Brent Kennedy presentation, 2004

Published by:

Ties That Bind

by Brent Kennedy
Presented at Fifth Union
Kingsport, Tennessee
Friday, 18 June 2004

First and foremost, I’d like to dedicate my remarks today to my late Mother, Nancy Hopkins Kennedy, who left this World August 9th, 2002. Like most all mothers she was a truly special lady and we miss her, a whole, whole, lot.

That being said, how many of you have heard me tell the story of my experience some years back with the children at Lincoln Elementary School here in Kingsport? With apologies to those who have heard it before, I’m going to re-tell it today. I’m repeating it for a reason: this little story sums up, at least for me, what the Melungeon odyssey is all about.

It was in 1997, I believe, that I was invited to speak to the combined fourth and fifth grade classes at Lincoln Elementary School. The teachers and students had assembled in the auditorium and I presented the story of the Melungeons, and how my own family fit into the legacy of these so-called “mystery people” of the central Appalachians. I laid out my general beliefs about the Melungeons – beliefs that remain for the most part pretty much the same today as they were then.

Although I simplified it for the children, here, in slightly more adult language, is what I told them.

First, “Melungeon” was, and is, a culture – not a race. However, certain ethnic traits – such as darker skin – undoubtedly helped one along the road to being labeled a “Melungeon.” You could be a Melungeon and have Scots-Irish or English or German heritage just as legitimately as you could have Native American or African or Spanish or Turkish or Portuguese or what have you. Melungeons were not – and never were – simply “this” or “that.”


Second, the Melungeons were a broad based, mixed population with a strong Native American component – and shared common surnames – that moved eastward from the coastal areas. Over time they split off into separate communities, intermarried with other pioneers and developed their own unique histories and ethnic designations.

Third, those groups identifiable today as Melungeons are merely the tip of the iceberg. “Out migration” (that is, leaving home and moving somewhere else) has taken the genes of these earliest pioneers far beyond the Appalachian Mountain range. Melungeon descendants today are to be found throughout this Nation, from its heartland to the mid-west to the Pacific coast. Melungeons, and their kin, helped define who Americans are as a people, even if the vast majority of those who are descended from them have no inkling of their existence.

Fourth, I got into the basics of ethnic characteristics, or what we perceive as ethnic characteristics. I spoke about genetics and physical traits and how science – and our own eyes – could tell us much about who we are and from whence we came. I spoke about visible ethnic traits that we could all see by simply standing in front of a mirror, and I spoke about how these traits could tie us to so-called, “other” people. And how, if provided the information, that almost all of us could quickly discern that “purity of race” is an imaginary and flawed concept.

We talked about epicanthal eyefolds, Asian shovel teeth, and an enhanced external occipital protuberance that provides visible evidence of Asian and central Asian heritage. And how these traits could come from a Native American ancestor, or a Chinese grandmother, or a Turk, or even an Ashkenazi Jew, but all evidence of an Asian ancestry somewhere in our past. And, finally, I spoke of how whites, blacks, Native Americans – and Melungeons – often shared these traits – evidence of an admixture at a level ignored – and even denied – when I was a school boy back in the 1950s and 60s. And I could see these children en masse rubbing the backs of their heads and staring into each other’s eyes with seeming amazement.

And then, I wrapped up my presentation, with a hundred little hands applauding. And, to be honest, unsure of what impact, if any, I’d had.

At that point, the lead teacher asked the children if there were any questions – and there were a few. As I answered their questions, I noticed that far in the back of the auditorium three children kept talking amongst themselves. Finally, one of the teachers walked over, leaned down and spoke quietly to them, reprimanding them for their behavior, I assumed. And then, all of a sudden, these three children – a little “white” boy, a little “black” girl, and a little Korean girl – came bouncing down the aisle of the auditorium, as only children can do, holding hands and smiling from ear to ear.

“These children have something they’d like to announce, Dr. Kennedy,” the teacher said.

And in a moment I will never, ever forget, three little voices proclaimed in unison:

”We’re cousins! We’re cousins!”

Each child – white, black, Korean – had discovered his or her epicanthal folds, enhanced occipital protuberances, and shovel teeth.

Up until that day, these children saw themselves as members of three separate, unrelated “races.” And now, with just a little information, they saw – and delighted in – their newfound kinship.

These children understood the underlying beauty of the Melungeon story. Understood what many adults continue to struggle with; that being, that we ARE all kin. Not just figuratively, but literally. And that if we go back far enough in time – and sometimes it’s a lot less further back than we might imagine – that we stem from the same source. And that’s the real lesson here: that we should be teaching our children to accept and respect others because there really truly are no major differences. Skin color and hair texture and geography of birth are rather insignificant matters when placed against the total backdrop of what it means to be human.

Prejudice continues to be nothing more than self-mutilation.

“We’re cousins!” “We’re cousins!” will be with me for the rest of my life.

As you may have already noticed, my presentation today is different from the usual re-tracing of what we know about the Meungeons and their history. There are enough qualified speakers and enough articles and enough books outlining the theories of how these marvelous people came to be, and I don’t need to repeat it. Suffice it to say that I believe the Melungeons were a multi-cultural, mixed-race/mixed-ethnic population from day one. I believe that Native American, northern European, Mediterranean, African, East Asian and dozens of nationalities come into play, varying to some degree upon each family’s unique history of admixture. Given the historical documents that continue to emerge, there’s no doubt in my mind that England, Spain, Portugal and France, among other nations, were all sending their unwanted human cargo to settle the New World. The first choice for settlers was always someone else’s sons and daughters, with the lower classes and the ethnically and religiously undesirable generally being the first to go. We kid ourselves when we argue otherwise.

All to say, lots and lots of ethnically non-northern Europeans came to these shores and did their best to blend in with the ethnic power structures that were in place. And, for the most part, they succeeded, though in some places the unwanted and the unaccepted became isolated and continued to be just that: unwanted and unaccepted. Social stigmas became attached to thousands of families and those stigmas held fast, in many cases long after the families had, in Darlene Wilson’s words, both legally and physically “whitened up.”

My own family is a prime example. The faces of my relatives – my Mom, my brother, aunts and uncles – belie the official paper trail. In spite of a plethora of northern European surnames, my family, particularly on my Mother’s side, LOOKED Middle Eastern, Native American and African. I was probably less than ten years old when I first began taking note of the inconsistencies. But it all came together on a Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1962 as I sat in the darkened confines of the Coaltown Theatre in Norton, Virginia and watched what was to become a classic film: “Lawrence of Arabia.” The faces of the Arabs and the Berbers and the Turks were NOT exotic to me: they were the faces of my family and it was stunning. I hitch-hiked back to Wise with my now deceased friend and next door neighbor, “Little” Bill Davis, and asked my Mom…why? She had no answers, other than to recount the remembered prejudice that her family – and she personally – had known over the years.

In the forty two years that have passed since that afternoon, I’ve learned a great deal about my “Scots-Irish” family. Yes, we have northern European heritage. And yes, fair skin and blond hair and blue eyes can be found amongst our kin. We’re all speaking English today for a reason: lots of northern Europeans DID come to these shores, and I’m proud of every drop of Celtic blood that runs through my veins. It’s a part of who I am. But the emphasis is on the word, “part.” There are other parts of me, as well. Afterall, if we go back in time just ten generations, each of us has 1024 ancestors. Think about that: 1024 ancestors just ten generations back. How can anyone speak of their racial or ethnic purity? And yet, we do. If I go back even one more generation – i.e., eleven generations – I double the above number of ancestors to 2024. Get my point?

But be that as it may, there is still a lesson to be learned from digging into one’s past, both genealogically and genetically. We need to know from where we came in order to know where we’re going. And, a bit more selfishly, I subscribe to the truism that “that person who fails to remember his or her ancestors, is not likely to be remembered by his or her descendants.” What goes around comes around, as they say. And in my particular case, the search for origins has confirmed in an undeniable, physical way the theoretical lesson presented earlier. DNA, while subject to misuse as is any technology, properly applied can offer marvelous insight into what it means to be human.

For example, with an acceptable level of confidence, I now know via privately obtained DNA sequencing that I have Native American ancestry through three of my four grandparents. The family oral traditions through these three grandparents, unprovable through the official written records, turn out to have a probable basis in fact. I’ve also swabbed the cheeks of about thirty relatives representing a variety of my family lineages. With the result, that I now have mtDNA (maternal) and Y-chromosome (paternal) sequences that place at least some of my direct ancestors in:

Northern Europe (England, Ireland, Scotland)
Extreme Northern Europe (Vikings, as well as the so-called Saami)
Central Europe (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands),
Eastern Europe (the Balkans, Poland, Hungary, Russia)
The Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece and the Aegean, North Africa)
East Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia)
India and Pakistan,
Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

One mtDNA sequence finds its matches clustered almost exclusively among eastern European (i.e., Ashkenazi) Jews, Lebanese Druze, and Palestinians. Two other mtDNA sequences are classic Native American: haplogroups A and B.

All of which screams to me that, when all is said and done, from an ethnic standpoint, no one really knows who he or she is – other than the fact that we are human beings, comprised of all those who came before us, creations of God, children of Abraham.

So…maybe there’s a reason this “Scots-Irish, Redneck, Appalachian hillbilly can walk through his family graveyards – here in central Appalachia – and see Stars of David on the tombstones of his “German” ancestors. And maybe there’s a reason his brother is constantly “profiled” in today’s world as an Iranian or an Arab. And maybe there’s a reason his Mother looked as if she walked out of the Sahara, while his Father could have played bagpipes in Glasgow, Scotland and never drawn a second glance (other than the fact that his Father had no musical ability whatsoever).

In short, we are bits and pieces of the entire world, with each of us expressing our own “luck of the genetic draw” version of those bits and pieces. We are ALL walking, talking advertisements for the United Nations, even if we don’t know it. We are ONE big human family splintered apart by migrations and time, politics and religion. The mantra of the Melungeon Heritage Association, created by Lisa Savage some years ago, remains as apropos today as it was then: “We Are One People, All Colors.”

So, where to from here?

First, kinship is the key to understanding the Melungeons and their wider history, and by ignoring this kinship we strip these marvelous people of the true impact they’ve had on American culture and history. They were not insignificant. Their lives mattered, or should have – not just to their immediate families, but to this Nation, because they contributed mightily to it. They were more than just a few isolated people on a mountaintop here or there. But accepting their geographic dispersion is a different task than defining them. And, yet, attempting to define them has also proved a necessary, though still, inconclusive undertaking.

