Horace Locklear, a Lumbee trailblazer in North Carolina law and politics, dies

By Sarah Nagem


Horace Locklear saw the injustices of the segregated South while growing up in Robeson County, where schools, the local hospital and water fountains were separated into thirds — white, Black and Native American. 

The prejudices he endured as a Lumbee ignited in Locklear a commitment to serve his community and advocate for tribal rights. He became the first Native American licensed attorney in North Carolina, gaining national attention when he briefly represented a man who took hostages at The Robesonian newspaper in 1988. He was the second Native American to serve in the state General Assembly, first taking office in 1977.   

Locklear died May 5 at Lower Cape Fear LifeCare in Brunswick County. He was 81. 

Locklear’s wife, Barbara Braveboy-Locklear, described him as a humble and modest man who was “never one to embark on a project or a quest for personal gain or for recognition.”

“It just so happened that he seemed to be always at the right place at the right time,” she said, “and he just took advantage of it.” 

Locklear and his wife met as teenagers in the late 1950s. He was a “Lumberton boy” who attended Magnolia High, the school for Native American students in town. She was a “Pembroke girl.” Their romance heated up when Locklear was enrolled at Pembroke State College, now The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and they got married in 1963.

Locklear graduated the following year and became an educator, teaching sixth- and seventh-grade students at Piney Grove Elementary, the Native American school he attended as a young child. According to his obituary, Locklear “was rescued from a futile teaching career” after a year and a half, disheartened by the school’s limited resources that forced him and another educator to share an auditorium separated by a flimsy curtain.  

Horace Locklear (Screenshot from obituary)

In 1968, Locklear co-founded the Lumbee Regional Development Association to seek grant funding from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society program that aimed to eradicate poverty and racial injustice. Robeson County has long been one of the poorest counties in the state and continues to grapple with racism and limited opportunities for economic advancement. 

The LRDA led the Lumbee efforts in the 1970s to gain full federal recognition, a designation that has so far remained out of reach. The tribe, which has more than 50,000 members, was recognized by the state in 1887 and was granted partial federal recognition in 1956. Full recognition from Congress would bring substantial amounts of money for education, health care and more. 

In a statement, Tribal Chairman John Lowery said Locklear was “a great leader.”

“Mr. Horace was a trail blazer for the Lumbee People and served in many leadership capacities,” he said. “We are a better tribe today because of Mr. Horace and his contemporaries who helped open many doors for our people.”

Joe Liles met the Locklears through a mutual friend in the early 1970s, when Horace Locklear was attending law school at N.C. Central University. Liles, a lifelong music educator, was interested in tribal music, although he is not Native American. The Locklears embraced his help to rejuvenate cultural appreciation in Robeson County through powwows and events. 

“It’s kind of a strange thing to have a white guy teaching American Indians how to sing,” Liles said. “But that’s what I did back then.” 

After finishing law school in 1972, Locklear became a defense attorney and was the “the first voice” for Indian Americans at the Robeson County Courthouse, his wife said. Plenty of white residents, she said, made it clear that Locklear “didn’t know his place.” 

Undeterred, Locklear, a Democrat, was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives where he served three terms from 1977 to 1983. He succeeded Henry Ward Oxendine, a Lumbee who was the first Native American to serve in the state legislature, from 1973 to 1976.

Locklear decided to step away from politics partly because the work took him away from his wife and their three children. “It was hard trying to maintain a law practice while supporting a family,” Braveboy-Locklear said. “It became an economical hardship.” 

Braveboy-Locklear said her husband represented Eddie Hatcher, a Native American who, along with Timothy Jacobs, took over The Robesonian office in Lumberton for several hours on Feb. 1, 1988. Both men, members of the Tuscarora tribe, held the newspaper staff hostage and demanded a federal investigation into racism and corruption that they said plagued the local criminal justice system. 

Locklear was disbarred in 1990 after he pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted obstruction of justice. He had claimed to have a “Superior Court judge under his control” and was accused of telling a man facing drug charges that he could use his relationship with the judge to keep him out of prison, according to a media report at the time

Out of the spotlight, Locklear continued to advocate for his community. Charles Graham, a Lumbee who served in the N.C. House for nearly a decade starting in 2011, said Locklear served as an adviser and mentor to him. 

“Horace was a guy that was not one who wanted to be out front,” Graham said. “During my term in the legislature, he was more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person.”

Graham, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2022, said he and Locklear discussed many Lumbee voters’ shift to the Republican Party over the last several years. Robeson County voters picked Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012, and then Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.

“I’ll just say Horace was really concerned about the direction of the political arena as a whole here in North Carolina,” Graham said. 

Locklear’s health had been declining for more than a year, his wife said. A celebration of life service is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Lumberton. 

Horace Locklear, left, at his swearing-in ceremony to the N.C. House of Representatives after being elected in 1976. His paternal grandfather, Jasper Locklear, held the Bible as Horace took the oath of office. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Braveboy-Locklear)