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Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Keneally

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A MUST READ for all interested in Melungeons. Prepublication reviews from Publisher’s Weeklyand Kirkus Reviews were encouraging but did not mention the thirteenth of fourteen chapters, which is about Melungeons and features extensive interviews with former MHA President Wayne Winkler.  I just received a new Kindle as a gift and this was the first book I bought for it, of course going right to the Melungeon chapter.  This is something many of us have looked forward to– a major New York trade publisher giving an accurate, sympathetic, fair explanation of Melungeon history and DNA issues.  The book is likely to garner more rave reviews and respectable sales.  I will add quotes from reviews but for now just want to alert MHA members and all Melungeons that Wayne did a superlative job at presenting Melungeon history and the current issues facing descendants.–KPJ

Here is a youtube discussion by Ms. Kenneally of her book.

Mattie Ruth Johnson, 1944-2014

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Mattie Ruth Johnson, age 73, died Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at Holston Valley Medical Center, Kingsport, Tennessee. Mattie Ruth, who spoke at 6th Union, authored My Melungeon Heritage: A Story of Life on Newman’s Ridge (Overmountain Press, 1997).

Tracing her ancestry to the Collins, Mullins, and Gibson families of Hancock County, she gave us a personal account of growing up on Prospect Ridge, part of Newman’s Ridge. She had many friends among MHA members who remember her kindness, her art work, and her Melungeon genealogical research. At 14th Union in 2010 (Lincoln Memorial University), and again at 16th Union in 2012 (Southwest Virginia Museum), Julie Williams Dixon shared outtakes from her documentary Melungeon Voices, and her interview with Mattie Ruth was especially enjoyed by those who attended the presentation. Mattie Ruth gave five of her paintings of the Newman’s Ridge area to Philip Roberts, who has kindly allowed us to use them on our main page. Here are his descriptions of the places depicted:

The red house is her grandparents home, Walter and Nora Gibson Collins. The log home is on the same property and the home of Walter’s parents, Lewis and Sarah Gibson Collins. Her mother, Celia, was a Roberts. Lewis Collins was the brother of my ancestor Frances Collins Roberts, descendants of Solomon Collins. The church was Prospect Church on the Ridge, no longer there.
Here I’ve posted another painting of Ruths, Mahala Mullins cabin as it appeared years ago on Newman’s Ridge when folks lived in it.
To recap the other paintings I sent earlier:
1-Barn in snow.  That was a barn on or near her family home place on Newman’s Ridge.
2-Walter and Nora (Gibson) Collins . The red house.  That was Ruth’s grandparents place as she remembered it growing up.  It was near Prospect on Newman’s Ridge. The house still stands but about to fall down and overgrown.
3-Lewis and Sarah (Gibson) Collins log house. On the same property as the red house.  Lewis and Sarah were Ruth’s great grandparents. The log cabin still stands but is about to cave in also.
4-Prospect Church on Newmans’ Ridge. The Prospect school that Ruth attended as a child sat directly in front of the church.  The church no longer stands, but the school still does.  I have a photo of it.

Johnnie Gibson Rhea, 1931-2014

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Johnnie Gibson Rhea, beloved elder of the Melungeon community, 1931-2014

Johnnie Clyde Gibson Rhea was born in Lee County Virginia on May 23, 1931, daughter of John and Martha Goins Gibson. She was granddaughter of Andy and Emily Long Gibson and Alex and Merky Collins Goins. She passed away January 18, 2014.

Johnnie was the only permanent lifetime member of MHA.

Johnnie had attended every Melungeon Union since 1997. She had chat sessions from the beginning, always a highlight for so many. This evolved into having her own session at every Union for which folks clamored and always looked forward with anticipation. She received MHA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and proudly showed it to her grandson’s classmates who came on a field trip

Every year, Johnnie was the first person registered to attend Unions.

She was loved for many things including her generosity. Johnnie’s quilts for raffle every year had the winners practically dancing around the room, and many of us treasure also her handmade gifts to the audience during her annual session. She was also generous in crafting items for soldiers from the area including her lap quilts.

Johnnie received a long standing ovation at last summer’s Union – the only person who ever received such an accolade.

Her interviews for radio, films, and scholars from universities contributed greatly to Melungeon studies. As a genealogist, she accepted and talked about the African ancestry within certain families from which she descended before DNA results proved these links. She believed in ‘One People, All Colors’  and proudly claimed kinship to Dr. Irene Moore, African American scholar from Harlan County, KY.

