The mystery of the Melungeons

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States, Virginia on 2016-08-25 01:17Z by Steven

The mystery of the Melungeons

The Economist
2016-08-24

VARDY, TENNESSEE AND BIG STONE GAP, VIRGINIA

The story of an Appalachian people offers a timely parable of the nuanced history of race in America

HEAD into Sneedville from the Clinch River, turn left at the courthouse and crawl up Newman’s Ridge. Do not be distracted by the driveways meandering into the woods, the views across the Appalachians or the shadows of the birds of prey; heed the warnings locals may have issued about the steepness and the switchbacks. If the pass seems challenging, consider how inaccessible it must have been in the moonshining days before motor cars.

Halfway down, as Snake Hollow appears on your left, you reach a narrow gorge, between the ridge and Powell Mountain and hard on Tennessee’s north-eastern border. In parts sheer and wooded, it opens into an unexpected valley, where secluded pastures and fields of wild flowers hug Blackwater Creek—in which the water is not black but clear, running, like the valley, down into Virginia. This is the ancestral home of an obscure American people, the Melungeons. Some lived over the state line on Stone Mountain, in other craggy parts of western Virginia and North Carolina and in eastern Kentucky. But the ridge and this valley were their heartland.

The story of the Melungeons is at once a footnote to the history of race in America and a timely parable of it. They bear witness to the horrors and legacy of segregation, but also to the overlooked complexity of the early colonial era. They suggest a once-and-future alternative to the country’s brutally rigid model of race relations, one that, for all the improvements, persists in the often siloed lives of black and white Americans today. Half-real and half-mythical, for generations the Melungeons were avatars for their neighbours’ neuroses; latterly they have morphed into receptacles for their ideals, becoming, in effect, ambassadors for integration where once they were targets of prejudice…

The two big questions about them encapsulate their ambiguous status—on the boundaries of races and territories, and between suffering and hope, imagination and fact. Where did the Melungeons come from? And do they still exist?…

Read the entire article here.

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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

WCBY.com (News 5)
Brisol, Virginia
2014-06-28

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…

Read the article and watch the video here.

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Winton Triangle history in Chicago!

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2012-11-10 17:36Z by Steven

Winton Triangle history in Chicago!

Chowan Discovery Group
2012-11-06

Marvin Jones

In Chicago, the CDG got the opportunity to introduce our history to a national audience of academics and students at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference at DePaul University in Chicago.

Writer Lars Adams, of the Chowanoke Descendants website, presented the history of the Choanoac (Chowanoke) people from the earliest evidence in the 8th century, to their encounter with the English in 1586 in Hertford County and to their decline and supposed demise in Gates County 1821. Adams finished his account by relating the re-assertion of Choanoac heritage: the growth of the Robbins family near Cofield, the rise of the Meherrin-Chowanoke people, based in the Hertford County, and the Choanoac marker in Harrellsville that was erected last year.

My latest presentation of the Winton Triangle has since added the recent findings and events of the past year and a new map of Winton Triangle schools. Several audience members told me that is was best presentation they had seen so far, and on that strength, several of them returned to attend the next day’s panel about Melungeons and other mixed-race people in Appalachia. S. J Arthur, President of the Melungeon Heritage Association, and Wayne Winkler, from East Tennessee State University and author of Walking Toward Sunset, documented the historical diversity of mixed-race people in Appalachia. This panel was moderated by the Chowan Discovery Group…

…I’d like to thank Laura Kina of DePaul University for paving the way for our two panels, Meherrin-Chowanoke artist Gerry Lang for moderating the Choanoac-Winton Triangle panel, and Mayola Cotterman, a longtime family friend, for taking me into her comfy, lovely and conveniently-located home and attending both panels. Our friends Steven Riley and Julia Cates of Mixed Race Studies attended, and as always, were supportive…

Read the entire article here.

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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
2012-07-11

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…

Read the entire report here.

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