By Don Collins
Who Are These Boys ?
Anyone who has ever looked into the people who were called 'Melungins', has probably come across a photo taken by photographer Doris Ulmann. Sometimes called 'Melungeon Boys' or 'Melungeon Man and Boy'; this photo is all over the internet:
So how did this photo of these two boys become the template of the Melungin phenotype ?
Who are these boys ? Why are they called Melungin boys ?
This photograph was first published in 1971 in the book “The Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann” by John Jacob Niles, Plate 40, named “Two Melungeon Boys”. Did Niles and the Ullman Foundation label this photo ?
The photo surfaces for a second time in 1997 on the KET (Kentucky Educational Television) 'In Search of Origins, Melungeons' produced by Ernie Lee Martin. 'Melungeon Boys' photograph is shown. Does Mr. Martin know who these boys are, by name, what makes him think they are of Melungin descent ? The start of the Melungin phenotype starts here. This falls right in line with the“PBKN” era (Post Brent Kennedy Nonsense) a phrase coined by Mullins researcher Gary Mullins, thanks Gary, and the start of the 'Melungeon Movement' or as I call the Melungin train wreck, and the foundation is laid for the modern 'construct' of Melungeons, or what a Melungin might look like.
The third time this photo is published is on the cover and on page 230 of the book by Manuel Mira titled ““The Forgotten Portuguese, The Melungeons and Other Groups, The Portuguese Making of America”. Mira changes the name of the photograph to “ Melungeon man and boy” and states the photo was taken in the 1920's. So is Mira suggesting these boys are not only Melungins, but are also 'Portuguese' ?
How can he take that liberty, with out knowing who these boys are, what their names are, who their families are ?
In 2003, a discussion on the Rootsweb Melungeon List about the Ulmann photo between Kentucky natives Pat Spurlock, Cleland Thorpe and Brent Kennedy and Helen Cambell:
Be sure and look at the whole thread.
Also here where Jack Goins and Penny Ferguson discuss Doris Ulmann and the 'Melungeon Boys' photograph:
Kennedy never gave a straight answer to any of the questions asked him. If he would have stopped his verbalizing and done some research, he would have found out that Ulmann didn't always label her photos, and most of her photos were developed AFTER her death, literally thousands of photographs. After her death, the Doris Ulmann Foundation was formed and took over management of her vast portfolio.
“Upon Ulmann's death, a foundation she had established took custody of her images. Allen Eaton, John Jacob Niles, Olive Dame Campbell (of the Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina), Ulmann's brother-in-law Henry L. Necarsulmer, and Berea schoolteacher Helen Dingman were named trustees. Samuel H. Lifshey, a New York commercial photographer, developed the negatives Ulmann had exposed during her final trip, and then made proof prints from the vast archive of more than 10,000 glass plate negatives. (Lifshey also developed the 2,000 exposed negatives from Ulmann's last expedition, and produced the prints for Eaton's book.) The proof prints were mounted into albums, which were annotated by John Jacob Niles and Allen Eaton, chair of the foundation and another noted folklorist, to indicate names of the sitters and dates of capture. Some 3,000 prints were also produced for Berea College in Kentucky, an institution with which Ulmann had worked with in the last year of her life to document the local crafts traditions. Columbia University was able to provide storage space for the Ulmann materials until the 1950s, when the Foundation was asked to seek a permanent home for the collection. Eaton, who had formerly taught at the University of Oregon, doubtless assisted in attracting the interest of the UO's Martin Schmitt, curator of Special Collections and an early proponent for recognizing historical value within photographs. Although many institutions expressed an interest, the University of Oregon was willing to commit to preserving the collection in its entirety, and became the permanent home of the Doris Ulmann Collection. However, prior to shipping the collection the Foundation made the decision to reduce the weight of materials being shipped by selecting and destroying some 7,000 glass plate negatives. Approximately 2,500 platinum prints docurmenting Ulmann's work in her New York studio were deposited with the New-York Historical Society.The Ulmann collection includes 2,739 silver gelatin glass plate negatives, 304 original matted prints, and 79 albums (containing over 10,000 Lifshey proof prints) assembled by the Doris Ulmann Foundation between 1934 and 1937. The silver gelatin glass plate negatives are the only known remaining Ulmann negatives. Of the 304 matted photographs, approximately half are platinum prints that were mounted and signed by Ulmann; the others are silver gelatin prints developed by Lifshey. The general breakdown by subject of the Library's glass plate negatives is: Appalachia 70-75 percent, South Carolina 10-15 percent, celebrity portraits ten percent, Landscapes and still lifes five percent. The numbering system used is that devised by the trustees, based on the order the proof prints were placed in the albums.”
An inventory of Ulmann photos at the University of Oregon Library …...
“Please be aware that the information available is limited to notes made years after the images were taken, by Ulmann's trustees, and therefore much is inaccurate. Doris Ulmann left no inventory of her images and her own descriptions exist only for the images she published in magazine articles.”
