2006 Union Report

Sixth Union

Sixth Union

Sixth Union, June 8-10, 2006

The mysterious Appalachian people known as the Melungeons met in Kingsport, Tennessee 8-10 June 2006 for their bi-annual gathering. Sixth Union was be held at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium, and was co-sponsored by the Melungeon Heritage Association and the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau, and featured numerous researchers, authors, and genealogists who are shedding new light on these once-reviled people.

David Arnett, former U. S. General Consul to Turkey and a Melungeon descendent, spoke about the perception of Melungeons (believed by many to be partially of Turkish descent) in Turkey. Other authors and researchers included Evelyn Orr, DruAnna Overbay, Wayne Winkler, Kathy Lyday-Lee, James, Nickens, Elizabeth Hirschmann, Eloy Gallegos, Jack Goins, Penny Ferguson, Frank and Mary Sweet, April Mullins Mela, and Katherine Vande Brake, A. D. Powell, Gwendolyn Higdon, Cheryl Holloway, Mattie Ruth Johnson, Ted Klein, and others. You can see a list of presenters and their biographies here. The Union also featured genealogy workshops and “family chats,” where people shared genealogical information with others in their family lines, and discovered more about their own ancestry and heritage. A social gathering on the evening of Friday, June 9, provided an informal setting for attendees to get to know one another and to chat with the various presenters. 

Sixth Union Presenters

Sixth Union Presenters

Reading from her upcoming book Washed in the Blood: The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors.

Lisa Alther was born in 1944 in Kingsport, Tennessee, where she went to public schools. She was graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in English literature in 1966. After attending the Publishing Procedures Course at Radcliffe College and working for Atheneum Publishers in New York, she moved to Hinesburg, Vermont, where she has lived for thirty years, raising her daughter. She taught Southern Fiction at St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont. Having lived in London and Paris, she currently divides her time between Vermont and New York City. Alther is the author of five novels — Kingflicks, Original Sins, Other Women, Bedrock and Five Minutes in Heaven. Each has appeared on bestseller lists worldwide. The first three novels were featured selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and the five novels combined have sold over six million copies

“The Importance of the Melungeon Community to Turkish-American Relations.”

David L. Arnett retired from the Department of State on November 30, 2005. He was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. Born in Indiana in 1943 as the son of a career Army officer, he lived in both Austria and Japan in the 1950’s. After graduation from Wabash College as an English major in 1965, he spent four years in the Army with service in the Azores and Vietnam. He received his Ph.D. in English from Tulane University in 1973 and entered the Foreign Service in 1974. His Foreign Service career included tours as a Junior Officer in Munich and Hamburg, Cultural Attache in Copenhagen, Press Attache in Ankara, Public Affairs Counselor in Oslo, Deputy Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Bonn, Counselor for Public Affairs in Ankara, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Bonn/Berlin, and Director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy (EUR/PPD) in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State. He served as the Consul General in Istanbul from July 2002 to August 2005. He is married to the former Vivi Smiler, who is originally from Norway. He speaks Danish, German, Norwegian, and Turkish.

“MHA – An Exploration in Ethnicity, Ethics and Endurance”

S. J. Arthur, a native of West Virginia, has long identified with her Appalachian heritage. S. J. holds a Sociology degree from Berea College with emphasis on Appalachian studies. S. J. descends from Melungeons on both sides of her family. S. J., a founding member of the Melungeon Heritage Association, is the current President.

“What is Knowable is Known, and What is Known is Knowable: A Paradigm for Ancestoral Research”

“Dr. Bob” was born in Alabama and grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky and Florida. He studied at Columbia Bible College, Warren Wilson College, Gordon College and Seminary, Penn State University, and West Virginia University. He received B.A., M.A., and Doctorate of Education degrees. He began tracing his family’s roots in 1990, and subsequently discovered both Cherokee and Melungeon ancestry. Dr. Barnes has authored several papers and is currently preparing two books for publication. One is The Psalms as Worship and History and the other is A History of Pastoral Training and Leadership Development.

“Finding Self in the Other: A Personal Account of Melungeon Identity.”

