Reflections on the 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-17 01:47Z by Steven

Reflections on the 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference

Multiracial Asian Families: thinking about race, families, children, and the intersection of mixed ID/Asian

Sharon H. Chang

Ah. Where do I begin. I’m sitting on a plane waiting to takeoff to Seattle (correction, taking off) thinking on my last 3 days in Chicago at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference. I’m exhilarated, emotional, exhausted, enlightened. I got to present some of my research for the first time. After years of researching, [a] major milestone. I got to be with and meet in the flesh so many folk doing great work whom I had mostly only known by name or via social media thumbnails till that point: Eliaichi Kimaro of A Lot Like You; Jeff Chiba Stearns of One Big Hapa Family, Yellow Sticky Notes, and the forthcoming Mixed Match; Megumi Nishikura of Hafu; Fanshen Cox [Digiovanni] of One Drop of Love and, with partner Chandra Crudup, Mixed Roots Stories; Ken Tanabe of Loving Day; Co-creators of War Baby / Love Child (as well as two of the conference’s founders) Laura Kina and Wei Ming Dariotis; and Steven Riley of

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Researchers discuss origins of Melungeon heritage at annual event

Posted in Articles, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States, Videos, Virginia on 2014-07-14 05:41Z by Steven

Researchers discuss origins of Melungeon heritage at annual event (News 5)
Brisol, Virginia

Olivia Caridi

BIG STONE GAP, Va. – Wayne Winkler discovered he was a Melungeon at 12 years old. His grandmother is a Melungeon. His father is, too.

“I had never heard the word, so I asked my relatives what a Melungeon is. I asked what it was, and I’ve spent all this time since then trying to answer the question,” Winkler says.

For Winkler and others of mixed-ethnic groups, attending the 18th annual Melungeon Union on Saturday was a way to get some answers.

Melungeon’s were first documented in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee in the 19th century. “They are basically a mixed-ethnic group of a combination of Native American, European American and African American,” Winkler says.

Researchers have attempted to document the meaning of Melungeon identity for years. Lisa Alther, an author, wrote books exploring the history. “I always heard growing up that we were Anglo-Saxon and Celtic here in the mountains, so the most fascinating thing for me is realizing that we are here in the mountains really a melting pot of the entire world,” Alther says…

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16th Union Report

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2012-07-27 15:02Z by Steven

16th Union Report

Melungeon Heritage Association: One People, All Colors
16th Union at the Southwest Virginia Historical Museum State Park

K. Paul Johnson

Every Melungeon Union combines an extended family reunion with a scholarly conference featuring authors and researchers sharing the latest perspectives on our heritage.  All presenters come at their own expense, as volunteers receiving no compensation or travel costs, as do MHA members who organize and direct the conference.  We travel considerable distances to attend this annual event, to learn and celebrate this heritage we share and treasure…

…My presentation on links between Pell Mellers and Melungeons began with family stories, examined genealogical evidence, and concluded with a description of DNA testing and its mixed results in answering historical questions about my own mixed ancestry. This was intended as a preview of the keynote address, since my genealogical quest centered on the same county in North Carolina, Bertie, about which Dr. Smallwood had written a book in 2002 and which continues to be a research focus for him.

Phyllis Starnes spoke informally about the promises and pitfalls of genetic testing for genealogical research, helping us through the labyrinth of Y-DNA, mitochondrial, and autosomal studies of Melungeons. We owe Phyllis thanks for generating more questions in the q&a than the rest of us combined, and for answering them deftly and capably.

Arwin D. Smallwood, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Colonial American History at the University of Memphis, was the keynote speaker at 13th Union in 2009, and has been a presenter in every subsequent Union, returning this year at 16th to give a keynote address that featured new dimensions of the research he has been pursuing for several years on the Tuscarora tribe’s diaspora from his native Bertie County. This year Dr. Smallwood included a detailed accounting of Virginia’s legal oppression of people of color, a tightening noose of restrictions throughout the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth. This becomes a factor in the migration of African-European mixed families southward into North Carolina and westward into mountainous regions of Virginia, away from the plantations and slavery and into frontier communities where they interblended with Indians who had likewise been displaced. MHA is indebted to Dr. Smallwood for his ongoing work which tends to incorporate the traditionally-accepted triracial explanation of Melungeon origins with the more exotic possibilities of Mediterranean ancestry suggested by folklore. He was extensively interviewed by a local newspaper reporter so we look forward to seeing the coverage…

…Wayne [Winkler] followed up on the DNA issue by explaining that the negative spin of the recent AP story and especially the headlines were not intended by the report authors. Yet the headlines were undeniably negative—in that our Native American and Mediterranean ancestry were allegedly disproven and relegated to the status of racist mythology—more than positive about what was proven. After all, the study authors selected “a multi-ethnic population” as a subtitle, and not “mulatto wannabe Indians” which nonetheless has been the stereotypical insult applied to Melungeons in the wake of the AP story. Conferees were left feeling that the air had been cleared of some misunderstandings and hard feelings. What the study does prove beyond dispute is the subsaharan African Y DNA lineage of many families of the Newman’s Ridge Melungeon community. But by its very nature, such a study cannot disprove the triracial status of Melungeons in general—which has been unanimously attested by generations of social scientists as well as testimony of Melungeons themselves. Mediterranean ancestry was repeatedly claimed by 19th century Melungeons in addition to Native American, English, and African ancestry, and not as a cover story to deny the triracial foundations of their communities. In his closing remarks, Wayne stated clearly that nothing in any DNA evidence conflicts with the triracial-and-beyond understanding of Melungeons presented in Dr. Smallwood’s keynote address the night before…