Here is another interesting find. In 1929, Ulmann published a photo named “Monday” , in the final issue of 'Pictoral Phototograpy in America' (an image of a woman at her laundry). With the stroke of a pen it's relabeled “Monday, Melungeon Woman, probably North Carolina” in 1996, in the In Focus Doris Ulmann, Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum. I don't know if 'Monday' is this woman's name or is it the day of the week the photo was taken ?
Another is a photo by Ulmann labeled “Melungeon Girl, East, North Carolina”.
Photo is in the Photograph Collection at the Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA.
Again, no name, no real location.
These are the only 3 photos by Doris Ulmann labeled 'Melungeon', I've been able to find.. I see a pattern here, three photos, no names , no real locations and not a one taken in the historical area where the people who were called Melungin lived, that being Newman Ridge in old Hawkins Co. TN, now Hancock Co. TN or the Blackwater TN/VA border area. Who labeled these photos ? Ulmann and Niles were never in the historic Melungin area.
In April of 2012 the peer reviewed paper “Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population” is published in JOGG, the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, written by Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson, and Janet Lewis Crain.
On page 89 the Ulmann photo is published again, labeled “Photo of two “unidentified Melungeon boys” taken about 1934, used with special permission from the Doris Ulmann Foundation and Berea College, Berea, KY. Young men identified as the descendants of Thomas Gibson (row 38 in Patriarch's Table) by Johnnie Rhea, 2011.
In May 2012 “Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population” hits the news via the AP wire service, the story goes viral and appears in newspapers worldwide, and on numerous Internet News sites. Ulmann's photo is shown world wide. The “Two Melungeon Boys” becomes the poster boys of what a Melungin might look like. Unlike the courtesy the paper made by stating the boys were 'unidentified'
Please note there is no proof whatsoever that the people who were called 'Melungins' by their neighbors ever self identified as such.
So who are these two boys ? I surely still don't know. Why was the original focus on the State of
Kentucky? The colloquial term 'Melungeon' was not used in Kentucky.
Kentucky? The colloquial term 'Melungeon' was not used in Kentucky.
The only document where I've seen it used in Kentucky is in Harry M. Caudill's Book “The Mountain the Miner and the Lord”, on page 93, where a Betty Sexton Fields is mentioned as being in Letcher Co. KY. Mr. Caudill states; “They left the old settlements too late in the year and passed through Pound Gap in the Pine Mountain”.
He also states “They are found in many parts of the Appalachians and are called by many names. In some places they are known as “Guians,” in others as “Red Bones,” “Ramps,” “Wooly-boogers,” and “Portagees.” Caudill understood that these mixed bloods were called different names in different areas.
My research shows there was a migration from the Newman Ridge area into Kentucky in the early 1800's to old Floyd Co. and Clay Co. Other counties were formed from these counties as time went on such as Morgan Co., Johnson Co. , Pike Co,. Perry Co., Magoffin Co., Letcher Co., Lawrence Co., where descendents of these early migrants are later on US Census records.
With the exception of Letcher Co., there in no evidence of Doris Ulmann being in or taking photographs in any of these Counties.
“ Young men identified as the descendants of Thomas Gibson (row 38 in Patriarch's Table) by Johnnie Rhea, 2011.” This is the very first mention I've found to identify these boys, but 'where's the beef ', no names were given. I am so ever thankful to the authors of this paper, to at least give researchers something to look at.
Old Thomas Gibson was the father of Bryson Gibson (b. abt.1782 Washington Co.,VA d. 1867 in Morgan Co., KY). Were these boys descendents of Bryson Gibson ?
“If Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson were the 'head and source' of the Melungeons then Valentine Collins and Bryson Gibson are likely the 'head and source of the Carmel Indians or as they were called in Kentucky, 'The Brown People of Magoffin County. '
Bryson Gibson and Valentine Collins both have the same Y-DNA Haplogroup, E1b1a.
Valentine Collins (my 4th Great Grandfather) also lived and died in Morgan Co., KY. Below is a photograph of two of his descendents (my Uncles William 'Cline' Collins and Tinbrook Collins Jr.) taken about the same time as the two Melungeon Boys photo (early 1930's), at Bear Holler in Lewis Co., KY.
So are the two Melungeon Boys in fact descendents of Old Thomas Gibson ? With more research we are sure to find out. I'm hoping a descendent will read this essay and identify who they are, by name.
I hope my efforts reach that goal.
Donald Alfred Collins
1882: Doris Ulmann is born May 29, 1882, on New York City’s Upper East Side.
1928: Doris Ulmann and John Jacob Niles take their first of at least seven summer road trips to the South. On this one they visit, Louisa (Lawrence Co), Hazard (Perry Co), and Whitesburg (Letcher Co) , KY. They also visit the Hindman Settlement School in Knott Co, KY.
