17th Union Press Release


New Documentary Film about Tennessee’s Melungeons to show in Wytheville at Melungeon Heritage Association’s 17th Union: A Melungeon Gathering

Wytheville Meeting Center, 333 Community Blvd, Wytheville, VA 24382.

The Melungeons of Vardy Valley,” a 25-minute film by award-winning filmmaker

Ian Cheney, premiered at the 2013 Nashville Film Festival in April

Wytheville (June 17, 2013) – The new film THE MELUNGEONS OF VARDY VALLEY explores the history of a unique tri-racial Appalachian community struggling to understand its roots. When Troy Williams, who grew up in remote Vardy Valley, TN, decides to undergo DNA testing to explore his mixed-race ancestry, his family is divided over the implications. For years, even the word “Melungeon” was taboo in an area where mixed-race individuals were marginalized, stigmatized, and in some cases denied the right to vote, inter-marry, or own property.

THE MELUNGEONS OF VARDY VALLEY follows Williams’ own quest while chronicling the legends and rumors that have swirled around the community since the 18th century. With an original soundtrack, black-and-white watercolor graphics and HD cinematography from the ridges and hollows of north-east Tennessee, the film is an intimate portrait of community, ancestry, and family.

On Saturday, June 29th, the film will air as part of the Melungeon Heritage Association’s 17th Union, and be followed by a panel of filmmakers and film participants, including Vardy’s Troy WIlliams, DruAnna Williams Overbay, Claude Collins, and filmmakers Todd Beckham, Marilyn Cheney and Ian Cheney. 

Other sessions at the Union on Friday and Saturday will deal with different aspects of what it means to be a Melungeon today, and how history has shaped the group. Speakers will include MHA President S.J. Arthur, genealogical researcher Jeanne Bornefeld, Dr Elizabeth Hirschman (Rutgers University), author K. Paul Johnson, Dr Kathy Lyday (Elon University), MHA Treasurer and genealogical researcher Phyllis Morefield, Dr Terry W Mullins (Concord University), Johnnie Gibson Rhea (interviewed in a new public radio documentary about Melungeon DNA), Dr Arwin Smallwood (University of Memphis), Stacy Webb of the Redbone Heritage Association, author Wayne Winkler, and Scott Withrow (North Greenville University).

The Melungeon Heritage Association was established in 1998 and holds annual Unions to celebrate and study the heritage of mixed-race communities and groups throughout the southern and eastern United States. This year’s Union, the 17th, will take place from 9 am through 5 pm on Friday, June 28 and from 9 am through 3 pm on Saturday, June 29. Friday activities are free of charge to MHA members (new members are invited to join; dues are $12/year.) Full day registration on Saturday is $10, or $5 for just the film and panel in the afternoon. The screening will begin at 1:30 on Saturday, June 29.