End of ADS-L Digest - 17 Jun 1998 to 18 Jun 1998
There are 11 messages totalling 626 lines in this issue.

Topics of the day:

1. Long story on Melungeons
2. Rock and Roll (1940s and 1950s)
3. Hello; Skel
4. meat-eater & qualifer
5. plural's - a new development? (2)
6. seeking a verb for what a consultant does
7. Long Story on Melungeons--Reply
8. AAVE at the university
9. plural's - a new development? (short reply to LONG repost) (2)


Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 01:29:12 -0500
From: Mike Salovesh
Subject: Re: Long story on Melungeons

Somehow, the attempt to derive the word "Melungeon" from Turkish or
Arabic sounds tremendously mythological. There just isn't that much
evidence of Turkish OR Arabic speakers in the right neighborhood at the
right time.

Another myth attributes the word to French "melange", taken to be a
clear reference to some kind of mixture. Given the history of people
called Melungeons I can see why a label directly referring to mixture
would not be very comfortable.

Melungeons seem to me to fit the same niche as several other groups:
"Redbones", "Lumbee Indians", "Red Ankles", and others. In each case,
the historical evidence strongly suggests that the group in question are
descended from a combination of Europeans, Native Americans, and
African-derived populations. In a time of legal segregation, members of
these groups fought hard to establish a social identity that was NOT, in
the language of the day, Negro. They had to swim upstream against the
rule of hypodescent: that "one drop of blood" rule. Each group tended
to have "swarthy" skins and dark-colored hair, which would not be
surprising if some of their ancestors were free persons of color or
escaped slaves. The self-declared "whites" who surrounded them always
suspected black ancestry, and denied full acceptance as their kind of
"white". But several groups -- the Lumbee have been the most successful
-- were able to impose acceptance of a view that even if they weren't
"white", they certainly should not be lumped with "blacks".

As it happens, last year I was drawn into saying much more about
Melungeons because of an inquiry on another list. I'll copy the heart
of what I said then as a postscript to this email.

-- mike salovesh
anthropology department
northern illinois university PEACE !!!

=========== My old message on Melungeons, edited =============

Date: Tue, 30 Dec 1997 04:33:19 -0600
From: Mike Salovesh

[Alla asked] if anybody out here ever heard of "Melungeons". Sure I
have -- as I've heard of Redbones and Red Ankles (who may or may not be
the same as people called "Brass Ankles"; I don't remember the details
just now) and the Lumbee Indians and a lot of other groups. As I
recall, the first time I read about all of them in one place was in a
book called "Almost white". The author was Brewton Berry, the publisher
Macmillan, and I think the date was 1963. Check it out: it may be the
clearest and least biased general source. At least that's what I
remember -- but I think the last time I actually read the book was in
1968 or 1969. While you're checking things out, take a look at a Web
page about Melungeons: http://www.boondock.com/juliawhite/unred.html

Let me see. The Melungeons, as I recall, lived/live in eastern
Tennessee, West Va., and Va.; the Red Ankles in South Carolina; the
Lumbees in North Carolina (centered on the town of Pembroke). I forget
where the Redbones are: could it have been Mississippi?

What these groups share is that they came into being on the fringes of
advancing European settlement in areas that were to become the U.S. Most
of them have created oral histories that claim continuity with some
"Indian tribe" or another. (I don't like the word "tribe" because it
has no general definition. It's one of those words that conceal much
more than they reveal.) Melungeons have recently taken to claiming
Mediterranean descent, possibly from Turks or Arabs. I don't set much
store by these more or less "official" histories because they seem to me
to grab for connections to European historical sources on awfully slim
evidence, if there is any at all. (Lumbees and Melungeons and Red
Ankles all have claimed, at one time or another, to be descendants of
the "tribe" that rescued -- and intermarried with -- the survivors of
Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony at Croatan, for example. There still
is no credible evidence that anyone out of that colony survived at all.
The record strongly suggests that relations between the colonists and
surrounding Native American groups were extremely hostile. It seems to
me that the most likely fate of the colony was that their neighbors,
exasperated at the colonists' frequent use of deadly force against them
-- and that is well attested in the historical record -- finally decided
that the only thing to do with them was kill them all.)

The mixed populations on the fringe of settlement became more or less
cohesive groups that stuck together through time (centuries of time,
now), with a strong tendency to marrying within their own groups. Along
the way they forged collective identities that took up various
assortments of ideas, customs, and cultural traits that came from three
groups: Native Americans, European settlers, and Africans (including
both "free men of color" and "runaway slaves"). All of these groups
that I know about included people of the same origins as the cultural
elements that became parts of the mixed, combined cultures of their
descendants. The real histories of their origins aren't that
different from those of the "Civilized Nations" of Georgia -- Cherokees,
Choctaws, etc. Neither are they all that different from Florida's
Seminoles. In terms that would be most meaningful to contemporary
bigots, all of these are "tri-racial" groups, but I don't think that
"racial" classifications tell us anything about cultures in the first

Most of the groups I think of as most like the Melungeons have spent a
lot of time and effort, over the years, in establishing social positions
that occupy unique niches in their local areas. They strongly wanted to
avoid classification as "Negroes" or "blacks" or "colored people"
because of the obvious disadvantages of being assigned to that status.
But many families in each of these groups had at least some children who
just didn't look "white" -- or "Indian", either. Historically, the
struggle for most of these groups was to gain recognition as some kind
of "Indians". At least some of them have had some limited success.

I don't recall what the current legal status of the Melungeons might
be. I do know that the Lumbees have finally been recognized under North
Carolina law -- and by act of the U.S. Congress -- as an "Indian tribe".
Their status as Indians, however, is an oddball one. The same U.S. law
that recognized their "Indian" identity also explicitly ruled that the
Lumbees could not have access to the services, if that's the word for
them, of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The law explicitly states
that the Lumbees have no treaty rights with the U.S.

And why do I know this sort of stuff? Because I consider intergroup
relations to be one of my specialties. (I used to say that I did
"minority studies", until I concluded that the groups we call minorities
aren't defined by numbers. "Minority" is a political status, not an
arithmetical measure.)

A few years ago, I discovered that one of my old students from the 1960s
now has an interesting job with the U.S. Bureau of the Census: he's an
anthropologist charged with investigating, and testifying as an expert
witness, in cases where groups are trying to get recognition as "Indian
tribes" under U.S. law. He says that he started down that road because
of some problems I had raised, in my teaching, about how you figure out
what the boundaries of social groups or societies or cultures might be.

That's all very well, but I wouldn't have his job for the world. These
just aren't questions that have a single, unequivocal, scientifically
sound answer. Whatever he comes up with in any particular case is going
to make some people very angry, while those on the other side of the
same question won't be entirely happy, either. . . and the final
outcome, whatever it is, is bound to have a lot of arbitrariness that
ignores perfectly true facts.

================== End of edited version of old message ============