For me, the struggle to define “Melungeon” opened a much broader door. I learned that trying to “pin down” or identify a specific or limited ethnic origin for the Melungeons was impossible – because, frankly, none existed. Melungeons have always been a mix of humanity, just like every other human being. One cannot separate the layers of heritage as if unweaving a basket. This beautiful synthesis – the whole being greater than the parts – is what makes us who we are, Melungeon or otherwise. Which means, to some degree, virtually ALL origin theories are correct, with each family bringing its own unique history of admixture to the table. In fact, the only incorrect theories are, in my opinion, those that insist upon one and only one ethnicity that somehow magically “defines” Melungeon.

That’s the conclusion I reached in 1992, wrote about in 1993, and saw published in my book in 1994. I haven’t changed my view on this. For the sake of nostalgia, and for those who may be unfamiliar with my book, here are a few quotes from a decade ago:

From pages 166-169:

Quote #1
“Tracking the movements of Melungeon families is not easy, even for us Melungeons. Since we moved from region to region, and intermarried with so many diverse cultures, it becomes unmistakably clear that while we are still in many ways different from other Southerners, neither are we any longer exactly like the first Melungeons. Time and population movements change who we are. Ethnicity is a dynamic, ever changing concept – to “define” and pin it down with any certainty may be asking the impossible. It is quite slippery, changing in nature and form with each succeeding generation. And in all honesty, the history of the Melungeons is a strong argument for not attempting to define it at all.”

Quote #2
“We truly are, at least today, a mélange of many peoples, and that is our great strength. We are living proof that people of all colors and races can live together in peace and harmony, and that the resultant blend can be far superior to the individual parts. And we are further proof that ALL human beings harbor a racial diversity, known or unknown, that truly ties them to all other human beings. It is an indisputable point. We are all the same.”

Quote #3
“Physically, they remain as they were from the beginning: a diverse group reflecting a mixed ethnic, cultural, and religious heritage. Depending upon the individual, one will see the Jew or the Arab, the Berber or the Spaniard, the African or the Turk, the Moor or the Powhatan or Cherokee Indian, the Scotsman or the German, or occasionally bits and pieces of all these people beautifully blended into one human being. A mosaic of humanity…”

Quote #4
“Whatever the future may hold, regardless of what “truths” may yet be discovered, or what errors in my own work or judgment may later be revealed, I proudly affirm here, and hope that all those with a single drop of Melungeon blood will equally admit, that I am indeed a Melungeon. A Melange, if you will. A mixture of many peoples, and a stronger human being because of it. A child of God, and a brother to all men and women regardless of their creed or color.”

I don’t think I could have made any clearer my early sentiments regarding the ethnic and cultural diversity of our people. And, again for the record, those sentiments haven’t changed. On the contrary, they’ve grown stronger.

I am steadfast in my belief in the broader heritage of Melungeons, but the door has always been open for new research findings and new evidence. This is the way it has to be in the search for truth. I’m also open to criticism and, as many of you know, have certainly had my fair share of it. But that’s okay: it comes with the territory. In the late 1980s and early 90s, not nearly as many people were interested in the Melungeons, and my greatest fear was that too few people would care enough to delve into this intriguing story, and understand the deeper impact it could have on the broader issue of racial and ethnic understanding. I don’t think we have to worry about a lack of interest any longer – and I’ll take all the criticism in the world, seven days a week, in exchange for what we’ve accomplished.

And when I say “we” – let me mention the names of a just a few researchers and spokespeople, Melungeons all, who were standing tall and proud long before I made my way onto the scene. They gave me the incentive and confidence to move forward, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. I apologize in advance for others that I’ve left out, but these directly influenced me. In alphabetical order:

Sharon Bolling
Claude Collins
Scott Collins
Seven Gibson
Jack Goins
Ruth Johnson
R.C. Mullins
Huie Mullins
Willie Mullins
DruAnna Overbay

These folks, and many of their kin, embraced their heritage and were, to trade on a well worn phrase, Melungeon when Melungeon wasn’t cool. Thankfully today, what were once just a few brave souls is now an army. And that army continues to grow, witness those of you here this weekend.

In closing, I thank God every day for letting me be born, and live, and work in this great Nation. As imperfect as our Country has been, and as imperfect as it remains, it is still a Paradise among nations. The mere fact that we can meet here this weekend, and openly discuss its imperfections, is testimony to its greatness. I am proud to be an American and I do not want this sentiment lost in the shuffle of reviewing past injustices.

Here’s to justice and kindness, brotherhood and sisterhood, and to the undeniable fact that:

“We’re cousins! We’re cousins!”

Thank you.

Mattie Ruth Johnson, 2004 presentation

Published by:

ohnson: 6/17/04

Life on Newman’s Ridge

by Mattie Ruth Johnson

Presented at Fifth Union
Kingsport, Tennessee
Thursday, 17 June 2004


Newman’s Ridge

I learned later in life that growing up on Newman’s Ridge was more beautiful that I had imagined as a child. Its beauty, the colorful seasons that came and went. The view, to be able to look our far, far away and see the sunrise and sunset in all their glory. To reach out and feel the moisture of clouds hanging so low.

You could see storms and cyclones long before they came near. If they came our way, and they were severe, you took shelter in the dairy. Dairies are built mostly under the side of a small hill with only the front exposed. This was a safe place to be if the storms were pretty severe.

Sometimes the snows would be so deep we had to dig trenches to the barn and spring. The  animals had to be fed morning and night, and we had to have fresh water daily. During those bad days of winter, schools were out and people stayed in their homes and enjoyed playing their musical instruments. Cooking over the fireplace was fun. We popped popcorn and baked potatoes in the ashes, which certainly gave them a better taste than baking them in the oven.


Mattie Ruth Johnson’s family

As we sat around the living room near the fireplace, we told stories, played games, and had Bible readings. There was always plenty of wood for the kitchen stove and fireplace. Sometimes you could buy coal to burn.

Icicles would form off the roof and sometimes be all the way to the floor of the porch. I remember some being a foot wide, and we children enjoyed breaking them, sometimes eating the smaller icicles. If the snow got too heavy on top of the house, Dad had big long poles for him and my brothers to rake it off. We had a tin roof so snow came off pretty easy.

These were fun days, especially when we could make snow cream, and sometimes play in the snow. If you wore a hole in your shoes you only had a piece of cardboard to put in your shoe until Dad had time to put a new sole on it. Our shoes were the heavy brogan shoes. I remember when we came in with wet shoes Mom would put some in the oven and the rest she turned sideways in front of the fireplace to dry out. This dried them, but the next morning your shoes would be hard as a rock. You had your church clothes and school clothes. Church and school clothes were not worn to work or play in.

During the freezing times Mom had special bricks she heated, wrapped in towels, and placed at our feet when we went to bed. If you had warm feet the rest of your body seemed to stay warm. The fireplace and kitchen stove had to warm the whole house and sometimes the bedrooms would be very cold.

In February we burned tobacco beds to plant our seeds in. This kept grass and weeks out. After planting these seed beds a long mesh cloth covered them to protect them from birds and other animals. By April and May (which was planting time) we had plenty of large plants to set out. You saved some good seeds from year to year. To have a good crop of potatoes, they needed to be in the ground by Good Friday. Then came plowing the fields for planting. The ground had already been turned in the fall, and was now ready to be disked and plowed. A drag was used to break up clods of dirt and made your rows good and soft. We grew all kinds of stuff, and in large quantity. We shared in planting, hoeing, and strewing fertilizer. All plants had to be kept weed-free. We also had a large garden near the house.


Mattie Ruth

After many weeks of working the fields and garden they were “laid by.” This was music to our ears, for this meant you did not have to work them any more. By May we children were ready to go barefooted and could hardly wait to get out of those shoes. Of course we were not allowed to go places without shoes.

Back in those days seasons were mostly true to their name. Winter was winter and very cold. You had spring and everything budded out during April and May. A little cold snap (as they would say) did not kill off all your plants and it did not snow in May and kill blossoms on the fruit trees and vines as far as I can remember – not like today where it gets warm early, causing things to bloom, then freezes and kills the blooms. Happens to me every year. In summer we enjoyed all the different fruits of the trees and vines. You could make your jellies and jams galore.

When harvest time came you canned or dries foods for safekeeping, enough to last until the next season. People lived off the land. We did not have grocery stores to buy fruits and vegetables like today; even if they did, people did not have enough money to buy for large families.

Young adults and children of today have no idea of all the labors of living off the land, for as it turned out, with all the brilliant minds everything was invented and modernized to make life easier for us all. Even with all our moderation we easily take things for granted, for people of these generations have had no exposure to working and living without electrical help. Most things we have today people had back in earlier days, but those things were run by hand. On Newman’s Ridge, we did not have refrigeration until 1949, and then things started to change, replacing what you had with electrical items.

Before electricity, we had to take our clothes near the spring, heat the water and scrub them on a wash board, hang them on lines, and then iron them with an old cast iron which had to be heated on the wood-burning kitchen stove. These were important items to have. People walked up and down the Ridge, for only a couple of men around had vehicles, and my Dad was one of them. There were certain days he went to town and people knew those days and he would pick up anyone who was walking. You either walked or rode a horse, sled, or wagon. Most people walking threw a short pole across their shoulder with a tote bag or sack to put what they bought in to carry back. The stick also served as a walking stick like a cane. People never minded walking up and down those ridges.

We weren’t very familiar with deaths, and never dreamed of a death in our immediate family. Suddenly our mother died and everyone was so heartbroken. Our family and friends were so close, but our lives were shattered and would never be the same. We loved and appreciated each other for we were taught this, but even stronger after her death. This took a toll on all of us. We learned to appreciate life and what we had more. Where she walked and lived became sacred to us all.

My father sold the farm and we moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, where we started a new life much different than what we had been accustomed to. In time each of us would have moved away for jobs anyway. My brothers and sisters got jobs, married, had children, and Dad remarried. I left home and moved with the Echerd family to New Jersey. I enjoyed all kinds of Broadway plays and visited lots of sites there while doing some assistant teaching in schools. After about three years we moved back to Kingsport and I started my nursing career. While living in New Jersey so far away I really missed my family and where I grew up, and I knew by then that my nieces and nephews, all living in big homes with paved streets, had no idea about how life was for us only a few years ago. I wanted to write a story about the way things were so I started making notes about everything I could think of, from a sprig of grass to swinging on a grapevine. I put all my notes in a shoe box starting 1960.

I knew the children would not understand all the things we did, like sweeping the yard ands having buckets of water hanging on the porch with a dipper. “What is a dipper,” one niece asked me. “Why do you sweep the yard?” I realized their view and mine were completely different for they thought there was a yard of grass, and how on earth can you sweep that, and why?

