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


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?…

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String of Pearls: Exploring the Melungeon mystery

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2016-04-13 00:27Z by Steven

String of Pearls: Exploring the Melungeon mystery

SWVa Today
Wytheville, Virginia

Margaret Linford, President
Smyth County Genealogical Society, Marion, Virginia

Judge Isaac Freeman spoke to the Smyth County Genealogical Society on Tuesday, March 22, regarding the Melungeon people. He has been intrigued by this topic for many years. His father was best friends with local historian Goodridge Wilson, who often spoke of the Melungeons. Judge Freeman said he can remember him talking about which local families were part of this unique group.

“Where have all the purebred Melungeons gone?” This question was posed in an article many years ago. Judge Freeman laughed as he shared this question with our group. “Of course,” he said, “the answer to this question is that there is no such thing as a ‘purebred’ Melungeon.”

Who are the Melungeons? There is no simple answer to this question. In N. Brent Kennedy’s book, “The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America,” he proposes that Turkish slaves were brought to America by Portuguese sailors. Once they arrived in America, they joined with female Cherokee Indians and other local tribes. This was the beginning of the “Melungeons.”

Most definitions of the Melungeons simply state that they are a “mixed race people.”…

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Lumbee Indians seek end to a century of questions about identity

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2016-04-13 00:02Z by Steven

Lumbee Indians seek end to a century of questions about identity

The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore, Maryland

Richard O’Mara, Staff Writer

Proud people from North Carolina find a home in Baltimore

Shirley Jeffrey, an East Baltimore resident, remembers the painful moment five years ago when two Sioux Indians told her that “Lumbees aren’t really Indians.”

Jimmy Hunt recalls a similar experience as an Army recruit when a sergeant asked the American Indians in the group to stand up. “There were two others besides myself,” he says. “Later they said I wasn’t an Indian because I was a Lumbee.”

Not really Indians? How could this be said of the largest American Indian group east of the Mississippi? The ninth-largest in the United States, with nearly 50,000 members, according to the Bureau of the Census. About 4,300 of them are in Maryland.

The question of identity has troubled the Lumbees for more than a century, but it may be resolved this year if Congress approves a bill introduced by Rep. Charles Rose III, D-N.C., to extend full recognition to the tribe.

It’s not that Mrs. Jeffrey is uncertain about who she is. Nor is Mr. Hunt…

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Seeing Baltimore’s Native Americans Clearly

Posted in Articles, Arts, Interviews, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2016-04-12 22:46Z by Steven

Seeing Baltimore’s Native Americans Clearly

Baltimore, Maryland

Cara Ober, Founding Editor

An Inverview with Ashley Minner about her Exquisite Lumbee Project, currently on display at Trickster Gallery

Ashley Minner is a community based visual artist from Baltimore, Maryland. She holds a BFA in Fine Art, an MA and an MFA in Community Art, which she earned at MICA. A member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, she has been active in the Baltimore Lumbee community for many years. Her involvement in her community informs and inspires her studio practice. Ashley is currently a PhD in American Studies student at University of Maryland College Park, where she is studying vernacular art as resistance in tri-racial isolate communities of the U.S. South and Global South

Read the entire interview here.

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Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South by Melissa Schrift (review)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2016-04-12 02:30Z by Steven

Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South by Melissa Schrift (review)

Journal of American Folklore
Volume 129, Number 511, Winter 2016
pages 102-103

Jim Clark

Melissa Schrift, Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013)

In the thorough but concise introduction to her book Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South, East Tennessee State University Anthropology Professor Melissa Schrift comes quickly to the following conclusion: “Thus, in my research, interviews with individuals living in Melungeon-related areas resulted in an overwhelming lack of oral history evidence that being Melungeon related to any kind of experiential reality distinct from being Appalachian” (p. 22). The archival material, as well, she says, reinforces the conclusion that “there is simply no evidence that Melungeons existed as a culturally bounded group of people” (p. 22). This being the case, and admitted so early on, one might wonder why she would bother to complete her book about Melungeon identity. Schrift’s purpose, as she states, is to examine the social construction of Melungeon identity especially through the complex and sometimes contradictory lenses of race and class. Specifically, Schrift claims:

In this book I argue that the contemporary revitalization of Melungeon identity borrows from the past to create a new white ethnicity that capitalizes on the cache [sic] of the cultural exotic while underplaying stigmatized aspects of heritage. I trace the ways in which individuals employ genealogy, blood metaphors, narratives of oppression, and physiological traits as they become Melungeon. In this way the process of becoming Melungeon reflects a kind of racial passing from a collectively imagined whiteness to a more desirable non-white, or, perhaps, off-white, otherness.

