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The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People Paperback – September 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews


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

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Mercer University Press; 2 Sub edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865545162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865545168
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Sami Ferliel on November 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book, and the theories included, is being
proved by growing archival evidence and, just as
importantly, new DNA research. The Melungeons do not
deny their multi-racial composition and, in fact,
have all races represented on their leadership Board
(MHA). But in addition to English, African, and
Native American, their long-standing claims of
Portuguese, Turkish, East Indian, and Jewish heritage
are finally being proved. As but one example, England
was clearly ridding itself of Ottomans, Gypsies and Jews
by sending them to America as indentured "English" settlers
and servants in the 1600s. It's unfortunate that
some people cannot grasp the reality that all humans
are a wide composite of many races and that to insist
on a simple three race component (tri-racial)
and to ridicule long-standing oral traditions on
origins - is both closed minded and indicative of a
lack of understanding of world population migrations.
Kennedy occasionally goes out on limbs that most scholars
would not, but more often than not he has been right.
His work teaches us that,in essence, no one is who they
think they are and this, I believe, is the first step
toward ending racism. I highly recommend his book
for those who genuinely seek truth and have no
political ax to grind. I applaud the fresh ground that
he has plowed.
Sami Ferliel, Ph.D.
Retired Faculty
Yuzuncu Yil University
Van, Turkey
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating look at a relatively unknown ethnic group that first hit the American shores in the 1500s, settling eventually in Appalachia, and taking on new ethnic strands through the centuries. Influences in the Melungeon ethnic make-up include possible Moorish, Iberian, Turkish, Anglo-Irish, American Indian, and others, resulting in an ethnic group that is just now becoming fully conscious of its roots. In addition to the human interest of the book, I found it fascinating from historical, cultural, and spiritual perspectives- I was reminded that we are all pretty mixed up from an ethnic perspective and yet we all come from the same Source. Mr. Kennedy, who is Melungeon, has done his own people a great service with this book, but also a great service for all Americans, who can learn a little more about their history, including the not-so-pleasant side. Highly recommended for anyone interested in U.S. history, the history of ethnic groups in America, the culture of Appalachia, or the history of a very interesting people, the Melungeons.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Chris Johnson on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
The traditional picture of the peoples of early America, white, black, and red, is an inaccurate one. This country is dotted with hundreds of peoples who may be closer to one or the other of the above three categories, but who don't really fit in any of them. These include the Ramapo Mountain People of New York and New Jersey, the Brass Ankles of South Carolina, the Redbones of Louisiana and numerous other groups, some of whom are completely unknown outside of their regions.
The most celebrated of these peoples are the Melungeons of western Virgina, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee and this book is an attempt to write their history. I say "attempt" because until fairly recently, one did not describe oneself as a Melungeon or a Brass Ankle; these were perjorative terms used by outsiders and were strenously and sometimes violently objected to. Consequently, America is filled with people whose families moved around a lot, whose genealogies are muddled if they have one at all and whose family stories are non-existent. People like me(I've pretty much decided that I'm a member of one of these groups, although I have no definite idea which one).
According to Dr. Kennedy, the Melungeons may be the descendents of shipwrecked Spaniards, with Portuguese and even Turkish elements, who intermarried with Indians, escaped slaves and poorer whites. Indeed, when they were first encountered, they called themselves Portuguese even though they spoke English. As might be expected, documentation is sparse. Dr. Kennedy, a Melungeon, makes excellent use of his own family's history and genealogy. Some of his conclusions don't, it seems to me, seem completely warranted by what facts there are. But, all in all, this is fascinating book and an excellent beginning to in-depth research on these peoples. One can only hope that members of other such groups will follow Dr. Kennedy's lead. In the meantime, I cannot recommend this book too highly.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
I grew up with Melungeon classmates in southeastern OH and picked this up out of curiosity. What a fascinating story! The subtitle is perhaps a little misleading. I almost avoided the book because it sounded like a diatribe about ethnic massacres; whereas it is really a geneaological journey that weaves in the Melungeon experience in America. At first it comes off as an esoteric delving into the author's geneaology; but as the story unfolds, the reader becomes sucked into the fascinating story of Kennedy's family and their colorful Melungeon roots.
A downside is that he is quick to take scientists to task for their hesitancy about alternative views on Melungeon origins. He seems not to be aware that researchers, in ANY scientific field, need to exercise caution and cannot advocate new hypotheses without data. Meanwhile, he exercises no such caution about his ideas -- speculation on everything from lost colonies, to some really far-fetched word origins -- runs rampant. If not for this I'd give it 5 stars. That being said, this is a fun and fascinating book, and the author's enthusiasm really comes through; a great introduction to a fascinating people.
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