When I started writing my story I separated all my notes starting as early as I could remember – what happened when you lived here or there? I put them into five to ten year time period frames – what went on here or there. Suddenly I had too much for a short story. I had also done some research on our families and I knew we were kin to the Melungeons. I found out the people being written about were my relatives and owned a lot of the land all around us, including where we lived at one time. I found out we were right in the middle of a Melungeon colony. I knew by this time up to my fourth generation grandfathers were part of the Melungeon and were owners of a lot of this land. As a child I was told we were kin to the Melungeons.

I started spreading the word for I was so proud of this. Many a time in the beginning I was put down, but endured for I knew these people and most were good-hearted Christian people that would give you the shirt off their backs, or see to it you had food if you did not. That made me want to write about them more.

As I wrote and rewrote to get my stories straight and in order, a friend of mine, Joanne, and English expert, advised me, but I mostly wanted to use old English which was mostly the way people talked back them.


Mattie Ruth Johnson and My Melungeon Heritage

People started saying, “Why don’t you write a book?” I thought, “Book? I don’t know anything about writing a book” until one day a doctor friend of mine said to me, “Aw, you can’t write no book.” Then and there I thought to myself, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll show you” and so I did. You don’t need to count your letters and lines like I started out doing. Today the printers have your book edited and the lines don’t always come out like you have them, close, but even better. They keep your pictures and chapters together and do a layout that all fits in. They want to make sure your book is understood by the reader. I have a lifetime of stories yet to tell. I’m collecting notes now for number two book.

You can take everything you write about and make it readable and into a story. For instance, a chicken: they sing, look after and protect their babies, scratch around, holler and cry when their chicken coop is broken into by a fox, snake or other animal. They sneak off and hide their eggs until they hatch babies, hide under bushed when a hawk flies over. They will wait longer than you can to go back to their nest so you won’t find them. The rooster crows to tell you it’s time to get up. There is more to a chicken than just chicken.

Getting a lot of these stories in a book about a way of life that is no more really fulfilled more than the dream I had. I’m no expert. People keep asking me what happened to the little children and the rest of the family. Hopefully someday the rest of the story will emerge.

Calvin Beale presentation, 2004

Published by:

Beale: 6/18/04

Researching Triracial Communities

by Calvin L. Beale
Presented at Fifth Union
Kingsport, Tennessee
Friday, 18 June 2004

I first heard the term “Melungeon” in the late 1940s when I went to work at the Census Bureau as a demographer, a population analyst. One or more officials at the bureau had become aware that there were a number of groups of peole aroiund the eastern and sohern U.S. with distinctive names applied to them (such as Melungeon) who had not been consistently identified with respect to their race in past censuses. Public knowledge of such groups had increased rather recently at that tie by the publication of two pieces by William H. Gilbert, first an article in Social Forces in 1946 on “mixed blood racial islands,” as he termed them, and a report for the Smithsonian Institution in 1949 called “Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States.”

I learned at this time about Gilbert’s work. I was fascinated by it and became acquainted with him. He was an anthropologist who worked on Indian affairs for what is now called the Congressional Research Services, at the Library of Congress. He was a very nice guy, a rather shy-mannered person who had written his Ph.D. dissertation on “marginal” populations in various countries. In his Smithsonian report, Gilbert described briefly each group of people that he knew of in the East and South who had or might have any degree of Indian descent. He listed the counties where they lied and their principal surnames, along with a bibliography of such printed material on them as he had found. The groups ranged from those possessing Indian reservations with Federal recognition, such as the Cherokee in North Carolina, to groups of more indeterminate origin, such as the Melungeons. Some of the latter groups were closer to White society in status, appearance, and outlook; some were closer to Black society, and others regarded themselves as Indian in origin and in some cases had state recognition.

The 1950 Census Project

Some of the people in charge of planning for the 1950 Census decided it would be desirable to identify counties in which such groups were known to live and to reclassify as “other race” all persons who were reported in these counties either as Indian or by any nonstandard racial term, such as “Moor” or “Wesort” or “Turk.” When the census was taken, all of the portfolios containing the schedules from these counties were stamped “Mixed stock,” and the clerks processing those schedules were to record as “other” any racial entries of Indian or of any colloquial term that the census takers had used. Keep in mind that at that time, there was no mail-out, mail-back census. Census takers went door to door and decided for themselves what race to list for each person, although they were free to ask if they wanted to.

In the processing of the 1950 Census, I happened to be assigned to a job in which all Census schedules went through the unit where I worked. So with permission, I asked to go through the schedules for the “Mixed stock” counties after hours and on weekends to see just how the groups that Gilbert had identified were listed racially by the census takers before any recoding. I did this for over a year and also looked through many of the original 19th century census schedules at the National Archives to get a better picture of how the groups had been counted in earlier times.

I had enough material to give a paper on the topic in 1953. In retrospect, the Census Bureau’s procedure in 1950 wound up serving no useful purpose, either statistical or social. I found that its major impact was to transfer to an “all other” racial category about 30,000 persons who were reported as Indian i the Mixed Stock counties, and no tabulations of social and economic data for these populations were ever made. Yet, the great majority of these Indians were the Lumbee and similar groups of North Carolina who were recognized by the State as Indian and had their own Indian schools in the segregated society of that time, including one college.

It would have been one thing to treat as “other” the relatively minor number of people for who colloquial terms were used. In fact, that might have happened anyway without the “mixed stock” rule. But, without any of the notorious racism that had earlier motivated the Virginia Director of Vital Statistics, Walter Plecker, in his campaign to see that no Melungeons and other groups were allowed to register themselves as Indian or White in Virginia, the 1950 Census effort wound up seeming implicitly like an attempt to prevent people in many eastern areas from being recorded as Indian even thought they were locally so recognized. I don’t recall any public commotion or repercussions from this, but the procedure was never used again. Out of 77,000 persons in 17 states whom I estimated were in groups of either real or perceived triracial status, only 1,000 were listed by the census takers with colloquial terms, or “other,” or had their race entry left blank. The colloquial terms that had any usage were Cajan[sic] and Creole (in Alabama), Moor (Delaware), Portuguese (North Carolina), and Turk (South Carolina).

In the processing of the 1950 Census, I happened to be assigned to a job in which all Census schedules went through the unit where I worked. So with permission, I asked to go through the schedules for the “Mixed stock” counties after hours and on weekends to see just how the groups that Gilbert had identified were listed racially by the census takers before any recoding. I did this for over a year and also looked through many of the original 19th century census schedules at the National Archives to get a better picture of how the groups had been counted in earlier times.

I had enough material to give a paper on the topic in 1953. In retrospect, the Census Bureau’s procedure in 1950 wound up serving no useful purpose, either statistical or social. I found that its major impact was to transfer to an “all other” racial category about 30,000 persons who were reported as Indian i the Mixed Stock counties, and no tabulations of social and economic data for these populations were ever made. Yet, the great majority of these Indians were the Lumbee and similar groups of North Carolina who were recognized by the State as Indian and had their own Indian schools in the segregated society of that time, including one college.

It would have been one thing to treat as “other” the relatively minor number of people for who colloquial terms were used. In fact, that might have happened anyway without the “mixed stock” rule. But, without any of the notorious racism that had earlier motivated the Virginia Director of Vital Statistics, Walter Plecker, in his campaign to see that no Melungeons and other groups were allowed to register themselves as Indian or White in Virginia, the 1950 Census effort wound up seeming implicitly like an attempt to prevent people in many eastern areas from being recorded as Indian even thought they were locally so recognized. I don’t recall any public commotion or repercussions from this, but the procedure was never used again. Out of 77,000 persons in 17 states whom I estimated were in groups of either real or perceived triracial status, only 1,000 were listed by the census takers with colloquial terms, or “other,” or had their race entry left blank. The colloquial terms that had any usage were Cajan[sic] and Creole (in Alabama), Moor (Delaware), Portuguese (North Carolina), and Turk (South Carolina).

The Wesorts and the National Institute of Dental Heath

Literally the next day after I read my 1953 paper at a meeting of demographers, I learned that I was losing my job at the Census Bureau in a big layoff. Fortunately, I landed at the Department of Agriculture and am still there. Not long after I arrived, a medical researcher from the National Institute of Dental Health (NIDH) , Dr. Cark Witkop, called the Census Bureau wanting to know if anyone there was familiar with the Maryland “Wesorts” and similar groups. In effect the Census folks had to say, “Well, we did have someone but we just let him go.” They referred Witkop to me. It turned out that a Washington dentist had reported to the dental institute that he was repeatedly seeing patients from Southern Maryland, with a small common set of surnames, who had a serious hereditary dental problem known at dentinogenisis imprefecta. Those affected has short unsightly teeth and often lost all of them to decay when still in their 30s. The Institute decided to do a major research project on the “Wesorts,” as this triracial group was called. I had no special knowledge about them, although Gilbert did, but I was asked to consult with the project to place the Wesorts within the context of the larger existence of other such groups and to provide any leads on possible hereditary health problems in the other groups.

The interest of NIDH stimulated me to continue my research, and since the groups were largely rural people I could justify spending some of my time on the topic at the Department of Agriculture, especially now that there was a practical health aspect to it and another agency asking for assistance. I was able to publish an article in 1957 focused to some extent on hereditary conditions that had arisen in some groups because, over several generations, many marriage partners were related to one another. But the article also gave me an opportunity to publish the results of my work on the 1950 Census, giving my estimates of the number of people in each group and county, and how they were reported on the original census schedules.

Please note that I use the word “estimates,” because in many groups, such as the Melungeons, people were nearly all listed as White rather than as Melungeon or Indian, or in the case of the Wesorts, listed as Black. Since no one in these groups was reported as Melungeon or Wesort, and only a handful as Indian, I made my judgment about numbers on my knowledge of surnames, including how people of certain surnames had been classed in the 19th century censuses, and the extent to which people of core surnames live near of with one another in 1950. I am sure I included some families that would not have been regarded locally as part of this group and excluded others who had, say, Melungeon or Wesort backgrounds, but whose surnames I was unfamiliar with. For example, I had no knowledge at that time of the significance of the Kennedy name in Wise County, or Winkler in Tennessee. For Melungeons, I had the least confidence in the numbers I came up with in southeast Kentucky and southwest Virginia. Deciding to err on the side of caution, I omitted people there who had core surnames but were not near other persons of Melungeon names. Yet I recall receiving a letter later from someone at the university of Kentucky who felt that I had substantially overstated the size of the Melungeon-background population in that State. But given the large number of people who have come forward in recent years to proclaim their Melungeon antecedents, I’m not so sure I exaggerated.

