11th Union Report

Before 1607? Melungeons in the New World”

Southwest Virginia Museum, Bigs Stone Gap, 29-30 June 2007

The Melungeon Heritage Association (MHA) and the Southwest Virginia Museum sponsored Before 1607? Melungeons in the New World in conjunction with Virginia’s statewide celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

Southwest Virginia Museum

A reception on Friday evening, June 29th, featured music by Ron Short. Short, a native of the Appalachian Mountains of Dickenson County, Virginia, has worked at Roadside Theater for the past 26 years as a playwright, musician, composer, actor, and director. He scripted and wrote music for 15 musical plays and helped script three others, all currently in Roadside’s touring repertoire. He performs in all of the company’s touring productions.

Speakers on Saturday, June 30, inclulded:
Lisa Alther, best-selling novelist and author of the new memoir Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree; The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors
Jack Goins
Wayne Winkler, author of Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia
Katherine Vande Brake, author of How They Shine: Melungeon Characters in the Fiction of Appalachia
Terry Mullins, researcher, author, and lecturer
Toney Kirk, researcher and MHA board member

Storyteller Linda Goodman
Jim Glanville, respearcher of early Spanish and a Portuguese explorations in southwest Virginia
Turker Ozdogan, artist and Turkish historian
Mattie Ruth Johsnon, author of My Melungeon Heritage

…and more.

The Southwest Virginia Museum was an excellent location; The grounds are beautiful, and the perfect weather didn’t hurt either. Organizers expected 200 or so and wound up with close to 400 –not counting guests, presenters, MHA staff, etc. Naturally., MHA organizers were quite pleased.

There were many highlights to the event, but of course Julie Dixon’s documentary Melungeon Voices was certainly a long-awaited pleasure. She’s put in a lot of time and effort and it shows. She set out to tell Brent Kennedy;s story, of course, but Brent also wanted a balance of viewpoints in this film and Julie achieved that admirably. The running time clocked in at 1 hour 6 minutes, but Julie assures me that if someone like PBS, History Channel, or Discovery Channel picked it up, it could be tightened to fit their time requirements without significant loss of content. I hope it can be seen by a much larger audience in the very near future.

We had a nice room for viewing the film – good sight lines, good audio, not too much ambient light – but it could only seat 50 people. We had a sneak preview Friday evening and another showing on Saturday afternoon, but it was obvious that our planned third showing – and even our stand-by plan of a fourth showing – wouldn’t satisfy the demand for the film. Plus the original room was difficult for Brent to get into. So Julie and her cinematographer Warren Gentry made a last minute move of the entire set-up into the tent, and MHA decided to forgo a discussion session so that we could all see the film before it got too late. It was a good move; Brent was able to see the movie front and center, and everyone who stayed had the opportunity to see it.

Brent’s presence was, of course, very touching for all of us. It was 10 years ago next month that the first Melungeon gathering took place in Wise, Virginia. Few would argue with the idea that he has done more than any individual to stimulate interest in the Melungeons. While Brent’s voice is (for now) stilled and his body is damaged, he is still completely Brent Kennedy, and we certainly have not heard the last of him. His presence in Big Stone Gap was an inspiration to us all, as has been his work for the past decade or more.

The Bluestar Dance Troupe

Bluestar Dance Troupe was founded by Zeki Maviyildiz, who has been sharing his vast experience and talents with his friends. Despite being a new dance group, Bluestar Dance Troupe has introduced Turkish Folk Dances to many audiences. They present a variety of Turkish folk dance pieces from traditional dances to modern choreographies keeping the spirit of the dance. They will be performing Saturday afternoon at 2:15 at the event, and again Saturday evening at Mosby’s in nearby Wise, along with music from the Kennedy Brothers.

The Bluestar Dance Troupe was amazing. They perform a combination of traditional and modern Turkish dance and the result is quite breathtaking. For those of us at Mosby’s on Saturday night, we got an even more entertaining show with not only the addition of the music of the Kennedy Brothers but some quite entertaining audience participation.

We distributed surveys to attendees about what they would like to see in future gatherings. We really want input from those who attend, and those who might attend if we offered more of what they want. Feel free to send suggestions to me atwinklerw@etsu.edu. Keep in mind that we’re a volunteer organization with a very small budget—if you think we need we need a team of genealogists or other sort of experts on hand for workshops, be prepared to be one of them, OK?

Thanks again to all who attended. Those of you who have presentations in electronic form, just send them to me if you’d like us to add them to the website. And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send pictures! Best wishes to all, and we’ll have another great get-together next year!

Wayne Winkler
Melungeon Heritage Association