Category Archives: Melungeon Unions

21st Union Report from MHA President Scott Withrow

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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.

East Tennessee Foundation Arts Fund Grant to Support 21st Union

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The Melungeon Heritage Association has been approved to receive a grant in the amount of $2,000 from the Arts Fund of East Tennessee Foundation to support 21st Union in Morristown, June 23 and 24, 2017.   We thank the Board of Directors of East Tennessee Foundation for the grant and support of 21st Union.   Because of the grant we can adequately compensate our knowledgeable speakers and make our first meeting in Morristown a successful one.
The grant award was reported in this story from the Johnson City Press.

Thanks to 20th Union Participants from MHA president Scott Withrow

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As president of the Melungeon Heritage Association, I thank those members and others who made 20th union successful and enjoyable. Thanks also to those institutions and organizations in the Big Stone Gap and Vardy communities whose collaboration with MHA led to an excellent three days of speakers and discussion. Much thanks to Julie Williams Dixon for heroutstanding Friday night presentation/exhibit, “People and Their People. (see above for a sample of the work)

Attendance at the four Union events totaled 153 (25 on Thursday at MECC, 40 on Friday at Vardy, 45 Friday evening at the Southwest Virginia Historical Museum and State Park, and 43 Saturday at MECC.)  Approximately 90 members and friends traveled to be with us from Kentucky, Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. – Scott Withrow

20th Union Schedule

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Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and Vardy, Tennessee


Thursday, June 23

Pre-conference Genealogy Workshop-Mountain Empire Community College. The following speakers have been contracted to do a genealogy workshop on Thursday, June 23, prior to 20th Union. The speakers are sponsored by Wampler Library, Mountain Empire Community College at no charge to members of the Wise County Historical Society (WCHS) or theMelungeon Heritage Association (MHA). Contact Mike Gilley at to register (registration is encouraged).

9:00 a. m.-12:00 noon…Paula D. Royster: African American Research for the Novice.

Ms.Royster is a Humanities and Culture doctoral student at Union Institute and University where she is working on a creative dissertation on the Ottoman Empire’s role in the Arab-Oriental Slave Trade.

1:30 – 2:50 PM……….. Philip Edwards: “Family of Tree Makers”: Computer-Automated Genealogy in 2016.  

Philip Edwards is a Hybrid Academic Librarian and Information Technology Specialist at Wampler Library of Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) in Big Stone Gap.

3:10 – 4:30 PM……….. Lynda Davis-Logan: DNA for Family History Studies (DNA terminology, various companies for DNA)

Lynda is a retired teacher who has studied genealogy for 50 years. She attended 13th Union in 2011 at Chief Logan Conference Center, Logan, West Virginia, where she was motivated to begin a study of DNA.


Friday, June 24

Those wanting to carpool/caravan to Vardy, meet at the Holiday Inn parking lot at 1051 Park Ave NW, Norton, VA 2427 at 10 a.m. (Norton is approximately 12 miles north of Big Stone Gap). For those driving on their own from Big Stone Gap or elsewhere, use the following address as a GPS point in Vardy, Tennessee: 3865 Vardy Blackwater, Sneedville, TN 37869-6432. A hand-drawn map (not to scale) with directions from Big Stone Gap to Vardy is included. Vardy Community is one valley over and north of Sneedville, Tennessee in the Ridge and Valley Province of Tennessee-Virginia. Meet at the Vardy Museum/former Vardy Presbyterian Church.


10:30 a. m. …………….Leave Holiday Inn parking lot, Norton, Virginia for carpooling/caravanning to Vardy, Tennessee. Drive on your own from other locations if you wish.

11:45 a. m………………Arrive Vardy (approximate time)

11:45 a.m. -12:30 p. m.Lunch at Vardy (sandwich lunch provided, bring a lunch if you require

gluten-free or an otherwise special diet)

12:30-2:30 p. m……….. Tour Vardy Historical Museum/District

6:00 p. m…………… .Reception (light fare food and refreshments), Victorian Parlor,

Southwest Virginia Historical State Park, 10 E 1st St N, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219. Exhibit of Julie Williams Dixon’sphotographic prints, “People and Their People.” Afterwards, the exhibit will be moved to our Saturday meeting site (Goodloe Center), Mountain Empire Community College.

7:00 p.m……………. .Julie Williams Dixon. Following the reception, Julie will talk briefly about her photography exhibit, “People and Their People,” and also facilitate a group discussion focused on the value of photography in historical genealogical study. Again, she welcomes participants to bring family portraits to share with the group. (Again at Southwest Virginia Historical State Park, 10 E 1st St N, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219)


Saturday, June 25

We will meet in the Goodloe Center, adjacent to Phillips Taylor Hall, Mountain Empire Community College, 3441 Mountain Empire Rd, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219. Directions to the Goodloe Center: Mountain Empire Community College is located off US Highway 23 just south of Business 23 exits for Big Stone Gap. Traveling south from Norton, turn right onto the campus. Turn immediately to the left on the Campus Loop Road. Travel to the top of the hill and park in parking lot E on your left. Traveling north towards Norton, turn left onto the campus just before Business 23 exits for Big Stone Gap. Turn immediately to the left on the Campus Loop Road. Travel to the top of the hill and park in parking lot E on your left. All activities are in the Goodloe Center across the road from parking lot E. Handicapped parking is available behind the Goodloe Center (See the campus map). Signs will be posted. Williams Dixon’s photographic prints, “People and Their People, will be displayed in the Goodloe Center.


9:00 a. m………………Announcements: Mike Gilley, Scott Withrow

9:30 a.m-10:15 a. m…..Wayne Winkler: Melungeon Keynote Talk

10:15-10:30 a.m……. Break

10:30 a. m.-11:15 ………Stephanie Musick: Tazewell County Schools in the 1930s

11:15-11:30 a. m…... Announcements

11:30 a. m. -1:00 p. mLunch on your own

1:00-1:45 p. m……….. .Laura Tugman: Ongoing Melungeon Research

1:45-2:30 p.m. ………. .S. J. Arthur, Wayne Winkler (Paul Johnson-Introductions): History of

the Melungeon Heritage Association

2:30- 3:00 p. m. ……….Break/Executive Committee meeting/prepare for final


2:45 or 3:00-4:00 p. m...Final announcements/raffle

Melungeon Heritage Association plans gathering in North Carolina– Johnson City Press

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From Dylan Chesser in the Johnson City Press, a story dated May 25, opening paragraph excerpted below: A group of people historically estranged because their ancestry did not fit into accepted United States ethnic categories is trying to spread awareness of their history and reconnect with their roots.

Read more: Melungeon Heritage Association plans gathering in North Carolina | …… 
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Melungeons Explore Mysterious Heritage at Local Gathering– Asheville CItizen-Times

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The first local publicity for 19th Union has appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times this week.  The opening sentences are:

The dark-skinned mountaineers whose origins are shrouded in mystery will be returning to Asheville next month.

The Melungeon Heritage Association will hold its 19th annual meeting at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa June 26 and 27.

The Melungeons are a group of mixed ethnic ancestry first documented in northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. Similar groups of “mysterious” people, or at least remnants of these groups, are found all along the Atlantic seaboard. Anthropologists called them “racial islands” or “tri-racial isolates.”

See the rest of the article at:…