Friday, July 15, 2005

REVIEW: From Neither Separate Nor Equal, Women, Race and Class in the South

From Neither Separate Nor Equal

Women, Race and Class in the South

Edited by Barbara Ellen Smith

Temple University Press Philadelaphia

Chapter 2 Trangressions in Race and Place: The Ubiquitous Native Grandmother in America's Cultural Memory

Darlene Wilson and Patricia D. Beaver

This review of the above handles only a few of the points in this paper. I highly encourage anyone interested to seek out the total. It is well worth reading.

In this article the authors note that "by the nineteenth century, however, ancestral links to native grandmothers undermined the claims to whiteness of those who sought racial privilege; they also implicitly challenged the emerging concept of race as a fixed biological reality. Their existence therefore tended to be hidden from public scrutiny by genealogical lies and evasions as well as by legal and social constrictions."

This statement gives us the beginnings of the hidden agenda of many Melungeon families. Don't ask, don't tell, long before this term became well known.

An important note in this article states that "A graduate-school professor of history has interpreted the Melungeons as "Indian-wannabees" who became 'irrelevant' to the history of the indigenous people of the southeastern United States when they mixed with other groups and abandoned their traditional Indian cultures. Similarly, according to inhabitants interviewed in the late 1870s, all the 'real Indians' disappeared from the mountainous area along the boundary of Virignia and Kentucky 'around 1840' (a date that too closely parallels the westward removal of eastern tribes in 1838 to be coincidental), although many so-called halfbreeds remained."

Continuing the authors state that by 1800 mixed ancestried Appalachians had themselves begun to deny their ancestry. Through the following century they "engaged in the process of whitening in order to survive, to achieve citizenship, attain legal rights and protection and retain access to property."

Some of the mixed ancestried people found it impossible to obscure their ancestry. Many of these simply went west. Females on the other had found this an impossible task because of their responsibilities for caring for the young and the elderly. It was the 'new blood' that made an impact particularly "in the form of light(er)-skinned, blue-eyed male in-migrants." These mixed ancestried women helped to 'diffuse remnant markings of 'otherness' by acquiring Anglo-sounding surnames' and in the process lost their own family surnames.

They were the way for their families to enter into the public records as 'white' and thereby they secured 'title to ancestral lands.'

"Despite credible physical, documentary, and oral evidence, some scholars still tend to dismiss ethnically 'white' Americans' claims to Indian heritage as par of the American post-Removal fantasy. In 'The Tribe Called Wannabbe,' Rayna Green suggests that the quest is a two or three century old 'illness' with a 'deadly purpose.' Indians in effect, loved to death through playing Indian, while despised if they want act out their real traditional roles on the American landscape."

The authors define Melungeon in this article as "a label given to the first true American cultural fusion and diffusion, the result of native women's embrace of different, 'male offshore others,' be they Ottomans, Englishmen, Portuguese, Spanish, fleeing African laborers, shipwrecked gold-seekers, or willing castaways. Pochantas's rescue of John Smith is the polarized, romanticized, now Disneyfied version of the relationship."

English-speaking travelers in the southern Appalachians, came upon communities of ethnically mixed peoples who were not easy to categorize in the mid-seventeenth century. Later European migrant families coming into the area had their survival dependent upon the hospitality of these 'more-native-than-not' women and their mixed-ancestried children. In the colonial period intermingling wasn't uncommon. In fact intermarriage between whites and Indians was encouraged. Patrick Henry in 1784 introduced a bill that would give tax relief for any white person who married an Indian.

But it was at this same time that captive Africans brought into the labor force caused the legislation that encoded the cultural construct of new race categories, black, white, Negro, mulatto.

"The clarity of the new racial categories was of course more apparent than real. They failed to encompass the complexity of ethnic interaction and mixing, of which the emergence of Melungeons is but one example. The first written record of the 'Melungeons,' by John Sevier (first governor of Tennessee and one of the state's principal organizers), was mad circa 1782-84 but actually recounts a decade or more of contact with a "Colony of dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people, supposedly of Moorish descent, who called themselves Malungeons (sic) and claimed to be Portuguese. They live to themselves exclusively....in the high ridges..... and are looked upon neither as negroes or Indians...(They have) fine European features, straight black hair and dark blue eyes."