Dr. Anthony Cavender is a Professor of Anthropology at East Tennessee State University. He specializes in the study of folk medicine and has done research on folk medical beliefs and practices and folk healers in southern Appalachia, Zimbabwe, and the highlands of Ecuador. He is the author of several articles on folk medicine and a book, Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachian, published in 2004 by the University of North Carolina Press.

“Memories of the Vardy School and Mission”

Claude Collins is a retired educator and school administrator from Sneedville, Tennessee. He is a Vardy School alumnus and also attended Warren Wilson College and the University of Tennessee. He was one of the founding members of the Hancock County Drama Association, which staged the outdoor drama “Walk Toward the Sunset” in Sneedville from 1969 to 1976. During this time, Collins served as a spokesman for the Melungeons to the press and visitors. He is also one of the founding members of the Vardy Community Historical Society, an MHA board member, and the recipient of MHA’s first “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2002.

“The Melungeons in Early Court Documents”

Penny Ferguson, an Appalachian and Melungeon researcher, has been researching Melungeons for 40 years, she visited with William Grohse, and Martha Collins, and many of the older residents in Hancock County, Tennessee (and other areas) over the years. A lifelong resident of eastern Kentucky, with all of her ancestors having lived in eastern KY for 200 years, she finds it a privilege to help research and tell as factually as possible the history and story of central Appalachia.

“Melungeons 101”

Bill Fields was a founding member of the MHA board. He is from Southeast Kentucky (Lesile County) and has done extensive genealogical research into his Appalachian ancestry. For several years he produced Under One Sky, a printed journal featuring research and information concerning Melungeons and other mixed-ethnic people. He still maintains a web site devoted to that topic and maintains an ongoing involvement in a variety of issues of social justice. Bill attended Berea College and, professionally is the program director of a residential facility offering emergency shelter and transitional housing to seniors.

Eloy J. Gallegos is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where his ancestors came to settle the Kingdom of New Mexico in 1598. He is a 1962 graduate of the University of Tennessee, and is married to the former Anne C. Kirk. Prior to 1974, Gallegosa was a research writer for the FBI and a Congressional investigator. Since then, he has devoted his time to the study of early Spanish exploration in America. His books include THE MELUNGEONS: The Spanish Pioneers of the Interior Southeastern United States, JACONA, An Epic Story of the Spanish Southwest, and SANTA ELENA, Spanish Settlements on the Atlantic Seaboard from Florida to Virginia.

“The Melungeons in Early Court Documents”

Jack Goins is a researcher and author of Melungeons and Other Pioneer Families. He is also a co-founder of the Friends of Hawkins County Archives Project, which is preserving court records dating back to the late 18th century.

“Hypothetical Analogy of the Cradle of the Melungeons”

Gwendolyn Hicks Schroeder Higdon is a graduate of Brigham Young University, B.A. majoring in History. She also holds an Associate Degree and Certification in Genealogy. Gwen has authored and published several genealogical books, some are still available. She is the daughter of the late Gilbert Hicks and Mary Osborne, and is the widow of the late Victor Higdon.

“Tracing Sephardic Roots in Specific Melungeon Families”

Beth Caldwell Hirschman is a native of Kingsport, Tennessee. She was born in Colonial Heights, belonged to the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church and graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School. She went to the University of Georgia and Georgia State University for her BA, MBA and PHD degrees. She is now a Professor in the Business School at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the author of several academic articles, papers and books. After stumbling across Brent Kennedy’s book on Melungeons in the Atlanta airport, she discovered that (1) She and Brent are cousins (2) She is descended from Melungeons on both her mother’s and father’s side. She became obsessed with discovering the truth about her background and has spent the past two and one-half years reading around 200 history and religion books, searching through hundreds of genealogies, and gathering DNA from over 20 persons in her own ancestry. Her book Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America was published by Mercer University Press in 2005.

“Hypothetical Analogy of the Cradle of the Melungeons”

Cheryl Higdon Holloway, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in HPE at Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, New Mexico. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University She received her Doctorate Degree from the University of New Mexico. She is the daughter of the late Victor Higdon and the presenter, Gwendolyn Hicks Higdon. She is married to James Holloway, Ph.D. Superintendent of Portales Public Schools.

