Julie Williams Dixon
Randolph-Macon College will present “Melungeon Voices,” by filmmaker Julie Williams
Dixon, on February 18, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. in Room 212, Old Chapel. The film focuses
on a little-known population of mixed ancestry native to the Appalachian mountain
region. Dixon will introduce the film and lead a post-film discussion. This event
takes place in conjunction with the First-Year Experience
course “Vanished Peoples, Untold Stories,” taught by Professors Reber Dunkel
(sociology) and Kimberly Borchard (Spanish).
This event is free and open to the public.
Their origins shrouded in mystery, the Melungeons of Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee
and other Appalachian mountain communities have various oral histories, some groups
claiming their ancestors were here as early as the late 1500s.
“These family oral histories profess Melungeons to be descendants of Spanish, Portuguese
and/or Turkish soldiers and sailors who intermarried with Native Americans,” explains
Dunkel. “Academicians often consider them to be ‘tri-racial isolates’ of dubious
origins. Even the origin of the name ‘Melungeon’ is disputed. During the eugenics
and racial purity movements in Virginia, under the 1924 Racial Integrity Law state
officials reclassified Virginian Indians as ‘black’ and persisted in accusing the
Melungeons as using their traditional ancestry as a camouflage for African heritage.”
This film follows the search of Dr. Brent Kennedy, author of The Melungeons: The
Resurrection of a Proud People, for his ancestors’ true ethnicity and illustrates
how his account set off a firestorm of controversy. Part genealogy, part genetics
and part social geography, the story of the Melungeons is ultimately a story of
how diverse Appalachian ethnoracial minorities banded together to survive racial
discrimination in America.
In 2012, published reports of recent DNA testing indicative of African ancestry
among many Melungeons precipitated another flurry of exchanges on social media and
highlighted the disconnect between the test results and the oral tradition of southern
European—not African—identity in the Melungeon community.
“The DNA test results of some Melungeon populations released last year will make
Ms. Dixon’s presentation even more compelling,” says Borchard. “Our course is fundamentally
about how the construction of individual and minority group identities feed into
the construction of larger American identities as a whole. After exploring Spanish
and Native American colonial narratives, the focus of the course this semester is
how social media affects racial and ethnic groups’ self-identities, as well as those
of gender/sexual minorities and people with disabilities. Our students have been
doing genealogical research about their own ancestors and recording oral histories
of their families as they reflect upon the multiethnic composition of America.”
Dixon will introduce the film and talk about the filmmaking process. After the screening
of the hour-long film, she will address the controversy about the Melungeons’ identity
and genealogy, drawing upon the example of her own family.
This event is sponsored by the First-Year Experience
program, the Film Studies program, and
by CASE (Committee on Assemblies and Special Events.)