Someone who had never before attended a Union said of the coming-together of Melungeons for 21 st Union that it was like family. I agree: It has always been that way for me, a feeling of a large and extended family of cousins.
Twenty-first Union was a wonderful two days. I met old friends and made new ones, and missed those who weren’t there. Especially, I missed the late Claude Collins, who passed away this year, and the late Johnnie Gibson Rhea, both long-time Melungeon Heritage Association and Vardy Community Historical Society members. Each is still with us in memory and spirit.
Friday, over 75 people journeyed over Clinch Mountain to Vardy-Blackwater Valley nestled between Newman’s Ridge and Powell Mountain. DruAnna Williams Overbay was a wonderful host there as usual. The rain held off until after the Friday evening reception, attended by about 50 people.
Saturday’s speakers made it an instructive and interesting day—Dr. Tammy Stachowicz and students Chris Vernon, Emily Perleberg. Michelle VanTamelin, and Tony DeJarnett; Dr. Katherine Vande Brake, Lisa Alther, Wayne Winker and Dr. John Lee Welton, former director of Walk Toward the Sunset. A wonderful group of kids stole the show at the end, giving dramatic passages from Walk Toward the Sunset. Thanks to MHA Vice-President Laura Tugman for her part in directing the kids in their parts. We were pleased that Brent and Robyn Kennedy attended Saturday and that Onur Kaya, a university professor from Turkey whose Ph D dissertation is on Melungeons, attended both Friday and Saturday.
We are especially grateful this year that the Arts Fund of the East Tennessee Foundation gave us a $2,000 grant which we used to fund the union. The East Tennessee Foundation lives up to its principles of “thoughtful giving for stronger communities, better lives.”
We are also grateful this year to Walters State Community College for the wonderful meeting room. Walters State staff members were welcoming as were Morristown Chamber of Commerce staff and many Morristown residents who attended. Short of Vardy-Blackwater, I don’t think we could have met in a more Melungeon community, created by the out-migration from Hancock and other counties to Morristown over the years for jobs.
We are grateful for those who came to help– Eddie Manuel and Adam Manuel, Stephanie Musick, DruAnna Overbay, Steve Williams, Mike Gilley, and Bob Davis, among others. Special thanks is due Lynda Logan for her work preparing for and completing registration and to Rose Trent and Paul King for the same and for the food for the reception.
I enjoyed talking with former coal-miners and nurses– with educators, state park employees, students, authors, business people, book sellers, and others. Melungeons are part and parcel of the historic fabric of America.
All total, we had 84 persons attend on Saturday, broken down by states as: Florida-1, Illinois-2, Kentucky-3, Louisiana-1, Michigan-4, North Carolina-3, Ohio-6, South Carolina-1, Tennessee-43, Texas-6, Virginia-10, and West Virginia-2.