2008 News, 2009 Plans

In the eight months following publication of Pell Mellers, I gave ten presentations and interviews about the book and updated this blog twice monthly.   My project for 2009 is a chapter on Quakerism in the Albemarle region, and the blog will be updated only to report on three noteworthy events.  First, on February 6 I be in Ahoskie to attend a dramatic production created by Marvin T. Jones to celebrate the history of the triracial community of the Winton Triangle in Hertford County.  The National Genealogical Society will hold its annual conference in May in Raleigh, where I will volunteer at the Melungeon Heritage Association table in the exhibit hall between attending sessions relevant to my current research.  MHA’s 2009 Union will be held the last weekend in June at Chief Logan Conference Center in West Virginia, and I look forward to the participation of Arwin D. Smallwood of the University of Memphis, who will present his research on the Tuscarora diaspora, inspired by his family roots in the Indian Woods region of Bertie County.

Madame Blavatsky: Spiritual Traveller, an independent documentary by Donna Zuckerbrot in which I am featured, debuted in January and is now being seen on four cable channels in Canada.  The Inner West, in which my chapter on Blavatsky is included, was translated into Portuguese in Brazil.  A collection of excerpts from Edgar Cayce edited by Robert A. Smith, whose introduction mentions my work on Cayce, was published in Romanian translation as Toate sufletele trec dinculo.  2008 brought a satisfying conclusion of a controversy that erupted late last year on the international scene.  The scholarly journal Religion, based in the Netherlands, published an article by Iranian-born British Baha’i scholar Moojan Momen, naming me first in a list of twelve “apostates” allegedly motivated by a lifelong hatred of the Baha’is.  Dan Jensen’s website has a section including his own dissection of the Momen controversy and my letter of protest to the editors.  The discussion concluded this year with publication of Denis MacEoin’s reply in the pages of Religion, which deftly unravels the scholarly pretensions of Momen’s exercise in heretic labelling. 

News on the American scene has been happily less exciting.  I am especially happy to see the Mount San Antonio College Philosophy Group publish David C. Lane’s article “Edgar Cayce and the Skeptic,” which originally appeared as an online review of Edgar Cayce in Context, as the first chapter in his collection Believer/Skeptic

Also new this year from the MSAC Philosophy Group is Andrea Diem-Lane’s The Guru in America.  In it she extends the concept of “genealogical dissociation,” which David Lane originally applied to Eckankar and Radhasoami, to the entire range of Sant Mat offshoots in America.  She takes note of my embrace of the concept in Initiates of Theosophical Masters with reference to Theosophical history.  I regard Lane’s scholarship on Radhasoami as crucial to understanding issues facing Theosophical historians.  Early this month, Gary Lachman’s The Occult in Politics marked a milestone in Theosophical publishing by stating the relevance of Ranbir Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir, and Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia, founder of the Singh Sabha, as important influences on Blavatsky.  Lachman’s is the best book from Theosophical Publishing House in years, and deserves a broad readership.  He considers my approach to Blavatsky “controversial claims,” the Theosophical party line since 1995, but otherwise treats the subject of the Masters responsibly.  Ken Monteith’s Yeats and Theosophy, published by Routledge, is the third study of Yeats to cite The Masters Revealed.  John Fitzgerald’s The Necronomicon: Everything You Never Wanted to Know is the second book to relate my Blavatsky research to the fantasy novels of H.P. Lovecraft, after the late Tim Maroney’s  The Book of Dzyan.  Of all the books this year in which I find mine cited, the one of greatest personal interest was Peter Levenda’s Stairway to Heaven.  It appraises what the author calls “ascent literature” and the final chapter is on the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, the parent organization of the Church of Light.  I will introduce a showing of the Zuckerbrot documentary at the biennial conference of the Church of Light in June in Albuquerque.

A Long Line of Southern Outcasts

Last weekend I attended a retreat for the Melungeon Heritage Association, which has just invited me to join the board as a consultant. Our charge was to start plans for the 2009 Union which will be held at Chief Logan Conference Center in southern West Virginia. This occasioned a fair amount of discussion of MHA’s purpose and future, and my fellow consultant Elmer Maggard, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist from Kentucky, provided food for thought that has occupied my mind ever since. He described the deep human need for a sense of belonging, rooted in our evolutionary history in which exclusion from the group was a death sentence. Dr. Maggard stressed the experience of shame and exclusion in the history of mixed race Southerners, and the potential role of MHA in bringing pride to replace the culturally induced shame. He suggested that it is worthwhile to focus on the most shameful individual or episode in one’s family history, and seek healing reconciliation of the psychic damage that has been carried down through generations. This led me to realize that the story of Pell Mellers is very much about outcasts and shame, through many generations.