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Bertie County: An Eastern Carolina History

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2012-02-05 02:47Z by Steven

Bertie County: An Eastern Carolina History

Arcadia Publishing
160 pages
ISBN: 9780738523958

Arwin D. Smallwood, Associate Professor of History
The University of Memphis

The lives of the Native American, African, and European inhabitants of Bertie County over its 400 years of recorded history have not only shaped, but been shaped by its landscape. One of the oldest counties in North Carolina, Bertie County lies in the western coastal plains of northeastern North Carolina, bordered to the east by Albemarle Sound and the tidewater region and to the west by the Roanoke River in the piedmont. The county’s waterways and forests sustained the old Native American villages that were replaced in the eighteenth century by English plantations, cleared for the whites by African slaves. Bertie County’s inhabitants successfully developed and sustained a wide variety of crops including the “three sisters”—corn, beans, and squash—as well as the giants: tobacco, cotton, and peanuts. The county was a leading exporter of naval stores and mineral wealth and later, a breadbasket of the Confederacy. Bertie County: An Eastern Carolina History documents the long history of the region and tells how its people, at first limited by the landscape, radically altered it to support their needs. This is the story of the Native Americans, gone from the county for 200 years but for arrowheads and other artifacts. It is the story of the African slaves and their descendants and the chronicle of their struggles through slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights Movement. It is also the story of the Europeans and their rush to tame the wilderness in a new land. Their entwined history is clarified in dozens of new maps created especially for this book, along with vivid illustrations of forgotten faces and moments from the past.


  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction: An Ecological History
  • 1. Early History: Roanoke Island and the Chowan and Roanoke River Valleys, 1584-1711
  • 2. Cultures in Conflict: The Tuscarora War and Forced Migration, 1711-1722
  • 3. Life during the Colonial era, 1722-1774
  • 4. The American Revolution and the Early Years of the New Republic, 1774-1803
  • 5. Religion, Cotton. Tobacco, and Peanuts; The Antebellum Years, 1803-1861
  • 6. A County Divided: From the Civil War to the Collapse of Reconstruction, 1861-1877
  • 7. The Collapse of Reconstruction through the Jim Crow Era, 1877-1954
  • 8. Life in the Rural “New South”: During and Since the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-2002
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Plein Air: Mapping Mary Ann Armstrong

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2012-02-05 01:28Z by Steven

Plein Air: Mapping Mary Ann Armstrong A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments
Number 24 (Fall/Winter 2009)

Deborah Fries, Editorial Board Member

The first time I saw her picture, I wanted to know everything about her. 

I wanted to know where she’d lived before she married my great, great grandfather in 1859.  I wanted to know what her parents, Mariah and William G. Armstrong, looked like; whether William G. had been a planter in Tyrrell County, North Carolina, or a yeoman farmer.  I wanted to know which of Mary Ann’s six children looked like her, rather than their eagle-featured father, Edward Parisher.  I wanted to know why she looked so very serious.

All of that wanting began in 2000, when distant relative and genealogical researcher Mark Bateman sent me a scanned photo of my great, great grandparents, along with a generous amount of his own Parisher family research.   And even though I’ve gathered a little more information, even had my mitochondrial DNA tested, most days I’m sure that I’ll never have enough facts to salvage historical certainty out of the shipwreck of fantasy.

Instead, I’ll have a breeches bucket of images: smoke rising from decaying peat in the Great Dismal Swamp; moss hanging from a pecan tree in a sandy yard; dogs sleeping in the shade of a magnolia; the ghosts of torn-down farmhouses and tobacco barns; rows of corn bending under hurricane winds; gold-rimmed English paste ware sitting on a sideboard.  A wide-cheek-boned woman in a lace collar frozen in her ante-bellum portrait, a man with a long goatee beside her.  I’ll be left with mysteries and wish-based assumptions, and an impressionistic synthesis of how my own family illustrates the rich history of the people who have lived on the south shore of the Albemarle Sound for more than 400 years..

Long after I opened the envelope from Mark that contained the photos of Mary Ann Armstrong and Edward Parisher, as well as scanned tintypes of two of their six children, I remained intrigued by the racial ambiguity of my great, great grandmother.  In 2008, I ordered a test kit from the research firm with the largest DNA database, sure that my matrilineal line would escort me back to Mary Ann’s genes and provide definitive conclusions. Was she biracial?  Triracial?  In all census records, she and her parents are listed as White, a mono-racial identity the picture seems to belie.  Mark had heard she was “part Indian.”  The molecular test results, I expected, would be oracular…

…Mary Ann’s appearance and information about her planter paternal line raised new questions.  Recently, I’ve been able to pose some of those questions to Dr. Arwin Smallwood, a University of Memphis history professor whose work in eastern North Carolina maps the entwined lives of Native, African, and European Americans from first contact to the present.

Smallwood, author of Bertie County, An Eastern Carolina History and The Atlas of African-American History and Politics: From the Slave Trade to Modern Times, as well as other scholarly works, grew up about 30 miles northwest of my maternal family’s farmstead.  Triracial himself, he is currently overseeing additional research projects in eastern North Carolina.   If anyone would understand the social permutations that were negotiated over hundreds of years in that region, and reflected in the picture of  my great, great grandmother, it would be Dr. Smallwood…

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