The Haliwa

There was one major emergence in the 1950 Census of people newly asserting a racial status at odds with what White and Black society has assigned to it previously. That was the group that has become known as the Haliwa Saponi Indians in North Carolina. Up popped over 800 Indians in the Warren County census in 1950, where there had been none in 1940. Gilbert had not known of them. I don’t think Price knew of them. From the 1950 schedules, I learned the surnames, which were not particularly marker names, although a couple appeared in the Gointown group in Rockingham County and a couple among the Lumbee and Brass Ankles. I checked the pre-Civil war censuses at the National Archives, and there they were, free farming people, consistently listed as “M” for mixed or mulatto. I drove down to the area in 1954 and made cotact. The whites called them “Issues,” a term that historically only connoted White and Black ancestry, but they lived separately from the local Black population, and asserted they had always had a tradition of being Indian. In just the previous few years they had begun to insist that their driver’s licenses and vital records show them as Indian. Unlike the Lumbee or the Person County Indians, they had never been given separate schools and were in the Black school system, although their neighborhood concentration essentially gave them their own schools. They had a sympathetic State legislator whom I met while making my first inquiries and whom they had hired to do research in Raleigh for them. He gave me the name of one of the group’s leaders to contact and said there would be mutual benefit in my doing so. His name would guarantee me access and at the same time the group would think that he was still busy on his work of determining their history.

When I met and talked with one of the leaders, I recall the sense of frustration and embarrassment that showed at one point when he said to me, “The newspaper wil ltalk of events down here in Fishing Creek Township and it will mention the white people, the colored people, and the ‘other.’ Now who are the other?” I am sure this feeling of “Who are we?” was a common one at times for people in every mixed racial population whose origin was lost in time.

At the same time that the 800 Indians showed up in Warren County, in 1950, about 40 did so in neighboring Halifax County. Yet 10 years later the Halifax contingent was up to 537, indicating that many people there who were regarded by census takers as Negro in 1950 were now either regarded as Indian or were actively asserting their Indianness to the census taker. The Warren County group, though, fell off from 800 to 400, perfectly showing the inconsistency of treatment from one census to another or one enumerator to another, that seemed to have led to the Census Bureau’s “mixed stock” procedure in 1950. By 2000, in the era of self-reporting with mail-out, mail-back questionnaires there were over 3,000 Indians in the two counties, with 2/3 in Halifax.

The Alabama Creeks

During the 1950s and 1960s,I gradually visited a number of the mixed-racial communities as opportunity offered. In some, I made contact with group members; in others, where the situation was touchy, I simply talked with informed people, perhaps consulted courthouse records and looked around. I think my most satisfying visits were those to the Haliwa, the Carmelites of Ohio, the Creeks of Alabama, and the Melungeons.

In the early 1960s I had another experience like the 1950s inquiry regarding hte Wesorts. This time someone from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) called the Census Bureau asking if anyone there was aware of a group of people in southwest Alabama who claimed to be Creek Indians. The Census Bureau referred him to me. Well, I knew there was such a group, because William Gilbert has listed them in an article that I had read. But now there was going to be a cash award to the Creek Tribe for the lands taken from it in the South without compensation when the tribe was forcibly moved to Oklahoma. Suddenly the BIA had people in Alabama claiming to be eligible for part of the award. I was quite surprised that the BIA anthropologists were unsure of them. But they were asking me, are these people Creek descendants? Do they have any survival of Indian culture?

So with my interest piqued, I caught a plane to Mobile, went over to their area, and rather easily made contact. It didn’t matter how much I stressed that I was just there as a private individual, since I worked for the federal government it had to be a good sign. I found that the group consisted of both descendants of “friendly” Creeks from the Creek War and of “hostile” Creeks. Some of the group had quietly remained behind when the removal came. In general, it was the “friendly” descendants who were poor and felt discriminated against, whereas the “hostile” descendants had intermarried more with the Whites and had a higher social status (including the sheriff of one county). I visited a number of people, asked a lot of questions, took some photos, wrote up my notes, and briefed the BIA people when I returned. Whether this played any role in the final BIA decision or not I don’t know, but the Alabama Creeks did get to share in the award. Late they acquired Federal recognition as a tribe, and submitted part of my notes with the documentation. So it was an experience that was not only interesting but was satisfying because it may have had some practical effect.

The Melungeons

In July of 1969, I read a small item in a newspaper about the Melungeons opening an outdoor drama in Sneedville. It so happened that I had some business in Oak Ridge at this time. So the day after I finished that, I drove up to Sneedville, found the amphitheatre, and got a ticket. I also asked whether there was anyone in town who might be willing to show me around some. Claude Collins was mentioned. So I contacted him and he was gracious enough to take me for a drive up on Newman’s Ridge, to the Vardy School, and up Snake hollow. I also asked about a place to stay overnight and was able to get one of the two motel rooms above the beauty parlor.

That night, before the play, there was a lobby at the amphitheatre with craft items on sale. I wanted to take home some small souvenirs and gifts and stood contemplating some homemade soaps. I must have done so for more than just a moment. Presently, I heard a voice from somewhere in back and I think somewhat above me say, “Mr. Beale, are you planning on taking a bath?” It was Claude Collins.

There was a big audience for the play. I remember having a rather so-so reaction tothe first act that pictured the Melungeons’ rather prosperous early period in the area, although they were regarded as people whose origin was unknown. But the second act, set much later and with its star-crossed love story between a Melungeon girl and the son of a prominent businessman who covets Melungeon land, was very skillfully done, and by the end there were hardly any dry eyes in the house, my own included.


That trip was nearly the last research excursion that I took relating to the triracial populations, as my interests seemed to turn to other things. Life was rapidly changing for the groups, as it was for the country in general. The Civil Rights era had ended the separate school systems many groups had that had both limited and sustained their status. It was the time of television and much better roads, and a greatly diminished role for farm work. By ’69, there were large numbers of people from eery group who had dispersed to the cities to work. The Melungeons, in effect, had a big coming-out party and said, “Yes, we’re Melungeons. So what?” The Reds Bones of Louisiana seem essentially to have done the same thing more recently. Some small groups were dissolving, such as the Portuguese of Northampton County, N.C., or the Coe Ridge clan in Kentucky. Others were reasserting their Indianness.

The so-called “Jackson Whites” of New Jersey and New York have sough Federal recognition as Ramapough Indians. The “Cajans” of southwest Alabama also filed for Federal recognition as Choctaw Indians. Their application was denied, but I admit it was rather convincing tome. A core of the Wesorts are organized as Piscataway Indians, although with much factionalism. The so-called Amherst County, Virginia “Issues” now have state recognition as Monacan Indians. Several of the “Brass Ankle” groups of South Carolina have also organized as survivors of historic Indian tribes.

Recent censuses have also seen the emergence of new groups claiming predominant India descent. A prominent example is in northern Alabama where 2,100 persons reported themselves as Indian in Lawrence County in 1990 where there had been just 40 in 1980. I made one last field trip there and found that the population is organized and claims mostly Cherokee ancestry, a status, their leader said, that would only have been detrimental to them in the past. Although they do not have BIA recognition, they had acquired funds for educational assistance to Indians from the US Department of Education that were very beneficial in that children of the group could receive some individual tutoring in school.

I don’t for a minute doubt the authenticity of the group’s claim. The East and South are full of small populations of mixed ancestry who saw no merit in advertising their racial history in the past if they could pass as white. But as a demographer, it was very interesting to me to see the apparent effect of the availability of a Federal program for Indians on the age composition of the persons who now reported themselves as indian. Those reporting themselves as Indian consisted very disproportionately of families with children of school age. Eighty-one percent of all Indian families had children 6 – 17 years old, whereas only 35 percent of all other families in the county had children of this age. Fifteen percent of all children 6 – 17 years old in the county were identified as Indian, but just seven percent of those under six years old or of persons 20 –24 years old, who were generally too young to have children of school age. For this mixed racial population, meaningful status as a separate group has emerged, whereas for the Melungeons, or others such as the Redbones or the Pools, the imposed separateness of the past has dissipated.

Altogether, it has been rather remarkable over the course of 50-some years — and the last 35 in particular – to see the evolution of the status of the various groups and to witness the explosion of research and literature on their origins and culture.

Calvin Beale was one of the first researchers to take a scientific look at the Melungeons and other tri-racial communities. Following in the wake of two other postwar scientists studying the tri-racial phenomenon, William Gilbert and Edward Price, Beale began researching these communities in the late 1940’s. While working as a demographer for the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he published “American Triracial Isolates in the December 1957 issue ofEugenics Quarterly. He has published numerous articles since then on a wide variety of topics; a collection of his writings can be found at:

Beale, the Senior Demographer at Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, has visited the majority of counties in the United States. A collection of his courthouse photographs can be found at:

More on Calvin L. Beale can be found at:

2006 Union Report

Published by:

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 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.

Fifth Union Report

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Fifth Union Gathering

Fifth Union, June 17-19, 2004 – Kingsport, Tennessee

The Melungeon Heritage Association and the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau were proud to sponsor Fifth Union, the Melungeon Gathering, which will be held Thursday through Saturday, June 17-19, at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Our program featured several respected Melungeon researchers and authors, as well as presentations which put the Melungeon story into context. We were delighted to welcome one of the pioneer researchers of tri-racial communities, Calvin L. Beale, as well as other noted Melungeon authors and researchers, including Brent Kennedy, Darlene Wilson, Wayne Winkler, Elizabeth Hirschmann, and Mattie Ruth Johnson, among others (see schedule below).

We also presented a reading of the play Walk Toward the Sunset, Kermit Hunter’s Melungeon drama which ran in Sneedville from 1969 to 1976.

