The best books on Melungeons

The Books I Picked & Why

Almost White: A Study of Certain Racial Hybrids in the Eastern United States

By Brewton Berry

Almost White: A Study of Certain Racial Hybrids in the Eastern United States

Why this book?

This pioneering 1963 classic is the first book I ever read that describes some of the 200 groups of “mestizos” (Berry’s term) living in the eastern United States, with names like the Brass Ankles, the Red Bones, the Melungeons, the Lumbees. It prodded me to start thinking about the whole issue of race and how it is constructed – and what happens to the “marginal” people (another Berry term) who don’t fit into the rigid categories of African, European, Asian, or Native American. 


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The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America

By N. Brent Kennedy, Robyn Vaughan Kennedy

The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America

Why this book?

In this 1994 cri de coeur Brent Kennedy discusses the Melungeon branches of his family tree.  One branch is on my family tree, twice since my paternal grandparents were cousins. This book provided my first hint that my own family tree harbored some mysterious ancestors. It launched me on a ten-year quest to discover who the Melungeons were, where they came from, and whether or not my ancestors had been among them. The book also launched an Appalachian liberation movement of sorts, as many who had been taught to conceal their racially mixed ancestry rushed to claim it – and proclaim it.


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Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia

By Wayne Winkler

Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia

Why this book?

This is the most thorough compendium yet of the available information about Melungeons.  Winkler covers the little that is known about Melungeon history, as well as exploring the many origin myths and theories – of descent from shipwrecked Potuguese sailors, from deserters from DeSoto’s exploring expedition, from survivors of Juan Pardo’s torched wilderness forts, etc.  He also describes associated mixed race groups and relates some of the scientific efforts to pin down the genesis of the Melungeons.


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Windows on the Past: The Cultural Heritage of Vardy

By DruAnna Williams Overbay

Windows on the Past: The Cultural Heritage of Vardy

Why this book?

Overbay grew up at the epicenter of Melungeon settlement in Hancock County, Tennessee. She attended the Vardy school, built for Melungeon children (who as descendants of “free people of color” weren’t allowed to attend public schools) by Presbyterian missionaries. This state-of-the-art school far surpassed in its facilities and offerings those of the local public schools, and it turned out several generations of accomplished young people. This book includes riveting oral histories about daily life in a Melungeon community and about the educational theories that inspired those who directed the school.


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The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America

By Daniel J. Sharfstein

The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America

Why this book?

This book features a trio of true-life stories from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries about families whose ancestors were enslaved but who, by a variety of stratagems, managed to cross the color line and become “white” in the eyes of others – and eventually in the eyes of their own descendants. These stories illustrated for me the actual permeability of racial categories, hinging largely on one’s physical appearance and possessions.  In other words, the lighter your skin and the larger your bank account, the greater the possibility that others will allow you to be whoever you say you are.


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