1929: In the fall of 1929 Ulmann is in North Carolina photographing 'vanishing types'. Ulmann visits Pembroke and Elrod , Roberson Co. NC to photograph 'Robeson Indians', at the time known as 'Cherokee Indians of Robeson County ', that name was changed in 1953 to 'Lumbee Indians'.
The photograph 'Monday' is published in the 1929 issue of 'Pictorial Photography in America'.
1930: Doris Ulmann takes a photograph titled “Melungeon Girl, East, North Carolina”.
Photo is in the Photograph Collection at the Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA.
1931: Probably travels to South Carolina to work with Julia Peterkin on their book 'Roll, Jordan, Roll', which was published in 1934. Ulmann and Niles visit New Orleans, LA, and Mobile Al.
1932: Ulmann and Niles travel to Whitesburg (Letcher Co.), Hazard (Perry Co.), Cumberland (Harlan Co.), and Kingdom Come (Letcher Co.) KY, to work on a project to take photographs for Allen H. Eaton's “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands” that was published in 1937.
1933:Ulmann and Niles travel to Hazard (Perry Co.), Quicksand (Breathitt Co.), and Berea (Madison Co.), KY. In Tennessee they travel to Gatlinburg (Sevier Co.) and Norris (Anderson Co.), in North Carolina ,Murphy (Cherokee Co.), Brasstown (Cherokee and Clay Co.'s), in Virginia, Richmond.
1934: On a trip lasting from April to August, Ulmann and Niles work in Berea, Harlan, Lexington and Pine Mountain KY, Brasstown, NC and Gatlinburg, TN.
Doris Ulmann fell ill while working in the North Carolina mountains during the summer of 1934 and died shortly after her return to New York City on August 28.
1971: “Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann” is published by the Jargon Society of Highlands, NC. Plate 40: “Two Melungeon Boys”
1996: In Focus Doris Ulmann, Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum is published by the
J. Paul Getty Museum. On page 48 there is a photograph titled: “Monday, Melungeon Woman, Probably North Carolina” Before 1929. This photo was first published in the 1929 issue of 'Pictorial Photography in America'
1997: KET (Kentucky Educational Television) Airs 'In Search of Origins, Melungeons' produced by
Ernie Lee Martin. 'Melungeon Boys' photograph is shown.
1997: Manuel Mira publishes a book “The Forgotten Portuguese, The Melungeons and Other Groups, The Portuguese Making of America” , Doris Ulmann's 'Melungeon Boys' photograph is on the front cover dust jacket. Mira states on the inside of the front dust jacket “a photo of Melungeon man and boy(courtesy of Berea College and the Doris Ulmann Foundation). On page 230, same photo as on cover , states photo was taken by Ulmann in the”1920's”. Page 232 photo of the older boy Mira calls “Melungeon young man” “ca.1930”
1998: KET (Kentucky Educational Television) publishes a VHS Video “Melungeons : people of the legend” , produced by Ernie Lee Martin
2003: January, Native Kentuckians Cleland Thorpe and Author Pat Spurlock have a discussion with Brent Kennedy about Doris Ulmann's 'Melungeon Boys' photograph, on the Rootsweb Melungeon List.
2005: Ulmann's photograph of “Two Melungeon Boys” appears on page 38 of a dissertation by Katherine G. Vande Brake , named “Through The Back Door: Melungeon Literacies and 21st Century Technologies”. Photo is labeled “This photo called “Melungeon Boys” was taken by Doris Ulmann; it shows the striking appearance of some who bore the “Melungeon” label.”
Ms. Vande Brake writes “Doris Ulmann’s photo, “Melungeon Boys,” taken in Kentucky in the 1930s is an unforgettable image. The boys’ dark skin and fine features mark them as different from other mountaineer”
2011: Kentucky Explorer March Issue, Volume 25 No. 9, Page 32 “Doris Ulmann Captured The Rich Culture of Appalachia” . Photograph “Two unidentified Melungeon boys” is shown.
2012: Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population , by Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson, Janet Lewis Crain, is published. On Page 94, “Photo of two “unidentified Melungeon boys”
Noted: “Photo of two “unidentified Melungeon boys” taken about 1934, used with special permission from the Doris Ulmann Foundation and Berea College, Berea, KY. Young men identified as the descendants of Thomas Gibson (row 38 in Patriarch's Table) by Johnnie Rhea, 2011”
The Life and Photography of Doris Ulmann by Phillip Walker Jacobs
The Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann The Jagon Society
In Focus Doris Ulmann Photography from the J. Paul Getty Museum
The Forgotten Portuguese, The Melungeons, and other Groups, The Portuguese Making of America
By Manuel Mira
The Mountain the Miner and the Lord by Harry M. Caudill
Through The Back Door: Melungeon Literacies and 21st Century Technologies by Katherine G. Vande Brake
Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population published in JOGG, the Journal of Genetic Genealogy written by Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson, and Janet Lewis Crain .
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