In a New Year’s Day phone call with MHA president S.J. Arthur, Johnnie said she knew she would not be able to attend the next Union, but she was still interested in our upcoming plans.

McNeil Funeral Home in Sneedville is handling the visitation and funeral.  Visitation is scheduled at the funeral home from 5 to 8 P.M. on Tuesday, January 21st, with the funeral also at the funeral home taking place at 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday. 

2014 showing of documentary “The Melungeons of Vardy Valley”

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MHA Board member Todd Beckham was guest lecturer on mixed race ancestry on February 27, 2014 at  Woods Hole, MA at the Marine Biology Laboratory in a presentation titled The Melungeons of Vardy Valley: Triracial isolates and their 21st century descendants The lecture was sponsored by the The Black History Month Celebration of Woods Hole Diversity Committee and underwritten by Marine Biological LaboratoryNOAA National Marine FisheriesSea Education Association,Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods Hole Research Center and US Geological Survey.
The hour long presentation included: a discussion about who Melungeons were and their descendants’ place in the 21st century, a discussion on DNA testing , several readings from K. Paul Johnson’s book “Pell Mellers“, a screening of the film Melungeons produced by Wicked Delicate films in 2013 and a Q and A period .
The presentation was followed by the Harumbee. a multicultural culinary experience.

Three New Markers for Roanoke-Chowan People

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Three New Markers for Roanoke-Chowan People.
The North Carolina State Highway Historical Marker program has accepted three nominations made by the Chowan Discovery Group for Roanoke-Chowan people.   This first marker honors the town of Choanoac (Chowanoke) which was the largest coastal town in North Carolina when the second Roanoke Island expedition explored the Chowan River in 1586.  The town was first reported in 1584.  Choanoac, commonly referred to as Chowanoke, was located on the Chowan River at Swain’s Mill Road and the river in the Mount Pleasant community.  Its people were the among the first known residents of what is now Bertie, Gates and Hertford County.
The Chowan Discovery Group coordinated a dedication program that was held on Friday, October 21 at 3pm at the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, during the Meherrin Indian Tribe’s annual powwow.  There are Meherrins who are also Choanoac descendants, and they were present for the program.  The Harrellsville Historical Association and the Chowan Discovery Group sold have books available related to the history of the area.
On January 16, in Duplin County, a marker for Parker David Robbins will be dedicated in Magnolia where he lived for 30 years.  Robbins, a Gates County native and Bertie County resident, was a mechanic and farmer near Colerain.  He served as a sergeant-major in the 2nd Cavalry, United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.  Along with his brother and three cousins, he enlisted at Fort Monroe and he took part in battles from Suffolk to Richmond, eventually riding into Richmond at the end of the war.  Robbins was a representative in the North Carolina State Assembly, served as postmaster in Harrellsville and received two patents while in Harrellsville.  In Duplin County, Robbins was a builder, sawmill owner, and steamship builder and operator.  He was a Choanoac descendant.
The third marker honors Ahoskie and Harrellsville’s Robert Lee Vann, lawyer and publisher.  Vann graduated from Waters Training School in Winton, attended Virginia Union Colllege and University of Pittsburgh.  His newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, was the nation’s largest African American publication with circulation of 250,000 in 1935.  The Courier is still a national newspaper, now 102 years old.  The marker will be dedicated in Ahoskie next year.
For more information on the markers, contact Marvin T. Jones of the Chowan Discovery Group at 202.726.4066 or  For Meherrin Powwow information visit



Melungeon Voices

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“Melungeon Voices”
A film by Julie Williams Dixon and Warren Gentry.
The film tells the complex story of the Melungeons using interviews, family photographs, archival documents and old film footage from the Vardy school. Several MHA presenters are featured in the documentary including Brent Kennedy, Jack Goins, Wayne Winkler, and Darlene Wilson (Web Spinning Granny). Many Melungeons from the Vardy and Sneedville area are also highlighted including DruAnna Williams Overbay, Claude Collins, Scott Collins, Seven Gibson and Johnnie Rhea.
The film is beautifully shot with haunting time lapse scenes from atop Newman’s Ridge and wandering scenes from Stone Mountain, and other locations throughout our region. Seven years in the making it is as interesting to those who’ve been studying Melungeon history for years as it is to newcomers.
The film was shown at the 2007 gathering and received sustained applause after both showings. The film has been slightly modified since last summer, and Julie Williams Dixon continued to edit and improve the film and showed it again at 12th Union to a rapt audience. “My goal is to make the film have the widest appeal possible whether you’re a Melungeon or not. This story transcends just the Melungeons,” she has stated.
A preview of the film can be found at
The film is also available for purchase at the site.