My father became an outcast from his family in the early 1960s when his relationship with an African American woman led them to try to have him declared insane, and when that failed, pressure him to leave Virginia under threat of prosecution for miscegenation. But he had an earlier experience of being an outcast, when the death of his father led to separation from his mother as he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents. His father Fred had experienced the ultimate destiny of the outcast, death in an honor killing at the hands of his own father-in-law as punishment for his failures as a husband and father. Fred’s father John Henry Johnson had been one of eight brothers all of whom left their native Bertie County around 1900 following political changes that made white Republicans and former Unionists persona non grata in the county. While there are no records of the Johnson brothers being outcasts individually or personally, they belonged to a family and community that was treated as outcasts for political and possibly for ethnic reasons.

In retrospect, having taken account of the multigenerational family history of being outcast for various reasons, I’m inclined to accept Maggard’s theory that we are driven to resolve psychic conflicts inherited from past generations’ experiences of shame and exclusion. In my daily “real life” I have sought out small rural communities and community organizations that have provided abundant opportunities to bask in the warm glow of belonging and pursuing a common cause. But my literary life, while providing a preponderance of favorable attention from complete strangers, has brought a series of outcast experiences (to be discussed further in my end-of-year summary of 2008 news about my books.)  Was I unconciously driven to recapitulate past traumas in family history by becoming an outcast from adoptive spiritual families?

This question rises to the fore now for two reasons. First, as I review the experience of my maternal Quaker ancestors the theme of outcasts is extremely relevant. First they were persecuted outcasts in Massachusetts, who came to North Carolina after being subjected to horrifying abuse from religious/civic authorities. But after establishing themselves in North Carolina for many generations they became outcasts because of their opposition to slavery, and Quakerism became extinct in Pasquotank County during the Civil War era. There was also the repeated experience of ancestors being made outcasts by the Quaker community for a series of infractions. The central anecdote in my chapter for the forthcoming collection of family histories from Backintyme focuses precisely on the most shameful incident I found in seven years of genealogical research, involving an ancestor who was cast out by the Quakers during the same period that Quakers were becoming outcasts in the region. Maggard suggests that there is some therapeutic imperative to delve into such painful family memories and resolve them; I will take this up as a challenge to make the writing process one of psychological as well as historical discovery.

The second reason that Maggard’s theme is so compelling is that it appears in fiction that I have recently read.  One of the best results of writing Pell Mellers was getting acquainted with Lisa Alther, whose most recent book Kinfolks was her first work of nonfiction, a study of her search for her Melungeon ancestry. After meeting her at a Melungeon Union, I went back to her first novel Kinflicks, and found the protagonist Ginny Babcock to be one the most engaging characters I had ever encountered in a novel. Ginny’s adventures, or misadventures, lead her to experience being an outcast in a very diverse set of circumstances. It starts when her father forces her to go to a northern college to keep her away from her biker hoodlum boyfriend, who happens to be a Melungeon. At the end of the book Ginny is literally an outcast from the home she shared with her husband. Yet one gets the impression that Ginny will continue to bounce back from every reversal of fortune and that her adventures will continue to be entertaining. I’d love to read a sequel. Alther’s second novel, Original Sins, has a darker tone and its outcast characters do not seem likely to find happiness. Its protagonists include two pairs of siblings, in each case with one staying and conforming to the norms of their Tennessee hometown while the other goes north and feels no more at home there than back in the south. The brother who went north eventually comes back south but ends up becoming an outcast in the rural community he loves.