10:00 am – Welcome
10:30 am – Betty Perry: The Hancock County Jail: Providing An Education, Past and Present
11:30 am – Frank Sweet: Americans Are More “Racially” Mixed Than They Imagine
12: 30 pm – Mattie Ruth Johnson: My Melungeon Heritage
1:00 pm – Wayne Winkler: Who Are the Melungeons?
1:30 pm – Joseph Scolnick & Brent Kennedy: authors of From Anatolia to Appalachia
1:30 pm – Mattie Ruth Johnson book Signing
2:00 pm – Kathy Lyday-Lee: Will Allen Dromgoole
2:30 pm – James Nickens: Strangers in the Indian Nations
3:00 pm – W. C. Collins & DruAnna Overbay: Exhibit: Windows on the Past
3:30 pm – Kayaalp Buyukataman and Tolunay Kolankaya Buyukataman: Early Turkish Settlers in America
4:00 pm – Dr. Kevin Jones: Melungeon DNA Study
5:30 pm – Claude Collins, John Lee Welton, Katherine Vande Brake: PANEL: The Melungeon outdoor drama Walk Toward the Sunset

10:30 am – Dr. Marie Boutte: Machado-Joseph Disease
11:00 am – Calvin Beale: Researching Tri-racial Communities
12:00 pm – Brent Kennedy: The Melungeons: Ties That Bind
12:30 pm – Katherine Vande Brake: Melungeon Characters in Fiction
1:00 pm – Anthony Cavender: Appalachian Folk Medicine
1:30 pm – A. D. Powell: White Identity, the One Drop Myth and the Mixed-Race Experience.
2:00 pm – Scott Withrow: Melungeon/ Redbone Settlements in Carolina
2:00 pm – Rehearsal: Walk Toward the Sunset, Act One
3:00 pm – Gwendolyn Higdon: Hypothetical Analogy of the Cradle of the Melungeons
4:00 pm – James Nickens: Melungeon Genesis II
4:30 pm – Frank Sweet: 19th Century Songs and Stories
5:30 pm – reading of Walk Toward the Sunset, Act One

10:00 am – Opening – Rep. Rick Boucher (9th District, VA)
10:15 am – SJ Arthur: Melungeon Heritage Association and Awards
10:30 am – J. David Smith: The Eugenic Movement in America
11:30 am – Scott Withrow: The Perkins Family in the Carolina-Tennessee Backcountry
12 noon – Darlene Wilson: “Colored/White”: Transcending Appalachian History
12:30 pm – Elizabeth Hirschmann: Tracing Sephardic Connections
1:00 pm – Katie Doman: Vardy Oral History Project
2:00 pm – Jerry Warsing: The East Asian Factor
2:00 pm – Rehearsal: Walk Toward the Sunset, Act Two
2:30 pm – VCHS Board Members: Steps in Forming a Historical Society
3:30 pm – Franklin Keel: Bureau of Indian Affairs
4:30 pm – Dr. Chris Morris: Familial Mediterranean Fever
5:00 pm – Katie Doman: Traditional Mountain Music
5:30 pm – reading of Walk Toward the Sunset, Act Two

Several organizations assisted Melungeon Heritage Association with Fifth Union, and you will find more information on these organizations at these links.

FIFTH UNION:Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau

Vardy Community Historical Society

Hancock County Historical and Genealogical Society

Fort Henry Mall

WETS-FM, Public Radio 89.5

East Tennessee State University

King College (link currently not working)

University of Virginia’s College at Wise

The Coalfield Progress

“Negro Speaking!” 1840 article from The Whig, Jonesboro, Tennessee

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1840 Whig Article

Negro Speaking!

published in the Whig, Jonesboro, Tennessee, 7 October 1840

We have just learned, upon undoubtable authority, that Gen. Combs, in his attempt to address the citizens of Sullivan County, on yesterday, was insulted, contradicted repeatedly, limited to one hour and a half, and most shamefully treated, and withall an effort was made, to get an impudent Malungeon from Washington City, a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian, and who has actually been speaking in Sullivan, in reply to Combs! Gen. Combs, however, declined the honor of contending with Negroes and Indians _ said he had fought against the latter, but never met them in debate! This is the party, reader, who are opposed to the gag-law, and to abolition!

Bigotry and democracy in Sullivan County, well knowing that their days on earth are numbered, are rolling together their clouds of blackness and darkness, in the person of a free negroe, with the forlorn hope of obscuring the light that is beaming in glory, and a gladness, upon this country, through the able and eloquent speeches of Whig orators.

David Shaver replied to Gen. Combs, we are informed. This is the same Davy, Mr. Netherland gave an account of, some time since, and who, Col. James gave us the history of, in an address, at our late convention. When Davy had finished, the big Democratic Negro came forward, and entertained the brethren. These two last speakers were an entertaining pair!

from Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia by Wayne Winkler (2004, Mercer University Press)

The 1840 article was printed in the Jonesborough Whig, a political newspaper edited by William Gannaway “Parson” Brownlow, later to become the controversial Reconstruction governor of Tennessee. Over the next two weeks, Brownlow’s Whig made several references to the “Malungeon” which made clear that Brownlow considered a Melungeon to be “a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian.” References to “the big Democratic Negro” were meant to associate the Democrats with the concept of racial equality, a notion repugnant of southern Whigs (and to southern Democrats as well).

The origin of this “impudent Malungeon” is given as “Washington City.” This raises some questions. Jonesborough, where the newspaper was published, is the seat of Washington County, Tennessee, and there is a Washington County nearby in Virginia. However, there is no city or town named “Washington” anywhere near Jonesborough. In the 1840s, “Washington City” often referred to Washington, D. C. If the “scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian” came from the District of Columbia, the term “Melungeon” obviously had a far broader meaning and more widespread usage than anyone has suggested to date. If the term was being used in the nation’s capital, one could reasonably assume the term would exist in numerous other records. It does not; as of this writing, the Jonesborough articles of 1840 are only the second known written record of the word, the first being the Stony Creek church minutes of 1813. The author may have been applying a local term to an outsider, someone who would not have been called a “Malungeon” anywhere else?. The more likely explanation, however, is that the reference to “Washington City” is a mistake or a typographical error, and the origin of the “impudent Malungeon” was Washington County.

Tennessee politicians, particularly in the post-Civil War era, would use the term “Melungeon” to describe opposing politicians, particularly Republicans from the eastern third of the state. During the post-war Reconstruction era, bitter epithets flew freely between Democrats and Republicans. This particular epithet, however, seems never to have lost its suggestion of non-white ancestry. When Nashville writer Will Allen Dromgoole asked two Tennessee legislators of the 1890’s to define “Malungeons,” the answers were “a dirty Indian sneak” and “a Portuguese nigger.”

“A Note on the Melungeons” by Burnett, 1889 article

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1889 Burnett Article

A Note on the Melungeons

This article was published in the American Anthropologist 2, (October 1889): 347. The lecture was given to the American Antropological Society in February 1889.

Legends of the Melungeons I first heard at my father’s knee as a child in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee, and the name had such a ponderous and inhuman sound as to associate them in my mind with the giants and ogres of the wonder tales I listened to in the winter evenings before the crackling logs in the wide-mouth fireplace. And when I chanced to waken in the night and the fire had died down on the hearth, and the wind swept with a demoniac shriek and terrifying roar around and through the house, rattling the windows and the loose clapboards on the roof, I shrank under the bedclothes trembling with a fear that was almost an expectation that one of these huge creatures would come down the chimney with a rush, seize me with his dragon-like arms, and carry me off to his cave in the mountains, there to devour me piecemeal.

In the course of time, however, I came to learn that these creatures with the awe-inspiring name were people somewhat like ourselves, but with a difference. I learned, too, that they were not only different from us, the white, but also from the Negroes–slave or free–and from the Indian. They were something set apart from anything I had seen or heard of. Neither was the exact nature of this difference manifest even in more mature years, when a childish curiosity had given way to an interest more scientific in its character. There was evidently a caste distinction as there was between the white and Negro, and there was also a difference between them and the free Negroes. No one seemed to know positively that they or their ancestors had ever been in slavery, and they did not themselves claim to belong to any tribe of Indians in that part of the country. They resented the appellation Melungeon, given to them by common consent by the whites, and proudly called themselves Portuguese.

The current belief was that they were a mixture of white, Indian, and Negro. On what data that opinion was based I have never been able to determine, but the very word Melungeon would seem to indicate the idea of a mixed people in the minds of those who first gave them the name. I have never seen the word written, nor do I know the precise way of spelling it, but the first thought that would come to one on hearing it would be that it was a corruption of the French word melangee—mixed.

It was not, however, until I had left East Tennessee and become interested in anthropology–chiefly through my membership in this Society—that the peculiarities of this people came to have any real significance for me, and I was then too far away to investigate the matter personally to the extent I desire. I have, however, for several years past pursued my inquiries as best I could through various parties living in the country and visiting it, but with no very pronounced success. I have thought it well, however, to put on record in the archives of the Society the rew notes I have been able to obtain, trusting that some one with better opportunity may be induced to pursue the matter further.

It appears that the Melungeons originally came into east Tennessee from North Carolina, and the larger number settled in what was at that time Hawkins County, but which is now Hancock. I have not been able to hear of them in any of the lower counties of east Tennessee, and those I have seen myself were in Cocke county, bordering on North Carolina. At what time this emigration took place in not known, but it was certainly as long ago as seventy-five or eighty years. One man, “Old Sol. Collins,” in Hancock County, claims that his father fought in the revolution.

They are known generally by their family names, as the “Collinses,” &c., and on account of the caste restriction, which has always been rigorously maintained, they do not intermarry with the Negroes or Indians. As stated before, they are held by the whites to be a mixed race with at least a modicum of Negroes blood, and there is at least one instance on record in which the matter was brought before the courts. It was before the war–during the time of slavery–that the right of a number of these people to vote was called in question. The matter was finally carried before a jury and the question decided by an examination of the feet. One, I believe, was found to be sufficiently flat-footed to deprive him of aright of suffrage. The others, four or five in number, were considered as having sufficient white blood to allow them a vote. Co. John Netherland, a lawyer of considerable local prominence defended them.

It should be stated, however, that there is a disposition on the part of the more thoughtful of those among whom these people live to give some credence to their claim of being a distinct race, a few inclining to the Portuguese theory, some thinking that they may possibly be gypsies, while yet others think that they may have entered the country as Portuguese or gypsies and afterward some families may have intermingled with negroes or Indians or with both. So far as I have been able to learn, however, there was not at any time a settlement of Portuguese in or near North Carolina of which these people could have been an offshoot. Those that I have seen had physical peculiarities which would lend plausibility to any one of the foregoing theories.

They are dark, but of a different hue to the ordinary mulatto, with either straight or wavy hair, and some have cheek bones almost as high as the Indians. The men are usually straight, large, and find looking, while one old woman I saw was sufficiently hag-like to have sat for the original Meg Merriles. As a rule, they do not stand very high in the community, and their reputation for honesty and truthfulness is not to be envied. In this, however, there are said to be individual exceptions.

It is perhaps characteristic of them that, since a revenue tax has been placed by the Government on the manufacture of spirituous liquors, these people have been engages largely in illicit distilling; but, whatever may have been their origin, it is still a fact of interest that there has existed in East Tennessee for nearly a hundred years a class of people held both by them selves and by the people among whom they live as distinct from the three other races by whom they are surrounded, and I trust that these few imperfect notes may cause a study of them to be made by some one more competent than myself. For assistance in getting information I am particularly indebted to Dr. J. M. Peirce, of Hawkins county, Tennessee, and to Dr. Gurley, of the Smithsonian Institution.

