Dr. Arwin D. Smallwood comes home to deliver Rouson Lecture at Chowan University
Dr. Arwin D. Smallwood returned to his old stomping grounds to visit Chowan University on February 6, 2019, as the guest speaker of the Reverend George T. and Luvenia B. Rouson Memorial Lecture.
It was a particularly nice day in February. The perfect weather for a reunion. “I’m home. I worked my whole career to get home. It means a lot to me, what you’ve done here today,” said Smallwood during the Rouson Memorial Lecture.
Smallwood described himself as a poor country kid from Bertie County. It was through his involvement with the Upward Bound program that Smallwood began to spend time on the Chowan campus. He attributes much of his success to people who helped him find his way to higher education, noting Chowan’s very own Dr. Frank Stephenson, Director of Upward Bound.
Smallwood said, “Had it not been for people like Dr. Frank Stephenson, who cared about all the people in this region, I would probably not be standing here today and doing what I am doing now. He has impacted and touched my life, and not just mine.”
Smallwood’s lecture, "Northeastern North Carolina in Red, Black, and White: A History of African Americans, Native Americans, and Whites and their Interactions in the Region" was fittingly themed around family. He discussed how all people of this region are family, whether by blood or bond, and have shared the same core values for over 400 years.
There are many kinds of families in addition to the standard family, Smallwood explained. There are those united by faith and close friends, who can be better than blood family/kin. Everyone has some kind of family, and families pull on people. “Family, for me, has been all of these and more. Families represent our past, our present, and are a bridge to our future,” he said. “If we understand that commonality, the love and respect we have for each other should increase.”
Smallwood delved into the tenets of the original peoples of the area, elaborating on five core values shared between all people of the region, regardless of origin: integrity, commitment, energy, decisiveness, and selflessness. Smallwood further explored these values as he described the Tuscarora (native) people and explained why it was important for people of this region to know who they were. “We worked these fields and walked these fields. I picked tobacco, cucumbers, and cotton. I worked the gardens of my grandmother,” he said. There is an ancestral connection, even today, to the original people of the area.
The Tuscaroras believed in their family so much so that all decisions were made through a consensus. Clan mothers (oldest living women in each family) held council and agreed on a chief to carry out all requests. Their first consideration was for the seventh generation – preserving history, culture, and traditions for future generations and families. “Many of us in this region share heritage, whether you are black or white or native. Most of us are mixed with other elements and our heritage goes back to these people,” explained Smallwood. “They had an expansive influence and reach through trade. They had an impact and influence on generations of us.”
In the age of Ancestry DNA kits people are becoming more curious of where their ancestors originated. Smallwood’s lecture demonstrated how origins are intermingled and certainly piqued the interest of many of the attendees.