2011 Charleston National Genealogical Society report

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MHA at National Genealogical Society 2011

Charleston, SC

MHA’s four day presence at NGS was the perfect antidote to any perception we might have had that our interests are a small niche, relevant only to a tiny percentage of Americans.   Julie Williams Dixon’s showing of Melungeon Voices on the first night of the conference drew a sizeable audience, as did Terry Mullins’s lecture presentation on Melungeons, “Cultural Diversity Comes Home.”  But the combined 150 or so attendance at these programs was dwarfed by the number of people who visited the MHA booth in the exhibit hall.   Most of the hundred and twenty booths were hosted by vendors of books and online databases, or local and state genealogical societies.  The MHA booth was consistently once of the most visited, and often was swarmed by visitors between the sessions for genealogists.  Perhaps this was partly due to the fact that we had three authors and one filmmaker at the booth.  Terry Mullins, Frank Sweet, Julie Williams Dixon, and I all spent hours responding to inquiries, as did S.J. Arthur, Elizabeth Williams, and Mary Lee Sweet.   But all this activity was from the 1600 registered conferees who had paid to attend the event.  On the final day, more than 600 more people arrived for free genealogy classes offered by, and they greatly increased the traffic in the exhibit hall.   The influx of new people kept all of us busy answering nonstop questions; the most frequent being simply “What is a Melungeon?”  Each of us heard story after story about mixed ancestry backgrounds, or family secrets and mysteries that hinted at such.  We left feeling that the interest shown in the past for MHA’s work is only the tip of the iceberg and many thousands of Americans continue to discover that their own ancestry is more complicated than they had suspected.
One of the questions asked at the showing of Melungeon Voices was about the connection of the Melungeon story to the new book by Daniel Sharfstein, The Invisible Line.  This provided an opening for MHA to announce the author’s participation as a featured speaker at 15th Union.

About MHA

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The Melungeon Heritage Association is a non-profit organization documenting and preserving the history and cultural legacy of mixed ancestry peoples of the southern and eastern United States.  While our focus will be on Melungeon heritage, we firmly believe in the dignity of all mixed ancestry groups and commit to preserving this heritage of ethnic harmony and diversity. MHA does not endorse any particular theory of origin or the work of individual researchers.  Annual Melungeon Unions bringing together researchers and descendants are central to MHA’s mission, but are not the only activities we sponsor.
All who support the work of MHA, whether identifying as mixed ancestry or not, are invited to participate in the work and goals of MHA as well as the gatherings and events. As we celebrate our past, we also seek to understand its impact on our lives today and help others to do the same.

The board of directors of MHA includes Scott Withrow (SC, President), Laura Tugman (TN, Vice President), Stephanie Musick (VA, Secretary), Lynda Davis-Logan (WV, Treasurer), S.J Arthur (KY, President Emeritus), Claude Collins (TN), Kathy Lyday (NC), Manuel Mira (NC), Terry Mullins (VA), Mary Lee Sweet (FL), Rose Trent (TN), and Eddie Manuel (VA).

MHA Consultants are Lisa Alther (TN), Marilyn Cheney (MA), Ina Danko (TN), Julie Williams Dixon (NC), Michael Gilley (VA), Shirley Hutsell (TN), Jameson Jones (VA), Marvin T. Jones (DC), Toney Kirk (WV), Elmer Maggard (KY), Phyllis Morefield (VA), Arwin Smallwood (NC), Stacy Webb (KY), and Wayne Winkler (TN).

For further information about MHA, write to; we are not able to answer genealogical research queries.

A membership form which can be printed and mailed, or emailed, is attached to this message. The mailing address and email address to which it can be sent are included on the form.



We would like to thank all of those who donate to MHA. Without your support, we cannot continue in our work to research, educate, and archive information concerning Melungeons and other mixed ancestry or associated peoples. All donations are tax deductible.

MHA is a federally recognized 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit organization. Thank you for any amounts you contribute to MHA. Do not think your contribution would be too small to be appreciated. All donations, no matter the amount you can afford, are appreciated.

A PDF form is attached for your convenience in directing your contributions.