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Legend lost with Chief Brown’s passing

He was a walking, talking history book; to me, that best describes the adult life of Wayne Mackanear Brown.

Wayne and I became fast friends back when I was first named as the News Editor of this newspaper in 2000. That close tie continued upon my promotion to Editor in 2005 and continued up until a few years ago when Wayne was involved in an auto accident that put him on the sidelines.

This past Thursday (Feb. 7) marked a sad day for yours truly and for countless others that looked to Wayne Brown for guidance and leadership (as well as the aforementioned lessons in history).

We lost Wayne Brown on that day at the age of 70….a mentor, a voice of reason and the Principal Chief of the Meherrin Nation.

Before I met him, Wayne was the reason behind the reorganization of the local tribe of Meherrins. Because of his efforts, along with others, the State of North Carolina bestowed the Meherrins the official designation as a recognized Indian Tribe. A short time later, Brown was elected the first chief under the Meherrins’ newly formed government since the 1800s.

He didn’t sit still from that point forward….leading the way for local Native Americans to rediscover their proud heritage. His never-ending quest for knowledge led him to discover that 15 of the tribe’s descendants fought in the American Revolutionary War.

In a 1757 document he obtained from the College of William and Mary, Brown said Colonel George Washington (later to become a General and the nation’s first president) wrote a letter to the Meherrins and members of the Tuscarora and Nottoway tribes, asking them to send warriors to fight alongside the Americans.

Seven Meherrins, 30 Tuscarorians and seven Nottaways went to Williamsburg (VA) and presented the letter from Colonel Washington. They enlisted and served our then fledging nation in the fight vs. England for our freedom.

His research also identified 39 members of the Meherrin tribe leaving the local area and traveling by horseback to Wilmington to enlist their services with the Union Army during the Civil War. Some lost their lives in battle.

Chief Brown shared other interesting facts with me over the years….to include a story of his grandmother, Nollie Reid Melton (the granddaughter of Sallie M. Lewis, hailed as the matriarch of the local tribe), who granted one of the first interviews in the News-Herald about the history of the Meherrins.

“The pride of our tribe as a result of that published article was greatly enhanced as we felt our story was finally being told to others outside of our ranks for the first time,” Brown said in a story I wrote about the tribe back in 2015.

Prior to the publication of that article, Brown said any reference made to the Meherrin tribe was kept private.

“My senior thesis at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro was on the Meherrins….I’ve always bore that passion to be like my grandmother and tell the story of our rich history,” Brown said in the same interview. “We are proud of who we are.”

He spoke of the time-honored Meherrin customs, to include what is now the annual Pow Wow.

Originally pronounced “pauau” or “pau wau” – meaning a gathering of medicine men or spiritual leaders for a curing ceremony – today’s contemporary event is more along the lines of a social gathering where Native Americans, and their non-native guests, participate in renewing old acquaintances, singing and dancing.

“The circle in which the dancing takes place is an important symbol to Indian culture because it symbolizes the continuation of life,” Brown noted in the 2015 interview. “To Native Americans, life is never ending, like the circle.”

For Native Americans like Brown, life is never ending. His legacy will stand the test of time thanks to the valuable history lessons he shared with me and others.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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