“Ruth’s Four Branches”

Mattie Ruth Johnson is the author of My Melungeon Heritage, which chronicles her childhood on Newman’s Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee. Her ancestors include many Melungeons and she has done extensive research on her family lines. She currently lives in Kingsport, Tennessee and works as a nurse. She is also an artist who works in oils and watercolors, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Melungeon Heritage Association.She has written many articles on the Melungeons and about her life growing up on Newman’s Ridge back in the forties and fifty’s when times seemed harder, and no one had the availability of modern day things like we have today. She will tell a little about growing up and why and how she came to write My Melungeon Heritage.

“An Appalachian Mystery Story”

Ted Klein began his interest in genealogy in the mid-1990’s, after his retirement in 1988 from the Defense Language Institute English Language Center, where he was a specialist in English language training and education for military students from more than 60 allied and friendly nations. He currently teaches English as-a- second language to immigrants for the Adult Education Department of the Austin Community College in Texas. His mother, the late Alma Sioux Scarberry; novelist, newspaperwoman, public relations specialist, etc. was born in Carter County in eastern Kentucky in 1899. Her family were long-time residents of the southern Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and northern Tennessee. Ted’s quest for more information has included some original research on Melungeons and their connections to French-Huguenot refugees, who also came into the southeastern U.S. many years ahead of the Scot-Irish population and others who later dominated the area. He is descended from or related to nine lines of Melungeon families. Ted is a charter member of the Melungeon Heritage Foundation, is a member of the Melungeon Heritage Association and wrote several articles for the Melungeon journal, “Under One Sky.” He attended the first three Melungeon Unions at the University of Virginia at Wise and presented at two of them. Ted taught an applied phonology course at Dumlupinar University June and July of 2001 in Kütahya in central Anatolia in Turkey, one of the likely Melungeon sources.

“Creating a College-level Course in Melungia”

Kathy Lyday-Lee is the chair of the Department of English at Elon College in North Carolina, where she has taught Appalachian literature, literature of the Holocaust, linguistics, grammar, and history of the language for 22 years. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English from Tennessee Technological University, and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Tennessee. The topic of both her thesis and dissertation was the mountain literature of Will Allen Dromgoole.

“GRAVEHOUSES: Providing Necroethnic Clues for Cultural Continuity among Mixed Racial Populations in Appalachia Possible Ottoman Admixture Elements”

April Mullins Mela was a licensed Social Worker for more that twenty years before becoming an Anthropologist and focusing on what she describes as Melungeoness research. She studied at Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia and received Jessie Ball Dupont funding for a summer research project in June 2000.her topic was Exploring Melungeons: Race, and Ethnicity in America. She also produced an interesting social theory paper while at RMWC; its title was Understanding Melungeon Ethnogenesis. She graduated with honors in both Sociology and Anthropology in May 2001 and presented her gravehouse research at the Appalachian Studies Conference in 2002.

“Building Your Family History Through Personal Interviews”

Phyllis Morefield was born in Ironton, Ohio, but as an “army brat” attended school in the U. S. and Europe. She received a BS in Secondary Education from Radford College, where she majored in history and mathematics. While teaching in Arizona, a friend prompted to start her family history, which has led to a 25 year “obsession”. As an amateur genealogist, she enjoys teaching and learning new research methods. Phyllis is a founding board member of the Melungeon Heritage Association and currently serves as treasurer.

“Strangers in the Indian Nations”

James H. Nickens, M.D., is a retired Native American physician and studies Native American genealogies. He has extensively studied the genealogies of colonial Virginia Indians and relates this to the study of Melungeons.

“The Invention of Melungeon Ethnicity and Some Multi Ethnic Potpourri”

Evelyn Orr is a lay researcher who in 1989 traced a Goings ancestor from Iowa to Southwest Virginia. She discovered The Melungeons of Appalachia, and that a major surname among them was Goins. Served as Chair of Arlee Gowen’s Gowen Research Foundation’s newly formed Melungeon Research Team 1990-1997 until dissolved. She had contact with hundreds of folks, and received a large collection of previous published data on the Multi Ethnic Mystery groups of early Southeast America. Was a member of Dr. Brent Kennedy’s Melungeon Research Committee 1992-1997 until dissolved, and served on the Board of Melungeon Heritage Foundation 1998-99.

