Early America was far more ethnically and racially complex than we have been taught.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2013-04-10 13:49Z by Steven

Early America was far more ethnically and racially complex than we have been taught. Some whites were not northern European, some blacks were not sub-Saharan African, and some Indians and some mulattos were not Indians and mulattos… We Melungeons and, indeed, other mixed groups have irrefutable ties not only to northern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and early America, but also to the eastern Mediterranean, southern Europe, northern African, and central Asia.

N. Brent Kennedy, “Introduction,” in North From the Mountains: A Folk History of the Carmel Melungeon Settlement, Highland County, Ohio, authors John S. Kessler and Donald B. Ball.  (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2001),  pp. ix-x.

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Where Do We Come From?

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2011-04-27 04:11Z by Steven

Where Do We Come From?


Kathleen McGowan

Photography by Katy Grannan

A new generation of DNA genealogists stand ready to unearth our ancestors. We may not like what they find.

Brent Kennedy’s 19th-century ancestors stare out from his photo albums with dark eyes, high cheekbones, olive skin, and thick black hair—a genetic riddle waiting to be solved. It comes as no surprise that Elvis Presley, Ava Gardner, and Abraham Lincoln may be among their kin, yet the members of this tribe have never fitted properly into American racial categories. Depending on the census taker or tax man, they were classified as white, “free persons of color,” or mulatto, often drifting across the color line as they moved from county to county.

Kennedy calls himself a Melungeon, but no one knows exactly what that means. There are perhaps as many as 200,000 Melungeons in the United States today, all descended from a mysterious colony of olive-skinned people who lived for centuries in the foothills of the Appalachians. Some say the Melungeons can be traced back to Portuguese sailors, shipwrecked in the 16th century, or to colonial-era Turkish silk workers. Others point to Gypsies, to Sir Francis Drake’s lost colony of Roanoke, or to the ancient Phoenicians. It’s not even clear where the word Melungeon comes from: It might be derived from the French mélange or even a corruption of an Arabic or Turkish term for “cursed souls.”…

…In the United States, where the proverbial drop of blood was once enough to distinguish a freeman from a slave, telling such stories is far more than a pastime. Less than a century ago, for instance, the Melungeons’ hazy racial status was enough to win them a long list of enemies. Virginia townspeople once hauled them into court for attempting to vote and hung them for marrying white women. One crusading Virginia state registrar launched a campaign in the 1930s and 1940s to hunt down all Melungeons and reclassify them as “colored.”

The term Melungeon was a slur until recent decades. “The Melungeons were always some other family who lived over on the other ridge,” says Jack Goins, a retired glass cutter and television technician who has spent decades researching his ancestors. Darlene Wilson, a 50-year-old administrator and history teacher at Southeast Community College in Kentucky, says that when she was a teenager in the 1960s, working at a lunch counter in Norton, Virginia, her boss made her scrub the booth after the Melungeons had finished eating.

Growing up in Wise, Virginia, Brent Kennedy had no clue that he was related to those shy-looking people who kept to themselves up in the Appalachian hills. He didn’t look particularly Gaelic, with his cornflower blue eyes and bronze skin, but Melungeon roots were something polite people didn’t talk about. After he began his genealogical research in the late 1980s, one great-aunt torched a collection of family photos and letters, and other relatives stopped speaking to him.

When Kennedy approached scholars with his questions, they couldn’t be bothered. Anthropologists and historians like Virginia DeMarce of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., had already settled the Melungeon question, they said. Kennedy’s people were an insular group like the Louisiana Red Bones and the South Carolina Brass Ankles. They were a “triracial isolate” with white, American Indian, and African-American blood—a footnote in history.

So Kennedy did his own research instead. His book, The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People, is part memoir, part manifesto. It draws on his family story and genealogy to show how the Melungeons, like African-Americans and American Indians, have been victims of vicious racism—and how they have struggled to protect themselves through assimilation. Kennedy’s thesis became a rallying cry for many Melungeons, but historians scoffed at his less-than-rigorous approach. Kennedy “essentially invented a ‘new race,'” DeMarce wrote in the National Genealogical Quarterly in 1996, a “historically nonexistent oppressed minority that belies his own ancestry.”…

Read the entire article here.

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