The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People

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9780865545168: The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People
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As early as 1654, English and French explorers in the southern Appalachians reported seeing dark-skinned, brown- and blue-eyed, and European-featured people speaking broken Elizabethan English, living in cabins, tilling the land, smelting silver, practicing Christianity, and, most perplexing of all, claiming to be "Portyghee." Declared "free persons of color" in the late 1700s by the English and Scottish-Irish immigrants, the Melungeons, as they were known, were driven off their lands and denied voting rights, education, and the right to judicial process. The law was enforced mercilessly and sometimes violently in the resoundingly successful effort to totally disenfranchise these earliest American settlers.

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About the Author:

N. Brent Kennedy, founder of the Melungeon Research Committee, is a native of Appalachia and a Melungeon. One day he began explaining to his parents their heritage and thus unraveled family mysteries that go back for generations. After years wondering about the mysterious dark-skinned people he had often encountered while growing up, he realized that he was indeed one of them, that his family was part of the proud, troubled heritage of the Melungeons. He earned degrees from Clinch Valley College of the University of Virginia and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Review:

As Alex Haley's book Roots encouraged African-Americans to search for their African history through family stories and "myths," Kennedy's own search for identity through family history has encouraged a population of mixed-race people to search for their origins. This has led to the recovery of lost pride and a new self-identity. The book has also forced academics to admit their long history of denial of the diversity of American people and to recognize the multicultural composition of the American population. -- Helen M. Lewis, Retired Professor of Sociology and Appalachian Studies

Brent Kennedy is the prime mover behind the recent, and astonishing, revival of Melungeon identity. His determination to uncover and to understand his heritage makes for a fascinating story, which is still in the process of unfolding. But this is the book that started it all. -- John Shelton Reed, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

For fifty years, since I first heard the word "Melungeon" and visited their home-sties in the hills of Tennessee, I have been intrigued by the history, and mystery, of my distinctive neighbors. Plagued by two centuries of rumor, superstition, and deliberate misinformation about their origin and character, they were third-class citizens in an Appalachia already burdened by second-class stereotypes.

How welcome then is Brent Kennedy's scholarly and wide-ranging search for the truth behind the Melungeons' origin. It is a fascinating work carrying an implicit reminder of the worth and pride of every human being. -- Wilma Dykeman, Tennessee State Historian and author of The Tall Woman, Tennessee: A Bicentennial History, and The French Broad

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