the tribe and UNCP will help us keep this part of our story alive for future generations,” he said.
James Bass is the executive director of Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org