“Memories of the Vardy School and MIssion”

DruAnna Overbay, an English teacher at Jefferson County High School, is the current secretary of the Vardy Community Historical Society, Inc. She is a graduate of the Vardy Community School where her parents Alyce and Drew Williams taught. Her ancestors were instrumental in establishing the Vardy Mission since they donated land to the Presbyterians for the church and the school. She is a direct descendant of Vardemon Collins, who is recognized as a patriarch of the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons and for whom the valley is named. She is also a graduate from Warren Wilson College, the University of Tennessee and Union. She holds an Ed S. degree. She recently compiled the book Windows on the Past, which was published in 2006 by Mercer University Press.

“Melungeons and the Mixed Race Experience”

A.D. Powell has been a writer for both the websites “Interracial Voice” and “The Multiracial Activist.” An amateur historian, she has studied the history of “mixed race” people in the European diaspora for more than 30 years.

“The Triumph of the One-Drop Rule.”
“Informal Follow-Up: History and Molecular Anthropology of the Color Line.”

Since retiring as electrical engineer and school librarian, respectively, Frank and Mary Lee Sweet have interpreted living history as a hobby / business under the name “Backintyme.” They don period dress, perform 19th century music (banjo, guitar, percussion), and tell anecdotes from Florida’s past at museums, libraries, private functions, and state and national historic sites. Their website is at
http://www.backintyme.com. In support of this activity, Frank has published eleven historical booklets that are currently sold at museum and state park gift shops throughout Florida. Backintyme’s special area of interest is in the origins, and unfolding of North America’s odd “race” notion. Frank earned a Master’s in Civil War Studies from American Military University in Manassas, Virginia in the fall of 2001. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. history at the University of Florida in Gainesville Florida. His dissertation title is “A Brief History of the One-Drop Rule.”

“Images, Ideologies, and Language: A Scholar Looks at Melungeons’ Use of 21st Century Technologies”

Katie Vande Brake is Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Professor of English & Technical Communication at King College in Bristol, Tennessee. Her presentation at Sixth Union is drawn from her doctoral dissertation (Michigan Technological University, 2005) titled “Through the Back Door: Melungeon Literacies and 21st Century Technologies.” Vande Brake is the author of How They Shine: Melungeon Characters in the Fiction of Appalachia, originally published in 2001 and recently issued in paperback. Vande Brake lives in Bristol, Tennessee, and Harbert, Michigan.

“Memories of the Vardy School and Mission”

Williams is an alumni of the Vardy School. He and his family moved to Maryland, where he attended high school and college. He is retired from the State of Maryland.

“On Studying ‘Melungeon’ in Academia – A Decade of Progress”

The 2006 Helen Lewis Lecturer, Darlene Wilson is a nationally recognized historian of Appalachia, race and women. She is the founder of APPALNET, a listserv for the Appalachian studies community, and a founding member of MHA. She has also served as Director of Institutional Advancement and Effectiveness, as well as having been a faculty member for Southeast Community College in Cumberland, KY. A respected author, Wilson’s writing has appeared in numerous books and journals including theJournal of Appalachian Studies.

“Melungeons 101”

Wayne Winkler is the director of public radio station WETS-FM in Johnson City, Tennessee, and is the son of a Melungeon father from Hancock County, Tennessee. Winkler produced a nationally distributed radio documentary in 1999 entitled The Melungeons: Sons and Daughters of the Legend. This documentary won a Silver Reel Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Winkler continued his research, resulting in the book Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeon of Appalachia, published by Mercer University Press in Spring 2004. Winkler holds a master’s degree in history from East Tennessee State University and is currently the vice-president of the Melungeon Heritage Association.

“The Moors Revisited, A Contemporary Look At Forgotten Folk”

A descendent of the Delaware Moors—a Tri-Racial Isolate community centered around the towns of Cheswold and Millsboro, Delaware, and loosely comparable to the Melungeons. Artist and professor Kaersten Colvin-Woodruff has been teaching Sculpture and Three-Dimensional Design at Clarion University of Pennsylvania since 1994. She graduated with a Master of Fine Art in sculpture from Arizona State University in 1994. In 1991 she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The State University of New York at Purchase. Professor Colvin-Woodruff has exhibited her artwork throughout the United States and South America. She creates mixed media sculptures that reflect an interest in the social factors that have shaped and determined race and identity in Early American culture. In engaging this theme she draws upon her own personal and ancestral history.