(p. 28)

In chapters 1 and 2, Schrift explores early media representations of the Melungeons, a mysterious, dark-skinned, presumably mixed-race people living in Hancock County, in northeast Tennessee. Schrift ties these writings, the earliest dating from about 1880, to the literary “local color” movement, an early, nationalistic phase of the progression toward literary realism that focused on the quaint, the atmospheric, the colorful, and the unusual, in language that typically featured large amounts of equally colorful and unusual dialect. “The effect of local color writing in Appalachia, and elsewhere,” Schrift writes, “was to create images of an exotic otherness” (p. 33). One of the earliest and most popular writers to depict the Melungeons was “a female Nashville reporter named Will Allen Dromgoole” who had indeed actually visited Hancock County and talked with the natives. “Dromgoole’s articles were sensationalistic and ethnocentric,” Schrift says, “producing a national template for future media coverage on Melungeons” (p. 38). Continuing in chapter 2 with an analysis of the media representation of Melungeons over the next 100 years, roughly speaking, Schrift reaches a startling conclusion:

A critical analysis of hundreds of Melungeon articles yields an incredible truth—the Melungeon story is a respindled yarn with little or no basis in ethnographic reality. As I examine the context in which the earliest Melungeon articles were written, I argue that the media manufactured a Melungeon legend that has little to do with any lived experiences of an identifiable group of people.

(p. 53)

Much like other perennial mysteries—UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot—the Melungeon legend is largely a socially constructed “media phantasm” (p. 68).

However, this is hardly the end of this fascinating story. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an outdoor drama about the Melungeons, Walk Toward the Sunset, was produced in Hancock County. The brainchild of some members of the Hancock County Resource Development Committee, working with Carson Newman College Professors Gary Farley and Joe Mack High in 1966, the play was regionally popular. It was, however, somewhat controversial locally, especially owing to short-lived bus tours through Vardy Valley, in Hancock County, organized by local businessman and Development Committee member Claude Collins, during which it was suggested that tourists might be able to catch a glimpse of an actual Melungeon. Nevertheless, the impact of the drama on the Melungeon legend, as well as on Hancock County, was large. As Schrift points out: “With the drama, Melungeonness secured a public presence in the community for the first time, and the media gained a foothold to talk about Melungeons in a tangible way” (p. 69).

In chapters 4 and 5, Schrift shifts her focus “from media representations of Melungeons to social constructions of Melungeon identity vis-à-vis…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Interesting description of a group of people called Cajans around Mobile Alabama written before 1940

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2015-11-06 16:39Z by Steven

Interesting description of a group of people called Cajans around Mobile Alabama written before 1940

Alabama Pioneers

Donna R. Causey


Occupying the pine and oak woods of Mobile County in southern Alabama are a group of people of mixed racial blood known in that section as Indian Cajans.

Living in a little world of their own, set apart from the rest of the world by the color line and ideas of social inequality, this group of people lives near Mobile County, known for its thriving seaport, and is the home of a big percent of this Cajan population. These people have been so overlooked that no one really knows where they came from, nor how long they have been here.

It is evident that the Alabama Cajans are a mixture of a number of races and nationalities: English, American Indian, German, French, Italian, Mexican, Negro, and Russian. The name “Cajan” is probably a misnomer as the group is connected only remotely with the Acadians of historical fame; however, it has been brought over probably from Louisiana and Mississippi and is now in general use in south Alabama.

In the absence of a more accurate term “Cajan” is used in this account to designate the people of mixed blood in Mobile County who are classed as neither white, red, nor black, but constitute a unique race.

Numerous stories regarding the origin of the group are told; however, none is known to be authentic. A typical tale is told by some of the old settlers in the southern part of the County. During the War of 1812 numbers of English pirates were forced to flee for their lives, and they came to Mobile. From the town they moved out into this section to escape punishment. Here they married and intermarried with Spanish, French, Germans, American Indians, and Mexicans, and started the new mixed race of Cajans…

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How a long-dead white supremacist still threatens the future of Virginia’s Indian tribes

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States, Virginia on 2015-07-01 14:45Z by Steven

How a long-dead white supremacist still threatens the future of Virginia’s Indian tribes

The Washington Post

Joe Heim, Staff Writer

Walter A. Plecker’s goal as Virginia’s registrar of vital statistics was to ban race-mixing. He declared there were no true Indians left because of marriages with blacks. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Virginia’s Indian tribes have faced numerous obstacles in their decades-old quest for federal recognition. But one person has long stood in their way — and he’s been dead for 68 years.