Another American novelist who spent many years as an expatriate in Europe was Mary Lee Settle.  In the wake of my trip to West Virginia, I went to the library in search of her Beulah Quintet.  I had read the last two volumes when they were published in the 1980s, and knew that the five volumes traced the histories of several intertwined West Virginia families from England under Oliver Cromwell to the present.  At the moment I am reading O Beulah Land, which describes the arrival of these families in what would become West Virginia, and finding the theme of outcasts just as pervasive as in Alther’s early novels.  Here is a passage from the introductory notes by Roger Shattuck that I found especially compelling: “The successive generations of the Beulah Quintet set before us not two but three closely related antagonists: American history with its interlocking opportunities and oppressions– our version of fate; the lone individual seeking his place within these engulfing forces of history; and the intense cluster of persons we call `the family’ doing its best to mediate between society and the individual and usually caught itself in a strong seesaw motion between stability and instability.”(xii)

Madame Blavatsky: Spiritual Traveller now available on DVD

This excellent documentary on Madame Blavatsky aired early this year on VisionTV, a Canadian cable channel that features a variety of religious and spiritual programming.  I am featured prominently among the interviewees, and the subtitle was taken from my remarks at the end.  Here is the producer’s website entry for the documentary.  It is also available in multiple online retail outlets in the US and elsewhere.

Virginians for Obama

Virginians have an ambivalent relationship to the South. We are the only state that was literally divided by the Civil War, and while we made a disastrously wrong decision in 1861 we did not follow the Deep South over the Goldwater cliff in 1964. But that was the last year Virginia gave its electoral votes to a Democrat, so my votes in presidential elections have been meaningless in the Electoral College except for my 1976 vote for Carter in Alabama where I was a grad student. The 2008 election is an opportunity for Virginia to redeem itself for the last forty years of racially polarized voting, and I find Obama’s strong lead here highly revealing about my home state and its present role in the national mainstream.  Virginia’s average lead of 7.4% is approximately the same as Obama’s advantage nationally.  It has been suggested that the influx of migrants into Northern Virginia accounts for Obama’s strong lead, but at the rate things are going it appears that he will also carry the rest of the commonweath. Certainly he will carry most of the cities, those of the western half (Danville, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Martinsville, Staunton, Lexington, Radford) as well as those of the eastern half (Norfolk, Richmond, Alexandria, Portsmouth, Petersburg, Newport News, Hampton, and perhaps Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.) The divide in the commonweath is neither latitude nor longitude, but urban/rural; and since the rural element is steadily shrinking, McCain will find few local wins in the state.

Statistically Virginia now has more in common with the northeast than the rest of the South, so its poll results are not surprising except for our long history of Republican presidential votes.  Here is a site with comparative statistics showing Virginia’s rankings in various economic indices.  The constant evocation of fears of terrorism by the McCain campaign reminds me of two points in Virginia history where terrorism inspired self-destructive panic. First was the Nat Turner insurrection, where the murder of 55 whites by a slave army inspired by a religious prophet led to disastrous consequences across the South. The Virginia General Assembly in 1830 had been prepared to undertake serious discussions about ending slavery. By the end of 1831, thanks to the paranoia inspired by Turner, any white Southerner advocating manumission was risking his life and abolitionism became tantamount to treason. In North Carolina, the racial panic inspired by Turner’s terrorism caused the disenfranchisement of Indians; in Tennessee it caused the disenfranchisment of Free Blacks. Across the South it caused attitudes to harden and played a part in making war inevitable. The John Brown attack at Harper’s Ferry further created an atmosphere of panic among Virginia whites that contributed to the disastrous decision to secede from the Union. I see the Civil War as a “let’s you and him fight” in which hotheads from the Deep South, well out of harm’s way or so they thought, made decisions that dragged the Upper South states into a war in which we, not they, would be the biggest losers of life and property.

For most of the following century, Virginia glorified the Lost Cause more than any other state. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Massive Resistance to desegregation was embraced by the state government. But in 1964, Virginia for a change refused to go along with the Deep South and its racial animosities, and gave its electoral votes to Lyndon Johnson at the height of the Civil Rights movement. That was the last time a progressive Virginian could be proud of our state’s role in a national election until this year. Nixon’s Southern strategy turned us “red” and from my first vote in 1972 until the present we so remained.

