12th Union Report

Twelfth Union: A Melungeon Gathering

It might appear to many of you watching this site that we went on vacation after our gathering at LincolnMemorial University.  In some ways we did!  We are all dedicated volunteers and put off many things in our own lives until after our gatherings.  So, we had to play catch up in our lives, families and communities.
We have also been at work completing the many post event chores required each year as well as starting to plan 13th Union.  Still, we need to let those who attended, presented or assisted in any way, as well as those unable to attend this year, know how much MHA appreciates your dedication.  MHA acknowledges all the talented and supportive people who work to make the events happen; you help us and others piece together the myriad of stories and families who are part of this tapestry.
Lincoln Memorial University staff worked from before our arrival until our departure to ensure that those attending the gathering had their needs met.   Presenters included authors Lisa Alther, Elizabeth Hirschman, K. Paul Johnson, Frank Sweet and LMU’s own, Larry Thacker.
Musical entertainment, both formal and informal, was provided by guitarist, Randy Williams & friends; Frank & Mary Lee Sweet of Backintyme Performances, and Jeanne Bornefeld.
Historians Earl Hess and Ron Bryant contributed greatly to our event by providing the historical prospective to a variety of subjects.   Film maker, Julie Williams Dixon, showed her highly acclaimed film,Melungeon Voices, to a packed audience and had her film available for sale for the first time.  To get your own copy, contact Julie at her site.
Researchers (and MHA Board members) Terry Mullins and Toney Kirk also presented programs regarding Melungeon heritage.  We were also well informed on North Carolina connections by researcher,Todd Beckham.  He and author, K. Paul Johnson, discovered family and community connections through each others presentations. Similar connections were made during informal chat groups where participants could discuss regional and familial connections. Our own Lifetime Achievement recipient, Johnnie Rhea, again delighted her audience with stories of her Melungeon experience.  Panel discussions participants,Marilyn Cheney, Helen Campbell, as well as others, addressed issues common to us all in celebrating identity.
Vardy Community Historical Society displayed their exquisite photographic collection and gave a presentation on the Vardy Community. Stacy Webb and Gabe Gabeheart from the Redbone Heritage Foundation each educated us with regard to their group as well as the similar connections and questions that exist for many mixed ancestry groups.   Jim Gifford of the Jesse Stuart Foundation also talked about Jesse Stuart as an individual, a writer and the story behind Deutsia of Daughter of the Legend (the real Barney Green). Jesse Stuart Foundation volunteers even helped at the sales table for two days giving us the opportunity to learn about their mission.  Sue Collins again, in her quietly effective manner, provided amusement and old fashioned education to the young ones through games of days gone by.  She is an example of the family of participants and volunteers who form A Melungeon Gathering.
Brent Kennedy’s presence during a portion of the weekend reminded many of us of the inspiration he has always provided to get beyond the factors that divide people, so as to concentrate on those that unite us.
At our yearly meeting, Lisa Alther about brought down the house with her succinct statement (to the delight of a surprised MHA Board) as she got to the heart of the matter of what MHA stands for.  She said that she had not joined any group since the Queen Teens of Kingsport until now.  She went on to say she had just joined MHA, at our first formal membership drive in years, because it was the first group where she didn’t have to hate anybody!
We concluded the yearly meeting with awards to a few more who so richly deserve recognition.  Founders Awards were given to Audie Kennedy, who was the first MHA president, and to Brent KennedyLifetime Achievement Awards were presented to Thelma Eanes, Wanda Loomis and Irene Wright. Two previous recipients, Claude Collins and Johnnie Rhea, joined in welcoming their new cohorts.
We concluded the gathering by … what else? … gathering informally outside our dorm rooms and singing the night away with the Sweets and Jeanne providing the music.   Even with traffic tie ups from extensive highway construction as well as medical emergencies resulting in a two cancelled speakers, we worked in concert to provide a quality program, in our tradition of sanctuary to a multitude of voices.
 Now, doesn’t all this make you want to sign up now for next year? MHA is having a planning session in early November for the 2009 gatheringWe have already set the dates of 26th and 27th of June at Chief Logan Lodge in Logan, WV so please mark your calendars.  Further details will be posted here and in our newsletter soon after the planning session.