The community above SELF-IDENTIFIED as Melungeons. And they claimed to be Portuguese which might simply translate into "Don't kill me! I'm not Spanish or English or French" But this intrepretation "denies credibility to their self-identification and it may underestimate their wisdom in negotiating hostile incoming whites."

By the Revolutionary period Melungeon had become common. "After 1783, victorious white men in valleys adjacent to the Appalachian chain in Virginia demanded that everyone who looked like (or self-identified as) an Indian had to wear some type of badge or carry a pass when traveling from one place to another. Melungeons and other mixed-ancestry people resisted these sanctions and sought to participate fully in community life. Thus as early as 1801, the minutes of the Stoney Creek Primitive Baptist Church (near Fort Blackmore in Washington County, Virginia, now Scott County) included regular references to the Melungeons as a distinct population group."

The following comes from Jack Harold Goins of Rogersville, TN.

"The minutes reveal that the congregation was composed of whites, Melungeons, free Negroes and slaves. From 1801 to 1805 88 new members were added: 33 of these were persons bearing familiar Melungeon names: Gibson, Collins, Moore, Bolin, Bolling, Sexton, Osborne, Maner and Minor.

The congregation made an effort to overcome the prejudice against dark-skinned people prevalent in that period, but reading between the lines, it was apparent that the whites were greatly relieved when the Melungeons began an exodus to (Claiborne County,) Tennesee. According to the minutes, by 1807, most of the Melugneons were gone; eight had received letters of dismission, and five others had been excommunicated for various unrepented sins.

The Melungeons occasionally came back to visit and stay in the homes of church members. The problem that had been solved by the removal of the Melungeons then rose again. The minutes of September 26, 1813 reveal: "Church sat in love. Bro. Killgore, Moderator. Then came forward Sis. Kitchen and Complained to the Church against Sis. Susanna "Sookie" Stallard for saying she harbored them Melungins."

Being Melungeon wasn't really dangerous until 1830 after the Nat Turner rebellion. The backlash all free persons led legislatures in NC/VA/and Tennessee to order all FPCs to leave or obtain written permission from their county's political leaders to stay. County Court Records in western Virginia prior to the Civil War contain petitions filed by 'white(r)' men on behalf of mulatto women.

The authors then go into the article from Littrell's Living Age which I recommend that you all read and then deal with the sexual freedom attributed to Melungeon women. "In this way, traditional native or mixed-ancestry women's sexual and social freedom was trapped between two emerging paradigms: just as racial categorization depended upon racial integrity, so Anglo-American patriarchy relied upon strict control of women's sexuality."

Then comes the reference for 'Old Horny.'

The authors end with: "Tracing the ancestry of our individual (great-great....) grandmothers is, for most of us, not possible; in the broad landscape of history, it may not eve be most important. What does matter is that we continue to search for the innumerable lost grandmothers - of whatever hue or inflection---whose experience exposes the fiction of our own racial, ethnic, intensely gendered identities."

I agree!

By Nancy Sparks Morrison

 

 

 

1 comment:

glovierlitton said...

HI NANCY;
OUR STORIES ARE THE SAME AS YOU KNOW BY NOW WE HAVE TALKED SO OFTEN BUT I TOO AM A SW. VA GIRL WHO HAVE HAD SO MANY AUTO IMMUNE PROBLEMS AND HAD EVER TYPE OF PROBLEM YOU CAN IMAGINE RELATED TO ALL TYPES OF ARTHRITIS DIAGNOISED ETC. I TOO HAD A POSITIVE RESULT WITH COLCHICINE FROM DR. CHRIS MORRIS AND HAD IMMEDIATE IMPROVEMENT. I REJOICE EVER DAY BECAUSE I HAVE A NEW LEASE ON LIFE. I AM BLONDE BLUE EYED BUT HAVE MELUNGEON CONNECTIONS ON BOTH SIDES AND LIKE NANCY KNEW SOMETHING WAS GOING ON IN MY FAMILY LINES AND AM SO GRATEFUL FOR WEB SITES LIKE NANCY'S AND THE WORK THAT HAS BEEN DONE ON OUR BEHALF. SUE LITTON