The Coe Ridge Colony: A Racial Island Disappears

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2010-12-01 03:58Z by Steven

The Coe Ridge Colony: A Racial Island Disappears

American Anthropologist
Volume 74, Issue 3 (June 1972)
pages 710–719
DOI: 10.1525/aa.1972.74.3.02a00350

Lynwood Montell
Western Kentucky University

The ninety year history of a racial isolate in the KentuckyTennessee border is examined. Peopled by a mixed population of Whites, Blacks, and, occasionally, Indians, the community received notoriety as an enclave for fugitives from the law of neighboring jurisdictions. Its demise came in 1958 as a result of changing land use and increasing tensions between the residents and those of the environing White society.

It has been said that the American Negro has in his veins not the blood of one race alone, or of two, but of three (Porter 1932: 287); the reference, of course, being to the Indian and White races. Such was certainly the case with the Coe Ridge racial island, comprising a people in southern Cumberland County, Kentucky, who called themselves Negro but who freely and proudly admitted to an early blood intermixture with the Cherokees of western North Carolina and a later infusion of White blood on multiple occasions on the Kentucky frontier. This racial group was concealed from the glare of the outside world in the raw yet beautiful hillcountry of southern Kentucky near the point where the Cumberland River disappears into Clay County, Tennessee, after meandering from Wolf Creek Dam across Russell, Cumberland, and Monroe Counties in Kentucky. It was here that the now legendary Black Coe bastion flourished, withered, and then perished before the relentless assault of the White man’s world.

Placed on Coe Ridge as a result of slave emancipation following the Civil War, the Coe racial island withstood for ninety years the attempts of resentful White neighbors to remove this single blot within an otherwise homogeneous White Society. The Black Coe people fought so fiercely in defense of their lives and property that, by the time the settlement finally succumbed to economic and legal pressures in the late 1950s, it was notorious in folk legend across the upper South as a place of refuge for White women shunned by their own families and communities and as a breeding ground for a race of rather handsome mulattoes, as a stronghold of moonshining and bootleggers, and as a battle ground for feuds that produced a harrowing list of ambushes, street murders, stabbings, and shootings. After years of raids, arrests, and skirmishes with federal agents and local lawmen, the Negroes’ resistance was broken, and they departed the hill country enclave for the industrial centers north of the Ohio River

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