A Mystery of a People

Posted in Articles, Audio, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-08-28 18:25Z by Steven

A Mystery of  a People

WUNC 91.5, Chapel Hill
The State of Things
North Carolina Public Radio

Isaac-davy Aronson, Host

Questions of racial identity and cultural heritage have long surrounded a group of Appalachians called the Melungeons. In recent years, curiosities have been piqued about this loosely connected group of people, spawning DNA testing, numerous books, Web sites and a documentary film. Guest host Isaac-Davy Aronson talks with K. Paul Johnson, corresponding secretary for the Melungeon Heritage Association; and Julie Williams Dixon, a Raleigh-based writer and director of the film “Melungeon Voices.”

Listen to the interview (00:19:10) here.

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“What Ain’t Called Melungeons is Called Hillbillies”: Southern Appalachia’s In-Between People

Posted in Anthropology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-01-04 03:15Z by Steven

“What Ain’t Called Melungeons is Called Hillbillies”: Southern Appalachia’s In-Between People

Forum for Modern Language Studies
Volume 40, Issue 3 (2004)
page 259-278
DOI: 10.1093/fmls/40.3.259

Rachel Rubin, Professor of American Studies
University of Massachusetts, Boston

The essay investigates literary evocations of Appalachia’s “in-between” people, the Melungeons. Melungeons are deployed by some as mystery (no one has conclusively traced their origins) and by others as solid fact (they are non-white) to shore up their own contingent sense of white privilege. The construction of Melungeon identity by outsiders has facilitated a process of “re-centring” whereby those poor white people so frequently scorned as “hillbillies” place themselves at the heart of a racialised mountain landscape.

Read the entire article here.

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Mixing in the Mountains

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Social Science, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-01-01 04:20Z by Steven

Mixing in the Mountains

Southern Cultures
Volume 3, Issue 4 (Winter 1997)
pages 25-35

John Shelton Reed, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Research in Social Science
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

One January day in 1996, I picked up the Wall Street Journal to find a story headlined “Rural County Balks at Joining Global Village.” It told about Hancock County, Tennessee, which straddles the Clinch River in the ridges hard up against the Cumberland Gap, where Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee meet.

This is a county that has lost a third of its 1950 population, which was only ten thousand to begin with. A third of those left are on welfare, and half of those with jobs have to leave the county to work. The only town is Sneedville, population 1300, which has no movie theater, no hospital, no dry cleaner, no supermarket, and no department store.

I read this story with a good deal of interest because the nearest city of any consequence is my hometown of Kingsport, thirty-five miles from Sneedville as the crow flies, but an hour and a half on mountain roads. (If you don’t accept my premise that Kingsport is a city of consequence, Knoxville’s a little further from Sneedville, in the opposite direction.)

The burden of the article was that many of Hancock County’s citizens are indifferent to the state of Tennessee’s desire to hook them up to the information superhighway—a job that will take some doing, especially for the one household in six that doesn’t have a telephone. The Journal quoted several Hancock Countians to the effect that they didn’t see the point. The reporter observed that the county offers “safe, friendly ways, pristine rivers, unspoiled forests and mountain views,” and that many residents simply “like things the way they are.”

So far a typical hillbilly-stereotype story. But the sentence that really got my attention was this: “Many families here belong to a hundred or so Melungeon clans of Portuguese and American Indian descent, who tend to be suspicious of change and have a history of self-reliance.”…

…Anyway, the Melungeons’ problems, historically, haven’t been due to their American Indian heritage. Like the South’s other triracial groups, they have been ostracized and discriminated against because their neighbors suspected that they were, as one told Miss Dromgoole, “Portuguese niggers.” (Do not imagine that the absence of racial diversity in the mountains means the absence of racial prejudice.) Until recently most Melungeons have vociferously denied any African American connection and have simply refused to accept the attendant legal restrictions. As one mother told Brewton Berry, “I’d sooner my chilluns grow up ig’nant like monkeys than send ’em to that nigger school.” But those neighbors were probably right: DeMarce has now established clear lines from several Melungeon families back to eighteenth-century free black families in Virginia and the Carolinas…

…In her pioneering article on the Melungeons, Miss Dromgoole reveals an interesting misconception: “a race of Mulattoes cannot exist as these Melungeons have existed,” she wrote. “The Negro race goes from Mulattoes to quadroons, from quadroons to octoroons and there it stops. The octoroon women bear no children. Think about that: “Octoroon women bear no children.” Like mules. Who knows how many genteel southern white women held that comforting belief-comforting, that is, to one who accepted the “one drop” rule of racial identification that was enshrined in the laws of many states. But in one sense Miss Dromgoole was right. Not only is there no word for people with one black great-great-grandparent, it’s almost true, sociologically speaking, that there are no such people…

Read the entire article here.

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Greg Carroll Draws Large Crowd for Talk on Melungeon Heritage

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates on 2010-12-13 00:47Z by Steven

Greg Carroll Draws Large Crowd for Talk on Melungeon Heritage

West Virginia Archives & History
West Virginia Division of Culture & History
Volume 11, Number 8 (October 2010)
page 2

Archives historian Greg Carroll drew a large crowd for his talk [2010-09-09] on groups of people in the Appalachian area and beyond commonly called Melungeon. To view photos of the evening, [click here]. If you were unable to attend and would like more information regarding Melungeon, mixed race, or tri-racial isolate groups, you may contact Carroll at (304) 558-0230 or greg.b.carroll@wv.gov.

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MALUNGU: The African Origin of the American Melungeons

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2009-10-07 18:26Z by Steven

MALUNGU: The African Origin of the American Melungeons

Eclectica Magazine
July/August 2001

Tim Hashaw


They settled in Virginia one year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. They sparked a major conflict between the Engllish Crown and American colonies one hundred and fifty years before the American Revolution. They lived free in the South nearly two hundred and forty years before the American Civil War.  Yet the African ancestors of the American Melungeons have remained elusive ghosts for the past four centuries; the missing characters in the developing saga of America’s largest mixed community. Now finally, though stridently denied by some descendants and misunderstood by others, the African fathers and mothers of Melungia are beginning to emerge from the dim pages of the past to take their rightful places of honor in American history.

One misconception over Melungeon origins comes from confusion over the status of these African-Americans who, along with whites and Indians, gave birth to this mixed community.  Modern scholars mistakenly assume that the African heritage of Melungeons derives from the offspring of white plantation owners and black female chattel slaves in the years 1780 to 1820.

Wrong on two counts. In fact:

1. The very first black ancestors of Melungeons appeared in tidewater Virginia, not in the 18th century, but in 1619.

2. Not one single Melungeon family can be traced to a white plantation owner and his black female slave. The vast majority of the African ancestors of Melungia were freeborn for more than three hundred years.

This bears repeating.

Melungeons are not the offspring of white southern plantation owners and helpless black slaves. Most of the African ancestors of Melungeons were never chattel slaves. They were frequently black men freed from indentured servitude just like many white servants of the 17th century. Less often, African ancestors of the Melungeons either purchased their freedom from slavery or were freed upon the deaths of their masters.

The black patriarchs of the Melungeons were commonly free African-American men who married white women in Virginia and other southern colonies, often before 1700.  Paul Heinegg in his revealing book, Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, provides strong evidence that less than one percent of all free Africans were born of white slave-owners.

Understanding the status of the African-American ancestors of Melungeons and the era, in which they came to America, is critical to understanding their history and the origin of the name “Melungeon”….

Read the entire article here.

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