PEMBROKE – Ruth Revels, a 1958 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and a long-time educator, is being remembered for her activism and contributions to American Indian issues across the state.
Revels died Monday. She was 79.
“UNC Pembroke had no finer advocate than Ruth Revels,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings, a cousin of Revels. “As she fought to protect and honor the university’s heritage, Ruth became an important figure in its history. We mourn her passing but celebrate her lasting contributions to UNCP and American Indian causes throughout North Carolina.”
Revels, born Annie Ruth Locklear in 1936, was raised in the Union Chapel Community, northeast of Pembroke. She was the daughter of Willard and Pearlie Mae Locklear. In 1954, she enrolled in Pembroke State College, known today as UNC Pembroke.
Revels was crowned Miss Pembroke State in 1956. She graduated with a degree in English from UNC Pembroke in 1958.
She began her teaching career at Pembroke High School, then an all-Indian high school. In 1961, Revels moved to Charlotte with her husband, Lonnie, and continued teaching there.
The Revels eventually settled in Greensboro where they helped establish the Guilford Native American Association. Revels served as the first director. She was active at the state level, serving as a member of the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs since 2003. Just recently, in 2013, she was appointed chair of the commission.
The N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs is an advocate for Indian communities, tribes, and organizations.
She also served as chair of the commission’s Economic Development and Employment Committee and the NC Indian Economic Development Initiative.
Though she lived away from Robeson County, Revels remained connected with UNC Pembroke and her hometown. Revels joined the “Save Old Main” movement in the early 1970s when university administrators decided to raze historic Old Main to build a new performing arts center. She penned a poem titled “I Am Old Main,” which was widely distributed during that time.
“Her poem helped galvanize resistance to tearing down Old Main,” said Lawrence Locklear, UNC Pembroke historian and program coordinator for the Southeast American Indian Studies Program.
“Mrs. Ruth and her husband, Mr. Lonnie, were leaders in the Indian community,” Locklear said. “Mrs. Ruth was very proud of this university. She bragged about UNC Pembroke every chance she got.”
Locklear said Revels will be remembered not only for her activism within the Lumbee Tribe, but her activism for all Native people at the local, state and national level.
“She had a warm and inviting spirit,” Locklear said. “You always felt comfortable talking with her and she always wanted a hug.”
Locklear said he last spoke with Revels at the 41st North Carolina Indian Unity Conference in Raleigh over the weekend.
“I always enjoyed talking with Mrs. Ruth. She will be truly missed.”
Mark Locklear is communications specialist for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.