Skip to page body Home About MECC What's New Departments & Services Workforce Services Foundation Faculty & Staff MECC Online
News Review
MECC To Host 18th Annual Melungeon Union
Posted Date: 6/13/2014
Mullins Cabin Vardy, TNBig Stone Gap – Mountain Empire Community College will host the 18th annual Melungeon Union, to be held June 27-28.
The event, held by the Melungeon Heritage Association, is dedicated to documenting and preserving the history and cultural legacy of mixed ancestry peoples of the southern and eastern United States. The theme of the 18th annual union is, “The Future of Melungeon Research.”
The festivities will begin June 27th at 10 a.m. at the Vardy Community Historical Society located in the former Vardy church in Vardy, TN. Events will include a showing of the 2013 documentary The Melungeons of Vardy Valley directed by Ian Cheney and co-produced by Marilyn Cheney and Todd Beckham. Beckham will be present to speak on the making of the film, which follows the quest of Troy Williams to understand his Vardy Melungeon ancestry through DNA testing, and the mixed reactions from other family members. With an original soundtrack, black-and-white watercolor graphics and HD cinematography from the ridges and hollows of north-east Tennessee, the film is an intimate portrait of community, ancestry, and family.
Friday evening will feature a Meet the Authors reception, to be held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at MECC’s Goodloe Center. The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature author Lisa Alther, Nick Douglas, Stacy Webb, K. Paul Johnson and Scott Withrow. Alther, who most recently released her bestseller Blood Feud, a study of the Hatfield/McCoy feud, is also author of a nonfiction memoir of her own genealogical quest for Melungeon ancestors, Kinfolks, and a novel, Washed in the Blood, about a Melungeon community in Southwest Virginia. Douglas, recently published Finding Octave, tracing his investigations of Louisiana Creole mixed race ancestors. Webb, K. Paul Johnson, and Scott Withrow, all contributors to the collection Carolina Genesis: Beyond the Color Line, will be present, along with publisher and author Frank W. Sweet, best known for his Legal History of the Color Line. These works will be available for sale and authors will be available to sign books.
On Saturday, June 28th, a full day of programs will be held at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, beginning at 9 a.m. Several scholarly presentations will address Melungeon history and identity from a variety of perspectives. Laura Tugman, Ph.D., will discuss her doctoral dissertation for Fielding Graduate University, “Seeking Roots in Shifting Ground: Ethnic Identity Development and the Melungeons of Appalachia.” Nancy Gray Schoonmaker, Ph.D, will tell the intriguing story of “Abijah Alley of Long Hollow,” subject of a chapter in a forthcoming collection Con Artists, Enthusiasts, and True Believers. Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman, Ph.D., will explain DNA testing and Melungeon ancestry with particular emphasis on Jewish and Muslim ethnicities in colonial America. Arwin Smallwood, Ph.D., now head of the history department at North Carolina A&T University, will describe ongoing research on mixed race communities of North Carolina and future plans for academic study of the subject. Tammy Stachowicz, Ph.D., will discuss her 2013 dissertation for Antioch University on the Melungeon movement.
The conference registration fee is $10 for Saturday. For a box lunch at Vardy on Friday (orders must be received one week in advance) a $5 charge is necessary to cover costs, and MHA encourages donations of $5 to the Vardy Community Historical Society to support their work. For further information on registration and lodging see the MHA website at or contact Treasurer Paul Johnson at