Walter Plecker — a physician, eugenicist and avowed white supremacist — ran Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics with single-minded resolve over 34 years in the first half of the 20th century.

Though he died in 1947, Plecker’s shadow still lingers over the state, a vestige of a vicious era when racist practices were an integral part of government policy and Virginia officials ruthlessly enforced laws created to protect what they considered a master white race.

For Virginia’s Indians, the policies championed by Plecker threatened their very existence, nearly wiping out the tribes who greeted the country’s first English settlers and who claim Pocahontas as an ancestor. This month, the legacy of those laws could again help sabotage an effort by the Pamunkey people to become the state’s first federally recognized tribe.

Obsessed with the idea of white superiority, Plecker championed legislation that would codify the idea that people with one drop of “Negro” blood could not be classified as white. His efforts led the Virginia legislature to pass the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a law that criminalized interracial marriage and also required that every birth in the state be recorded by race with the only options being “White” and “Colored.”

Plecker was proud of the law and his role in creating it. It was, he said, “the most perfect expression of the white ideal, and the most important eugenical effort that has been made in 4,000 years.

The act didn’t just make blacks in Virginia second-class citizens — it also erased any acknowledgment of Indians, whom Plecker claimed no longer truly existed in the commonwealth. With a stroke of a pen, Virginia was on a path to eliminating the identity of the Pamunkey, the Mattaponi, the Chickahominy, the Monacan, the Rappahannock, the Nansemond and the rest of Virginia’s tribes…

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Glenn Chavis: Inquiry helps shed light on mixed-race heritage

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2014-11-26 21:05Z by Steven

Glenn Chavis: Inquiry helps shed light on mixed-race heritage

The News & Record
Greensboro, North Carolina

Glenn Chavis, Community Columnist

I recently received a call from a professor emeritus at Jackson State University who is working on a project dealing with a Tri-Racial Isolate group called Turks, who once made Sumter County, S.C., their home.

One day these Turks just disappeared from Sumter, he said, and he is trying to find out if any were buried in a graveyard at Bethesda Baptist Church in Sumter.

Even though I had nothing to offer, he did share plenty of information with me regarding Tri-Racial Isolates, which include Chavises.

This topic has always been of interest to me because the Shepherd/Chavis family started with black blood, then mixed with white blood and, after that, Indian blood. They were located mainly in the Franklin area.

Like most Tri-Isolates, some looked white, some black and others Indian. As a youngster visiting family in Franklin, I recall my ancestors living in their own little community. Denied by the Indian side, they were recognized by the white Shepherds…

…After visiting numerous websites dealing with Tri-Isolates, I found many definitions, interpretations and histories of these people. Regardless of slight differences, Tri-Isolates and Biracials existed hundreds of years ago, as well as today.

They usually stayed among themselves and worked the land as farmers.

Suddenly, I remembered that more than 30 years ago, a friend sent me a paper done by Edward Price of Los Angeles State College titled “A Geographic Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in Eastern United States.” It was published in the June 1953 edition of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers

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Creoles and Melungeons: More Important Than Ever to America

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, Tri-Racial Isolates, United States on 2014-09-12 19:42Z by Steven

Creoles and Melungeons: More Important Than Ever to America

Melungeon Heritage Association: One People, All Colors

Nick Douglas

The unique origins of Creoles and Melungeons parallel and complement each other. Their genesis is a uniquely American phenomenon.

Creoles, like Melungeons, are a race of black, white and Native American people. Most Creoles and Melungeons have a long history of freedom. For Melungeons, freedom dated back to pre-colonial America. In my family, the first Creoles were free people born in Sante Domingue and Haiti, who emigrated to New Orleans in the 1700s and 1800s.

Both Creoles and Melungeons claimed Native American heritage in oral history but had little documented proof. Creole oral history is infused with Choctaw, Seminole and Natchez relationships and kinships. Melungeon oral history is infused with Cherokee, Tuscarora, Lumbee and Croatan relationships and kinships. DNA testing is now confirming Native American heritage for many Melungeons and Creoles.

Many of the first families classified as Melungeons were started by indentured white women who had children with black indentured servants, free men of color or slaves. This fact complements Creole stories of white fathers in New Orleans having children with free women of color or slaves.

Melungeon history directly contradicts a Southern taboo on relationships between white women and men of color. Among New Orleans and Louisiana Creoles, white men claimed to be black or free people of color to be able to leave wealth and property to their Creole of color children. These early examples of Melungeons and Creoles show how extensive and intertwined the relationships between blacks, white and Native Americans were, before racial designation became of paramount importance in the U.S…

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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…

Read the article and watch the video here.

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