Cheraw Indians chief to speak at Genealogical Society

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Chief Ralph Justice Oxendine of the Sumter Band of Cheraw Indians will be the guest presenter at the Feb. 18 meeting of the Sumter County Genealogical Society. Also speaking at the 7:30 p.m. meeting at Swan Lake Presbyterian Church will be Claudia Benenhaley Gainey.

The title of the evening's presentation will be "We Are Still Here; We Never Left."

Oxendine was born in Sumter and has lived here all his life. He owns New Tec Decorative Concrete Company in Sumter. Prior to that, he owned a construction company. A dedicated Christian, he ministered to the homeless and those that came to hear him preach at the gazebo on Magnolia Street.

After many years of researching, upon the urging of his brother, Ronnie Laverne Oxendine, Chief Oxendine began his quest to find and connect with his roots.

Gainey is also a native and lifelong resident of Sumter. She is the mother of nine children. A paralegal by profession, she sits on the Board of Directors of the Sumter County Genealogical Society, volunteers at the Research Center, does contract research for others and is the co-chairwoman, along with Luann Oxendine, of the Sumter Band of Cheraw Indians.

With Chief Oxendine, Mandy Oxendine Chapman and several others, Gainey joined forces to discover the origins of the Oxendine family in Sumter. The Oxendines are part of a group of people known to most as "Turks," who have roots in Sumter back to the late 1700s. Prominent among this group are the Oxendines, Benenhaleys, Rays, Hoods, Lowreys, Scotts and Buckners.

Through years of researching and hard work, the Sumter Band said, they have proven definitively who the Oxendines are - Native American Indians - and can provide documentation of this proof. That being said, as with any bloodline, when an Oxendine married within or outside of the "group" and had children, they, too, carry Native American Indian blood.

On Dec. 20, 2012, The Sumter Band of Cheraw Indians was recognized by the state of South Carolina as a Native American Indian Tribe. Their talk will concern their struggle to obtain their goals over the past several years.

The Sumter County Society meets monthly from September through May at Swan Lake Presbyterian Church on the corner of Haynsworth Street and Bland Avenue. Visitors are welcome and encouraged to attend. Admission is free to the public and refreshments will be served following the presentation. Readers can call the Society's Research Center for additional information at (803) 774-3901.