Since the above communications was read before the Society I have received from several sources valuable information in regard to the Melungeons; but the most important contribution bearing on the subject, as I believe, is the little pamphlet published by Hamilton Mc Millan, A. M., on “Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony” (Wilson, N.C., 188). Mc Millan claims that the Croatan Indians are the direct descendant of this colony. What connection I consider to exist between the Melungeons and the Croatan Indians, as well as other material I have accumulated in regard to the Melungeons, will be made the subject of another communication which is now in preparation.

“True Story of Delaware’s Moors,” 1896 article

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1896 Moors Article

True Story of Delaware’s Moors

Smyrna (Delaware) Press, 1 January 1896

Down in the southern end of Delaware, thickly settled, especially about Lewes, and scattered as far north as the boundary of KentCounty, one finds a race of men who have been a source of wonder and a puzzle to the historian of that state. They tell a curious story of Oriental origin, and cling to traditions which are wholly their own, and while they are known to this day as the Moors of Delaware, are an enigma to the general population in and about the state they inhabit. From a distance they look like the ordinary colored residents of the neighborhood, but a close inspection shows that they haven’t the slightest trace of Negro blood in their veins. Indeed, some of them are so fair and so ruddy that they are often mistaken for white men, and, in fact, this is how one day their fanciful story of descent from a captive Moor came to be ventilated in a court of justice in Sussex County, and their strange history for the first time given an air of credence.

After that such notable Delawareans as Judge George P. Fisher took a profound interest in these people. Chas. Brown, who owned large tracts in and about a place which was then called Moorton, after them, but which is now set down on the maps as Cheswold, bequeathed to them a piece of land on which to build a school. Other equally well-known men of affairs in the lower end of Delaware for the first time began to take an interest, as if they had found a curiosity to be proud of in their own native State.

Around the little town of Cheswold there is a settlement comprising about 200 of this peculiar race. They are now in an interesting stage of development. They have a church and school, manage their own affairs and are looked upon as the most industrious citizens of the place.

Cheswold is about sixty-eight miles from Philadelphia, and can be reached by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It is in the heart of Kent County, and the populace in and around Cheswold is an exact type of the race who inhabit the belt stretching away to the lower end of the state. Contrary to what one would expect who has been reared in a large city, and grown familiar with the colonization methods of various races, who segregate in sections which they afterward make their own, the Delaware Moors do not huddle together in any particular locality. They have no monopoly of any part of the town, and the agricultural and industrial pursuits that inject the only life into Cheswold are not controlled by the race.

One hardly knows on stepping from the train that there exists such a colony as the Delaware Moors in and about Cheswold, and it is only by assiduous questioning and a little personal exploration that at last he is brought face to face with certain unmistakable signs that shows that these people have made this place their own. A short walk to the end of the town soon tells the story. The “yaller” man, as he is called, is so in evidence, and before you take many steps you begin to find that he is pretty numerous, tills the soil, conducts business and carries on trade with his fair brethren, much like the members of any other civilized colony. Should you engage him in conversation you will find that the tone, together with the gesture and carriage, are of a race different from the colored people of the neighborhood. Should you desire to know aught of Cheswold and of the Moors he will gladly tell you, for every member of the tribe seems to be well acquainted with its history.
The town is a little collection of two or three-storied frame houses, with here and there a really pretentious dwelling, all clustered about a central avenue. The railroad runs through the eastern verge of the place, and on either side are comfortable dwellings, inhabited by workingmen, or in the case of one of them, by the pastor of the modest little church. Your Moorish friend will point to it from where he stands. It is the first yellow house from the grocery store on the main street, and directly opposite is the canning factory which, fully running, employs twenty or thirty men. The factory is an institution of Cheswold, for the surrounding country, with its many farms and bountiful crops, is famous for its mellow fruit.The most interesting place in the town, however, is the home of Cornelius Ridgeway, the patriarch of the colony. It is a yellow colored frame building, the first on the left as you turn form the railroad. He is a man of about sixty, has a bright face, and, you will soon see, is an industrious worker at shoe-making. Despite the lowliness of his calling he follows it as would a knight the tourney. There is a kindly look in his eye as you mention the race whose patriarch he is and whose history he knows by heart. He will gladly lay his work aside to take up the thread of the Moors’ history.

“There are some of them,” pointing to a couple of youths, fair of face and almost white, who are just leaving his shop. “Do they look like Negroes?”

The Delaware Moors, according to the story told by Cornelius and the other patriarchs, came into the history of the state over a hundred years ago, but they were never assigned a place until the trial of Levi Sokum, a member of the race, who was charge with selling powder and shot to Isaiah Harmon, another member of the race, whom the prosecution contended was a mulatto. There were no records of the tribe up to that time, and all that was known was handed down from father to son and told about by the old men of the race, who guarded the younger members of the flocks and zealously instilled into their minds the strange teaching that declared them to be of a purer strain than any of their neighbors, and forbade the young to play with, or the youths and maidens to intermarry with, those of another race. By the patriarchs it was preached about that their progenitors were a Moorish prince who had been sold into captivity because of troubles in his own dominion, and who, as fate would have it, was bought by a young Irish woman who herself was an exile, and was banished from a duchy in Spain that rightfully belonged to her and her impoverished father.

Senorita Requa, or Miss Reegan, as she was called by some, first came into the history of Delaware some years prior to the Revolutionary War, and settled on a big farm near Lewes. She had fabulous wealth, so the old man said, and to all she was as a sealed book. Many young men sought for her hand, but to all she turned a deaf ear, and shut herself up in her cloister-like mansion. Those who saw her said that she had a sweet and passive look, as if she had seen much sorrow and was resigned. Her affairs were managed by an old man who had known her before the days of adversity and who fled with her from the castled land of Spain. She had hundreds of slaves working for her and was reputed to be the wealthiest lady in Delaware.

One day a slave ship put in at Lewes and finding that she was in need of a slave she sent to the ship for one. It so happened that a handsome young fellow, straight in stature, noble in bearing and withal having a kingly look about him, was chosen and brought to the mansion of the mysterious lady. He walked with such an air and spoke with such a clear accent, and, above all, conversed in those dulcet tones which alone are Spanish, that the lady, who was seldom seen by men, called for him to be brought to her. There and then, in the most romantic way, he fell on his knees and told her in sweet Castilian tongue that he was an exiled Moorish prince who had fought in the Spanish War, gained renown, and because of his popularity was secretly carried off and sold to the slaver by friends of his uncle, who were jealous of his popularity and coveted the throne himself.

Whether or not his story was true, the heart of the exiled woman went out to that of the exiled Moor, and from that moment she loved her princely suitor. The result was a marriage and the children had the characteristics of the Moor and Hibernian, the voluptuous beauty of the one, the natural vivacity of the other.

When it became known that the mistress had married the man, who was looked upon as a Negro, the populace for miles around were incensed and the young men who had sought the lady’s hand, and had been slighted, cast many aspersion on her fair name. Hence it was that to this day there are stories in Delaware to the effect that the woman was an outcast favorite of the Spanish King, and like the celebrated Lola Montez, who held the King of Bavaria enthralled, had been compelled to flee because of the wrath of the nobles and the Queen. At any rate, the children of the pair were tabooed by the good society of Sussex County, and hence arose a curious state of affairs. The children, reared under the best tutors, for the exiled woman valued education, held themselves too good for the blacks, and were not allowed the society of the whites. It was because of this that a fusion of blood occurred between the Nanticoke Indians and the children of the curious fated pair took place. The aborigines had reached a high degree of civilization and among the young men of the tribe there were some who were educated. Hence it was that one of the children, a beautiful daughter, fell in love with an educated and well-to-do member of his tribe, who at that time inhabited that part of Delaware, were tillers of the soil, and had none of the evil habits common to the Indian race. This union was subsequently followed by the marriage of a Moor son with an Indian maiden, and so the blood of the Moor and the Indian became diffused, and the curious combination of races brought forth the Delaware Moor of today. In this way the Nanticoke Indians who were once numerous in Southern Delaware have entirely disappeared, but their descendants are these men who today are scorned by the whites.

The Moorish school at Cheswold is an object of no little interest. There is nothing lofty about it, but that the board which directs its affairs are a determined set of men may be shown by a little story which is told apropos of the school. The story shows the positive character of the Moors when their racial prejudices are aroused. Some time ago the school, which stands in a romantic spot about a mile from the village, was without a teacher, and the board sent to Superintendent Tindal, at Dover, to fill the vacancy. “Send us a teacher,” they said, “but under no circumstances let him be a black man.” Three days later, when G. G. Johnson, of Hamilton, Va., appeared to take charge of the little frame school one of the Moorish parents discerned that he was a Negro, and then there was a scene. All the Kent County Moors rose up in arms against the alleged outrage, and an indignant protest was sent to Superintendent Tindal. After Mr. Johnson returned to Virginia, Mr. Tindal was told that he might send an Indian or a white man, or preferably a Moor.

Cornelius, who is a member of the board, laughed heartily in speaking o£ the matter. He then dilated upon the queer customs of his people. They do not marry outside their tribe. They observe a color line with the Negro stricter than that of the out and out Southerner, and woe betide the Delaware Moorish maiden who so forgets her station as to manifest a weakness for a common black man. She is first warned, then chastised, then entreated, and finally, if she persists in loving him, is banished altogether from her father’s roof, and boycotted by the tribe forevermore.

The Moorish maidens spoken of by Cornelius are very pretty, and they have nothing of the heavy upper lip and other Negroid features indicative of a Negro. Two of them called to see Cornelius while he was talking, They stepped back with a modest courtesy on seeing that another person was in the room, and were about to retire when the old cobbler called them back. An excellent opportunity was thus afforded to scrutinize their features and study their characteristics. The least that can be said of them is that they are handsome. There is something in their soulful eyes which reminds one of a place beyond the seas, and when they speak the ripple of words is mellifluous, and not at all the plaintive jargon of the Southern “mammy” or the animated colored girl.

It is not often that one of them becomes enamored of a black man, for there are plenty of good looking Delaware Moors about to please them.

The Delaware Moor, one might be led to believe, would follow the doctrines handed down by their ancestors and accept the faith of Mohammed. Such is not the case, however. Their house of worship is not a mosque but a simple little frame Methodist Church. The building itself is picturesque. It stands out on the verge of the village, back from the road leading in the opposite direction from the school. Its architecture has nothing to suggest the beautiful, but every Sunday its wooden wall rings with melodious praises, as sent up in the good, clear tones of the sweet voiced Delaware Moors, and all that part of Kent County for miles around re-echoes with the heavenly adulation.