One explanation of Virginia’s change has said that government employees in the DC metro area, including the military, are thoroughly disgusted with Bush/Cheney politicization of the civil service and military, and are part of the overwhelming Obama groundswell.  Why else is Virginia “turning blue” this year? Part of it has to do with the coattails of state Democrats. Mark Warner is thirty points ahead of Jim Gilmore for the Senate seat vacated by John Warner, not because he’s a Democrat or a liberal or named Warner, but because he is widely acknowledged to have been a much better governor than his predecessor. Jim Gilmore rode into office on a deceptive gimmick (car tax reduction) and ran us deep into the red without ever admitting his fiscal irresponsibility was the cause. His Democratic successor Mark Warner then had to pick up the pieces, and inspired confidence in the process. This perhaps makes Virginians somewhat more immune to Republican economic snake oil than residents of other states. Tim Kaine has likewise been a competent and popular governor who has improved our image nationally. Meanwhile, another Republican ex-governor humiliated us on the national stage in 2006, George Allen with his horrendous “Macaca moment” and various racist skeletons that came out of his closet as a result. Virginians are now represented in the Senate by the far more intelligent, competent, and centrist Jim Webb. Would that my congressman, the “Moozlim”-baiting fanatic Virgil Goode, might likewise be shown the door by voters of the fifth district.

Douglas Wilder, our governor from 1990 through 1994, has been much in the news lately commenting on the present election, and serves as a reminder of what makes Virginia different from the rest of the South.  The world did not come to an end when a black man rose to leadership of our state, and he is generally honored as an elder statesman.  In the wake of the 2004 election, I was aghast at the sectional hatred expressed by many Democrats in online discussion,. This site was all too popular at the time, as stereotyping and scapegoating of Southerners became widespread.   “You’re all alike, and you’re all to blame” led directly to “and we’d be better off without your sort in the country.” The same people who were expressing hatred of Virginians four years ago have probably changed their attitudes. If North Carolina, Florida, and even Georgia give their electoral votes to Obama, it may be time to stop talking about a Republican South, and instead regard these states as part of the Democratic East.  The party realignment will be such as to restrict the Republican heartland to the Deep South, Appalachia, and the Great Plains.  But even if Virginia is the only one of the eleven former Confederate states to turn blue this year, that should suffice to insure victory for Obama.

Genetic Determinism of Geographical Obsessions?

When I finally got meaningful test results for autosomal DNA, more than six years had passed since I first learned of Josiah Dunlow’s reputed half-Indian or full blood status. The finding that my genes were 1/16 East Asian was equally frustrating and satisfying. Satisfying in that it provides confirmation of non-European ancestry; frustrating in that the test’s inability to distinguish East Asian from Native American ancestry had been an object of frequent customer complaint and was now illustrated by my results. (I got an email from an equally frustrated customer of Eastern European ancestry and family traditions of Mongolian admixture, whose results were 94% EU and 6% NA!) The EuroDNA 1.0 test persuaded me to take more seriously a suspicion that had been steadily growing for months yet I had kept dismissing as too unscientific and embarrassing to express in print. Any author whose last book was a sympathetic account of Edgar Cayce is in danger of being considered too woo-woo to be taken seriously as a scholar. And yet here I am reluctantly giving credence to a theory as woo-woo as anything Cayce said in trance. Somehow, our obsessions with specific places and peoples and our travel compulsions are rooted in our DNA. It sounds insane but the evidence is starting to be overwhelming. I have visited 14 foreign countries; some left me cold and only three inspired what I would consider long term love affairs.  My first love was France, which I visited five times between 1984 and 1990 for stays of a week or two. It was twenty years after my first trip to Europe that I learned about French ancestry; just a few lines but enough to ground my feelings for the French in family history. The only country I ever stayed more than a month was India in 1990. And only this month did I receive DNA results showing more than 1/16 of my ancestry to be South Asian. But after that one trip, my travel interest shifted to Mexico; between 1991 and 1998 I made five substantial journeys there plus a couple of border hops from Texas. It was not until three years after my last trip to Mexico that I learned of traditions about Amerind ancestry in my father’s family. And only this month that it was partially confirmed by more than 1/16 East Asian DNA which in light of genealogical and historical evidence can only mean Native American. Although I only visited Spain once, I felt as home there as I had in France. As for other European countries I visited, I felt very ill at ease in Germany, and cool toward Switzerland and Iceland. I never had any inkling of desire to see Slavic countries, Scandinavia, the Arab world, East Asia, or Africa. And none of those places (assuming the EA score to be mistaken) figures at all in my DNA. My haplogroup R1b predominates in France, Spain, and the British Isles, which seems eerie in light of my feeling so at home there and so not at home elsewhere in Europe.

