Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 12:38:22 -0400
From: Anita Puckett
Subject: Long Story on Melungeons--Reply

>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.

First of all, the Knoxville newspaper article did take Kennedy's book at
too factual a basis. Kennedy himself mentions that he's speculating in
this book on many of these issues. And he currently adds that much has
changed since that book was written.

Without questioning your point, Mike, let me add that the Melungeon
movement people (for lack of a more precise label at this time) have gone
to some historians, as I understand it, who are re-opening issues related
to Santa Elena especially with respect to converso immigrants from Spain,
perhaps Portugal who may represent larger populations of Islamic (or former
Islamic) populations. Special interest is being leveled at the outlying
forts which are claimed to have been in the Piedmont or Mountainous areas
of NC, SC and close to the TN/VA tri-cities area. I have not had a chance
to examine these claims seriously, but two intriquing points are that some
"new" data comes from documents formerly in the Soviet Block that are now
available for examination and from re-examining primary documents on Santa
Elena rather than English translations or previous scholars' analyses.
Again, this may all be questionable, but Brent Kennedy's research group has
reputable people on it who are suggesting some interesting possibilities
once we get passed some of the hegemonic processes of racial classification
that affected census data and other "official" labeling systems. Of
especial focus at the moment is Pletcher's efforts here in Virginia. The
following URL has been posted to this list a few times, but, at the risk of
repetition, does contain some
interesting archival data on the racial issues. Also, some interesting
material regarding the distribution of sarcoidosis cases in the US (higher
percentages in western SC and NC) may lead to some further genetic
investigation. My basic point here is that there is more than a "mythical"
reconstruction going on, although it may be deadend.

>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.

See Pletcher story. Also, it's my understanding that the Monacans of
Virginia are collecting data on what Pletcher did to them with respect to
racial classification. An interesting picture is emerging here in Virginia
especially with respect to eugenics.

While you're checking things out, take a look at a Web
>page about Melungeons:

This link no longer works--alternates given get me into some, I think, New
Age sites. Any suggestions?

>I don't recall what the current legal status of the Melungeons might

They don't have one. Don't know that, in general, they want one. In
attending their first reunion last year and in talking with several from
southwest Virginia including Brent Kennedy who has been leading the
resurgence of this claim to ethnicity, a basic issue is simply to offer
some type of historical and cultural legitimation to individuals'
ancestors--to allow them to place themselves in regional history and to
gain some level of identity and respect. Common themes, as I have been led
to believe, for rising ethnicities. I am, however, very taken by the
heart-felt intensity many "Melungeons" have toward this project. However
it plays out, it means a lot to them.
>And why do I know this sort of stuff?

And why do I respond at such length? I am a linguistic anthropologist
whose paternal ancestry is white/Indian Appalachian and who did
dissertation fieldwork on language and culture issues in SW Kentucky a few
years ago. I have a position in Appalachian Studies at Virginia Tech which
is located in an Appalachian area where "Melungeon" is a meaningful word.
Brent Kennedy spoke here last year--about 170 people attended, most from
the county. I found myself involved in an issue of some importance both
here and in the southwest VA/east TN region. I also found myself
volunteering for whatever assistance I can give on the linguistic issues,
although other commitments have kept me from committing much time or effort
yet. Historical linguistics and Native American languages of the Southeast
are not among areas I've studied much at all, so any scholarly interest in
assessing these current debates would be most welcome.

Anita Puckett, Ph.D.
Appalchian Studies Program
Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
343 Lane Hall
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0227
Office: 540/231-9526
Fax: 540/231-7013