The structure was erected in l885, and by dint of hard scraping the Moors have managed to make the church their own, paying off a mortgage for $1100. The contractor who erected the building knocked off a few hundred dollars to begin with, and when the last joist was nailed up the jubilation was one long to be remembered for up to this time they had no fixed place of worship. Sometimes accepting the hospitality of the whites, they were relegated to the rear of their church together with the blacks, and this wounded their pride. The elders of their peculiar race finally put their heads together, and declared that unless they had a separate church for themselves the race might become disintegrated and it was this feeling that prompted them to secure a church of their own.

In many of the race the strain is almost pure white, while in some it is yellow, in others deep brown. One family in Kent County named Durham is as fair as any Caucasian, and its members resemble the Irish more than any other race. In others the difference between them and pure whites could never be told, and this is how it fell about in the case of Isaiah Harmon, of Sussex County, who bought the powder and shot from Levi Sokum, another Delaware Moor, which was aired in the Sussex County court and which established the fact that the tribe was not one of Negro blood, and gives a color of truth to the story told by the old Moors of Kent County.

In those days there was a law which forbade anyone from selling or loaning ammunition to a Negro or mulatto. Sokum had sold to Harmon a quarter pound of powder and a pound of shot, and the action was brought by some envious white men, who had a grudge against Sokum. When Harmon appeared in court that day, everyone looked at him in surprise expecting to find, at least, a man with “yaller” blood, if not the pure black blood. Instead, a young fellow, straight as an arrow and with a complexion that rivaled that of any Caucasian present was introduced as the defendant and set down by the prosecution as mulatto, or Negro, and that Harmon came of a race that was altogether distinct.

In order to support his claim an old woman of the tribe named Lydia Clark was called to the witness stand and questioned. she told the story of the origin of the Delaware Moor as given above, and showed conclusively that her kinsman was not of the Negro descent. According to her story the original progenitors appeared about twenty years before the Revolutionary War and the succeeding generations were confined principally to the southeast portions of Sussex Count, in and around Lewes, Millsboro, Georgetown and Milton.

“The Melungeons” by Paul Converse, 1912 article

Published by:

The Melungeons

by Paul Converse

originally published in Southern Collegian (December 1912) 59-69.

Clinch is the name of a range of mountains of some height and local prominence that run through upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia about midway between the Alleghenies and Cumberlands. To the east of the Clinch range lies a region in which the water courses have worn for themselves broad, gently rolling and fertile valleys while the intervening ridges have been worn back until they are low and of relatively little importance. To the west, however, for a distance of 25 or 30 miles lies a region which is, geologically speaking, too young for the waterways to have cut anything except deep and narrow valleys. Hence we find there a topography of alternating steep ridges and narrow valleys and there narrow strips of level valley land.

The fifth valley to the west of Clinch Mountain is the Blackwater valley, which lies between Newman’s Ridge on the southeast and Powell’s Mountain on the northwest. This valley is about 26 miles long, extending the length of Newman’s Ridge, from Howard’s Quarters in Claiborne County, Tennessee, through Hancock County, in the same State, to the Blackwater salt works in Lee County, Virginia. The southern end of this valley is narrow, but it widens out toward the north and makes room for several fertile mountain farms, and although it attains no great width it is unusually straight, as mountain valleys go, and if a railroad should ever be built through this section, it will probably follow this route. The southern end of this valley is drained by Sycamore Creek, flowing southwestward through primeval forests of oak and hemlock which cover the precipitous northern slope of Newman’s Ridge and the more gentle slope of Powell’s Mountain. The northern end is drained by Blackwater Creek, which winds its way leisurely northeastward through narrow strips of verdant meadow land. Here, along the banks of this sparkling stream and on the top and eastern slope of Newman’s Ridge, is the home of the Melungeons, far famed not only for their lawlessness and the number of their bloody feuds, but for the mystery surrounding their ancestry and their peculiarities in general.

The word “Melungeon” is said to belong to the vernacular of East Tennessee, but the Melungeons are probably better known in New England than they are in the neighboring counties of their native State. The name (sometimes spelled Malungeon) is said to be derived from the French “Melange,” meaning mixture or medley, and this is generally accepted as the correct derivation. But it has been suggested (by Lucy S. V. King, writing for the Nashville American) that the name was derived from “Melanism,” a word of Greek origin, denoting an excess of black pigment in the skin.

But let the origin of their name be what it may, the Melungeons have been and are still a peculiar people. They are as different from their neighbors, the mountain whites, who are the purest descendents of the Scotch Irish and English colonists known today on the American continent, as they are from the Pennsylvania Dutch or the Connecticut Yankee. They are of swarthy complexion, with prominent cheek bones, jet-black hair, generally straight but at times having a slight tendency to curl, and the men have heavy black beards. They have deep-set dark brown eyes. Their frames are well built and some of the men are fine specimens of physical manhood. They are seldom fat. Their lips are not noticeably thicker nor their feet broader than those of pure Caucasians, and although their hair is sometimes wavy it is seldom, if ever, kinky. Some of the small boys with their uncombed hair, dirty faces and wide, staring eyes look like young Indians fresh from their smoky wigwams. The girls, however, with their brown eyes, rosy cheeks and heavy black locks are good examples of natural beauty. The language of these people has many interesting and peculiar idioms but does not seem to differ much from that used in other remote rural sections of East Tennessee.

These are some of the more marked characteristics of the pure Melungeons, but the typical physical characteristics are gradually disappearing as outsiders intermarry with them or as they venture out into the outside world to lose their identity. For from this parent colony in Hancock County, Tennessee, they have emigrated to several nearby counties and many are reported to be living in the Cumberland Mountains in Bledsoe, Van Buren, Franklin, Marion, and White counties, and near Dayton in Rhea County a colony of 200 is reported, among whom “Noel” is the predominating name. The theory has also been advanced that the “strange people of the Ozarks” are an offshoot of the Melungeons. But to say the least, this is unproved.

The origin of these peculiar people is an unsolved mystery, although many have tried to trace their ancestry back to some definite race or locality. Some say that they are the remnant of Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colony and others that they are the descendents of some ancient colony of refugees fro Venice, Servia, or Portugal. Some of the Melungeons themselves claim such an origin. Those in Rhea County claim to be of Servian descent and those in Hancock County say that they are of Portuguese extraction.

Judge Louis [sic] Shepherd, of Chattanooga, some years ago had an important case in which he established by a tradition existing among these people but without historical proof, that they are of Portuguese ancestry. His theory is that they are descended from the ancient Phoenicians, who settled Carthage about 850 B.C., probably best known to the average reader through their famous general Hannibal. From Carthage they moved westward to Morocco and from Morocco they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to southern Portugal. Here they resided for some time, and from this group Shakespeare’s Othello was descended. A colony of the Moors, it is claimed, crossed the Atlantic Ocean prior to the Revolutionary War and settled on the northern part of the South Carolina coast, where they multiplied and amassed some property. A number are said to have resided near Spartanburg, S. C., during the war of independence. The South Carolinians, however, would not receive them on terms of equality and at times excluded their children from the schools, on the ground that they were negroes. At that time South Carolina levied a per capita tax on free negroes. It is said that the continued attempts to collect this tax from these strange people led them to emigrate in a body and cross the Great Smoky Mountains a part of the Allegheny chain, beyond which they penetrated deep into the trackless and uninhabited wilderness and finally settled in the remote Blackwater Valley. Here they lived unmolested until the Scotch Irish, spreading westward fro the Watauga settlements, in Tennessee, discovered them in the closing years of the eighteenth century.

This is quite a fine theory, but most people are more prosaic and hold the Melungeons to be a mixed race, having Indian, Negro, and Caucasian blood in their veins. This the word “Melungeon” itself would indicate and the Bureau of Ethnology at Washington classifies them as a branch or offshoot of the Croatan Indians of North Carolina, who are a people of obscure and mixed descent in whose veins Indian blood predominates. It is evident from the belief existing among the Melungeons and from more recent emigrants that they came to Tennessee largely from North and not South Carolina. Old Beatty (sic) Collins, a veteran of the Civil War and on4e of the most intelligent and respected of his tribe, says that his grandfather came to the Blackwater valley from North Carolina more than 100 years ago with the first settlers and took up a large tract of land there. Also a man named Stuart, said to be a Melungeon, has recently moved to Hawkins County, Tennessee, from North Carolina, and others are said to still reside in that State. The Sycamore end of this valley, known locally as “Snake Hollow,” is of much more recent settlement. The inhabitants, however, came largely from the Blackwater country, and people still in the prime of life can remember when the first settlers moved into this narrow valley, made their little clearings on the steep mountain sides, erected their crude log huts and planted their little patches of corn and tobacco.

Although many of the Melungeons claim a Portuguese ancestry and some admit having Indian blood in their veins they do not like to be called Melungeons or considered as peculiar people. They simply desire to be called by their names, of which Collins is the most common, while Mullins is a close second. Other common names are: Bolen, Gibson, and Goins, and such names as Lawson, Maloney and Fields are not unknown.

From their English names, taken in connection with the other proof, it seems probable that the story of their Portuguese origin is a myth. At any rate the burden of proof is upon those who make such assertions and some definite historical proof must be produced before such a theory will be generally accepted as correct.

They are very sensitive and become angry if accused of having negro blood in their veins. It is a known fact that some of the Melungeons fought in the War of 1812 and some say that their ancestors were in the revolutionary War; some of them received pensions, voted, and prosecuted white men prior to the Civil War, none of which negroes were allowed to do under the laws existing in those days. Their right to vote, however, was frequently challenged. In one case, in which Col. John Netherland was the defending lawyer, the matter was carried into court and decided by measuring their feet. Four or five were allowed to vote but one was debarred n the ground that his feet were too broad. The people on Sycamore are somewhat darker than those on Blackwater and there the race question has entered the school, some of the white settlers objecting to their children going to school with those of their darker skinned neighbors. This is somewhat strange in view of the fact that from the marriage of a white with a Melungeon some of the children will be dark and others will have very light complexions.

The Melungeons have lived for generations in their secluded valleys and ridges far away from the routes of trade and the centers of population and civilization. There they have eked out an existence by their primitive methods of farming and fruit growing. Being too far from market to be able to properly dispose of heavy or bulky products they long ago began concentrating their corn so that they could carry it to market in jugs. But they soon came to consume the greater part of the contents of the jugs at home, and after the United States revenue law was put into operation, they, with their white neighbors of the valleys and ridges to the east and west, became a law unto themselves and defied all outside authority. They always carried guns or knives and many a bloody murder and foul crime has been committed in this region. By its lawlessness and bloodshed this section came to be known to the inhabitants of the more peaceful side of the Clinch as “yan side,” and to be accused of being a citizen of “yan side” was, to say the least, not a compliment. And of all the clans and tribes of “yan side,” the Melungeons were the worst. Old persons say that they can remember when nurses frightened their children into being good by telling them that if they were naughty the Melungeons would get them, and children were said to creep to bed on cold, stormy nights, frightened, afraid that the fierce dark men from “yan side” would swoop down and carry them off.