Domestically, the picture is similar. Discount my general interest in northeastern North Carolina which started in the early 1980s and went into overdrive in 2001. That could be attributed to my knowledge of having roots there. But other things of which I was ignorant seem to have blindly driven me. When I left my native Hampton Roads in 1984, it was because I felt strongly drawn to the counties between the James and the North Carolina line: Isle of Wight, Surry, Sussex, and Southampton, all served by the public library system I directed from 1984 to 1988. I used to compulsively ride the back roads of those counties, twenty years before I learned that much of my traceable 17th century colonial ancestry was in Isle of Wight and Surry.  My brother might also be an example of this kind of blind compulsion. All that my mother’s father knew about his ancestry was that his gg grandfather Enoch Rice had settled in Ohio around 1820, and that he was a Welshman who had previously lived in Vermont and Canada. But my genealogical investigations quickly led to the discovery that Enoch was a Massachusetts native whose family had been in the colony for a century before his birth. While I’m a Southerner with a general distaste for things Northern, including the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states, New England was always different; from my first trip there as a teenager I loved it. But my brother did so far more than I; he went to Massachusetts to live 32 years ago and has never left; he travels below the Potomac only rarely and reluctantly. Only after 25 years there did he learn through me of our hundreds of ancestors in colonial Massachusetts.

The sense of being magnetically drawn to ancestral haunts got a lot more specific for me recently thanks to a brick wall breakthrough that led to discovering my direct ancestors Abraham and Judith Sanders who built what is now known as the Newbold-White House in Perquimans County, North Carolina.  It is the oldest surviving structure in the state, and in the early 1980s I became so enchanted with it that I toured it twice by myself and went back twice more with friends and relations in a one year period, something that is true of no other place in the state. Back then its original builders were not known as the estimated date of the house was off by 50 years; only recent dendrochronology established its 1730 date and thus its first inhabitants the Sanders family.  If we are somehow drawn to reconnect with our ancestors recent and remote by traveling to places they lived, even when those ancestors are unknown to us, it is very hard to explain naturalistically. How in the world could such a blind compulsion be carried in our genes? This takes discredited Lamarckian evolution and cubes it, making genes carry not just acquired physical traits but acquired cultural traits. Irrational theories about race and identity have a justifiably nasty reputation thanks to the Third Reich and some right wing occultists. And yet this notion resonates with the spiritual metaphor of the journey back to the Source. The way up is the way down, according to Heraclitus.  Perhaps the “way down” to our ancestral landscapes becomes a “way up” to historical awareness.

Giza: The Truth

Giza: The Truth: The People, Politics, and History Behind the World’s Most Famous Archaeological Site, by Ian Lawton and Chris Ogilvie-Herald, was first published in London in 1999, with an American paperback edition of 2001 that includes new information in appendices.  According to the author’s website it has sold more than thirty thousand copies.   Edgar Cayce is discussed as a factor in alternative Egyptology, and the authors cite my Edgar Cayce in Context:

We have already suggested that Cayce’s medical diagnoses and healing powers have been pretty well confirmed.  A scholarly and long-overdue critique of Cayce’s readings and beliefs has been recently prepared by K. Paul Johnson, whose Edgar Cayce in Context is the first serious work to be produced by someone largely independent of the ARE.  Johnson suggests that `it can be said with confidence that the general health guidelines in the readings have been increasingly confirmed in the century since Cayce’s death. Turning to his many prophecies, particularly about significant `earth changes’, which were to include not only the `Second Coming’ of Christ but also massive geological upheaval in the Americas and elsewhere, these are analyzed in detail by Johnson.  Most have not been fulfilled, especially since in the main  the readings suggest that they were due to happen at the latest by 1998. (p. 246)…  So how do Cayce’s Atlantean readings stand up if we examine the possible sources of esoteric, rather than practical corroboration?  The manuscript-based accounts prepared by Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine have a great many similarities with Cayce’s readings, not least in their descriptions of the five `root races’ of mankind that have so far existed on this planet.    However, not only does Johnson provide a thorough comparison of Cayce’s Christian theosophy’ with Blavatsky’s `esoteric theosophy’, but he also reveals that these readings started only in 1923, when a prosperous printer by the name of Arthur Lammers came to him for a reading.(p. 247)…

 

Virginia highest of ten states in Native American admixture: average 6.2%

Lisa Alther just alerted me to this fascinating new information about estimated DNA profiles for ten different states.   See page 5 for the best summary in chart form.  Virginia is next to lowest for Subsaharan African admixture in Caucasians, and highest for Native American admixture.  If my 6% EA admixture as estimated in the AncestrybyDNA test is actually Native American, as I believe due to my brother’s 13% NA/0% EA results, that just makes me a typical white Virginian– far more Indian than the typical resident of these nine other states.  Also noteworthy is that Virginia ranks higher in Mediterranean DNA than most other states, which fits my own results and should be of interest to Melungeons of Southwest Virginia.   This motivates me to get the DNATribes test ASAP!