Up to two decades ago, whiskey flowed like water in the Blackwater country and moonshining was a common occupation. A stranger who ventured into that region in those days did so at the risk of his life for he was at once taken for a detective or a “revenue.”

In those days Mahala Mullins, queen of the blind tigresses, plied her illegal trade in a large log house that stands on a wagon road on Newman’s Ridge within five miles of a county seat and a temple of justice. Mahala Mullins, herself a Melungeon but the wife of a white man, believed that making and selling of whiskey was a natural and inalienable right. When about sixty years of age she had an attack of fever, following which she developed a kind of dropsy and grew exceedingly corpulent, becoming one of the largest women in the South. She was so large she could not walk, and her heart would not allow her to lie down, hence she was forced to keep a sitting posture continually. She was so large she could not get through the door and was thus confined to her room. So here she sat day in and day out beside a large whiskey barrel with a measure in her hand and sold to all who would purchase. When officers came with a warrant she would smile and tell them to take her, but as she could not walk and as they could not carry her, as she weighed about 500 pounds, they always had to return empty handed. She generally kept a federal license, but on one occasion a State judge grew unusually insistent and ordered the sheriff to bring her to court at any price. This official, however, returned and reported that she was “seeable and talkable but not bringable.”

In those days feuds were of common occurrence. A typical one was the Brewer-Collins feud. At an election a few years ago trouble arose over the right of certain men to vote, and Wiley Brewer, who was a justice of the peace, ordered quiet and was shot and wounded by a Collins. Then, quick as lightning, guns were drawn and a volley fired, as a result of which three men were killed and another wounded. Before the smoke had cleared away, Will Brewer stuck his gun under his arm and continued to hold the election. From that time the Brewers were marked men and a little later they were ambushed and shot by the Collinses. Will Brewer was killed and Wiley Brewer again wounded. He is today living in another part of the county afraid to return to his own home.

These conditions are, however, almost a thing of the past. Over this whole region a new light has dawned and a better civilization and a higher code of morals are penetrating into the remotest recesses of these mountains. Some fifteen years ago Presbyterian missionaries established a school on Blackwater and some seven or eight years later one on Sycamore. About the same time Mahala Mullins died and Beatty Collins, who had already been deputy sheriff for many years, was induced to co-operate with the revenue officers, and with his aid moonshine stills soon became a thing of the past although blind tigers still inhabit some of the dense forests. The Presbyterians, who are an unknown sect in most parts of the Southern mountains, have done much good and have large churches. They have, however, by no means displaced the Baptists, who are the leading sect in the Southern mountains, and Methodists are not unknown. Needless to say that politically the republicans are in the majority.

Feuds are now of seldom occurrence and as moonshining is an occupation of the past a stranger is now as safe on Blackwater as on Broadway, but he is even yet looked upon with curiosity and with more or less suspicion, if he has no apparent business. The people are for the most part sober, hospitable and ore or less industrious, cultivating their mountain farms, knowing and caring little for the happenings of the outside world.

Primitive methods of agriculture still prevail. The farmers live in houses erected by their own hands either from rude logs or rough sawed lumber. On Blackwater frame houses of four or five rooms are not uncommon, but on Sycamore the typical residence is a cabin built of round, unbarked logs, dovetailed together at the corners, having the cracks chinked or daubed with mud and a chimney built of rough, flat stones. Sometimes these cabins have a second room built of rough timber. Vehicles are rare. The merchants and better farmers have farm wagons but the wooden sled is the ordinary means of transportation. Buggies are almost unknown and automobiles undreamed of.

The farming implements are crude. The soil is broken with a bull-tongue plow, the seed sown by hand, the crops cultivated with the double shovel plow and heavy iron hoes, and hauled to the barn on simple wooden sleds. A variety of crops, including tobacco, are grown, so that little food has to be imported, and the narrow meadows are generally in grass to furnish hay for wintering the cattle. Much fruit is grown. Formerly th4e apples were used for making brandy but now they are dried in the sun for market. But if the season is wet crude furnaces are built of rough stones can covered with tin so that the apples are dried in spite of the rain.

Although remote from the routes of trade, commerce has developed to a limited extent. The traveling salesman makes his monthly rounds and in the tiny rural stores the greatest variety of articles are found. Candies, overalls, calicoes and shoes recline upon the shelves beside bolts, horseshoes and nails, while coal oil, dishes, canned goods and novelties are not lacking. In exchange for these articles the merchant takes chickens, eggs, ginseng, dried apples and other light commodities. These he loads into his wagon and hauls to the nearest railroad town, where he sells his produce and reloads the wagon with his miscellaneous merchandise, and at the end of the third day, after fording treacherous streams, climbing steep, rocky hills and toiling laboriously through long quagmires, known as roads, he again reaches his store and unpacks his wares. Grain and other heavy commodities are not grown for export but many cattle are raised and sold to the buyers on their periodic visits, Small saw mills with their portable engines are moved from place to place and saw lumber for local use and walnut and poplar, the only timbers that pay for the haul to the railroad.

Practically all the people wear clothing made of factory woven cloth and “store shoes,” but many of the women still go barefooted, and this is so customary that even barefoot girls are not abashed in the presence of strangers. It is not unusual to see a man and his barefooted wife walking to the store or to the home of some distant friend. They walk single file, a necessity on the mountain trails, and the man always precedes. If such a couple be stopped by a stranger who wishes to inquire the way or make a passing remark, the man after replying will search the stranger’s face with his dark, piercing eyes ands say: “’Pears like I’ve seed you som’ers; what’s your name?”

A stranger can always secure a night’s lodging at any of the primitive homes of these people. But the offer of such hospitality will seldom be made unless asked for directly, and then it will almost never be refused, no matter how poor the accommodations are. The woman cooks the crude meal and places it on the table, but if a stranger be present she invariable refuses to eat until the men have finished, no matter how much room there is at the table of how little she has to do. This rule does not apply to the children, however.

A stranger once spent the night in the dead of winter at such a home. Arising in the morning he was asked by his host if he would like to wash before breakfast, and he replied that he would. His host then asked if he preferred hot or cold water. The stranger was surprised at such a question but as the morning was bitter cold, a heavy snow having fallen during the night, he replied that he’d take warm water. The man of the house thereupon threw a towel across his shoulder and led the way down through the woods to the spring. The visitor wished many times as he trudged through the new-fallen snow that he had chosen cold water, but to use the colloquial expression, “he had his ruthers.”

But after all is said – after the investigator has described the poverty of the many and the primitive customs of all; after the artist has painted in varied hue the exquisite beauties of the landscape; after the invalid has drunk the excellent mineral waters and gone away cured; after the geologist has located all the mineral bearing strata and explained why Blackwater Creek flows northward when all other streams in this section flow southward; after the linguist has accurately recorded all the peculiarities of the vernacular; and after the promoter has estimated the value of the virgin forests and hidden mineral wealth – after all this has been done, the peculiar physical characteristics of the people will remain and the mystery surrounding their ancestry will present an unsolved problem for the historian. The Melungeons, however, are fast losing their identity. Many whites have already intermarried with them and many children with fair complexions, light hair and blue eyes frolic with their swarthy neighbors. But in spite of this race admixture it will be many years before their peculiar characteristics entirely disappear.

1924 Racial Integrity Act (Virginia)

Published by:

1924 Racial Integrity Act

Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act

Chap. 371. – An ACT to preserve racial integrity. [S B 219]

Approved March 20, 1924.

1. Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia, That the State registrar of vital statistics may, as soon as practicable after the taking effect of this act, prepare a form whereon the racial composition of any individual as Caucasian, Negro, Mongolian, American Indian, Asiatic Indian, Malay, or and mixture thereof, or any other non-Caucasic strains, and if there be any mixture, then, the racial composition of the parents and other ancestors, in so far as ascertainable, so as to show in what generation such mixture occurred, may be certified by such individual, which form shall be known as a registration certificate. The State registrar may supply to each local registrar a sufficient number of such forms for the purpose of this act; each local registrar may, personally or by deputy, as soon as possible after receiving said forms, have made thereon in duplicate a certificate of the racial composition, as aforesaid, of each person resident in his district, who so desires, born before June 14, 1912, which certificate shall be made over the signature of said person, or in the case of children under fourteen years of age, over the signature of a parent, guardian, or other person standing in loco parentis. One of said certificates for each person thus registering in every district shall be forwarded to the State registrar for his files; the other shall be kept on file by the local registrar.


Walter A. Plecker, Virginia’s Registrar of Vital Statistics, was a chief proponent of the 1924 Racial Integrity Act

Every local registrar may, as soon as practicable, have such registration certificate made by or for each person in his district who so desires, born before June 14, 1912, for whom he has not on file a registration certificate, or a birth certificate.

2. It shall be a felony for any person willfully or knowingly to make a registration certificate false as to color or race. The willful[sic] making of a false registration or birth certificate shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for one year.

3. For each registration certificate properly made and returned to the State registrar, the local registrar returning the same shall be entitled to a fee of twenty-five cents, to be paid by the registrant. Application for registration and for transcript may be made direct to the State registrar, who may retain the fee for expenses of his office.

4. No marriage license shall be granted until the clerk or deputy clerk has reasonable assurance that the statements as to color of both man and woman are correct.

If there is reasonable cause to disbelieve that applicants are of pure white race, when that fact is stated, the clerk or deputy clerk shall withhold the granting of the license until satisfactory proof is produced that both applicants are “white persons” as provided for in this act.

The clerk or deputy clerk shall use the same care to assure himself that both applicants are colored, when that fact is claimed.

5. It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white and American Indian. For the purpose of this act, the term “white person” shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons. All laws heretofore passed and now in effect regarding the intermarriage of white and colored persons shall apply to marriages prohibited by this act.

6. For carrying out the purposes of this act and to provide the necessary clerical assistance, postage and other expenses of the State registrar of vital statistics, twenty per cent of the fees received by local registrars under this act shall be paid to the State bureau of vital statistics, which may be expended by the said bureau for the purposes of this act.

7. All acts or parts of acts inconsistent with this act are, to the extent of such inconsistency, hereby repealed.