First translation (Portuguese)

The Inner West, a 2004 collection edited by Jay Kinney which included a chapter I wrote on Helena Blavatsky, has been published in Sao Paolo in Portuguese translation as Esoterismo e Magia No Mundo Ocidental. Google trends shows that Brazil has the highest level of searches using Blavatsky with the top three cities in frequency all being in Brazil.   So it is not surprising that the first translation of anything I’ve written about her would be published there.  The Masters Revealed was published in English in an Indian edition in Delhi in 1997 by Indian Books Centre but presumably the Brazilian edition of The Inner West will have a much larger readership.

12th Union Melungeon Gathering Report

Last weekend’s 12th Union gathering of the Melungeon Heritage Association was surprisingly harmonious and upbeat in light of recent tensions that led to the creation of a new rival group, the Melungeon Historical Society, led by former MHA president Wayne Winkler.  Controversies leading to this development can be traced in the January and February archives of the melungeon-l Rootsweb listserv.

The gathering was held at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, an ideal venue for me to honor Southern Unionists in one corner of the South where Abraham Lincoln is venerated.  The campus faces Cumberland Mountain and is within a couple of miles of Cumberland Gap.  The schedule was subject to several last-minute changes, and my original one-hour presentation on the Bertie Buffaloes was extended into two parts over two days, in addition to a ten-minute statement as part of the panel discussion on Friday.  MHA officials faced constant challenges dealing with lodging, meals, and speakers, but the conferees were very satisfied with LMU as a site for the gathering.  Next year’s gathering will be in West Virginia, and my experience of this one was so positive that I plan to attend again in 2009.  Perhaps there will be some fencemending between different Melungeon factions by then.  Helen Campbell, owner of the site melungeons.com, shared stories of growing up in West Virginia which inspire me to want to read up on mixed race people in that state before next year’s Union.  Stacy Webb and Gabe Gabeheart of the Redbone Heritage Foundation are so congenial and interesting that I’m considering attending the next RHF gathering later this year.  Frank and Mary Lee Sweet lent an air of festivity and nostalgia to the entire weekend with their music.  It is evident that they have established strong bonds with the Melungeons over a period of years, and that Backintyme was the right publisher to find an audience for a book like Pell Mellers.  MHA’s favorable reception of my talks makes me feel that Pell Mellers is now properly launched into the wide world beyond local and state newspapers.

My Friday afternoon presentation was about discovering stories of Indian ancestry in the Pell Mell Pocosin and the genealogical and genetic investigations that ensued.  There were only five in the audience since my talk was concurrent with two popular speakers.  But in that small audience was one person whose research interests overlap intriguingly with my own.  Todd Beckham, a Florida native, is a descendant of Henry Bunch, who owned the land in Askewville later inhabited by Butlers, Dunlows, and Johnsons.  He also descends from Josiah Collins, who was successfully sued by Henry Dunlow in 1784.   I had not known that this Collins was a free mulatto, but Beckham showed documentary evidence to this effect and suggested possible Melungeon links to these Bertie County families.

On Saturday, the keynote speaker canceled and another major presenter was a no-show, so the schedule was revised and I ended up speaking to the full group (80 or so) about the Bertie Buffaloes.  Despite the rather tenuous connections between Pell Mellers and Melungeons, the talk was very well received and all copies of the book available at the sale table were sold.  The story of poor whites of mixed ancestry taking up arms against the Confederacy and the planters fit the conference theme of “resistance to oppression” and I felt warmly welcomed  by the Melungeons and others in attendance.

One highlight of the event was hearing Lisa Alther speak about varied reactions to her latest book Kinfolks.  In the South, the book met with much appreciation and a fair amount of criticism (most of the latter from Melungeons) but elsewhere the topic was met with “polite indifference.”  Another highlight for me was seeing Julie Williams Dixon’s documentary Melungeon Voices, which she is in the process of editing to fit PBS guidelines.  The filmmaker examines various theories of origin for the Melungeons in a balanced and objective manner.  The documentary will stimulate interest in the Melungeons in whatever market it is broadcast.