Emily Myers and Jesse Reed struggle with life in post-Civil War
Hancock County during “Walk Toward the Sunset.”
Walters State Community College brings a regional favorite to a new generation with the drama “Walk Towards the Sunset.” The play, written by Kermit Hunter, tells the story of the Melungeon people, a disenfranchised group centered in Hancock County.
Melungeons are a mixed-race group, which, even in the mid-1900s, were denied the right to own property or obtain an education.
The play ran as an outdoor drama for from 1969-1975 in Sneedville. Historian and author Wayne Winkler credits the play with creating a sense of pride among the Melungeon people.
“Even today, there are Melungeons who don’t want to admit or discuss their heritage. But those who do talk, do so openly and often loudly,” Winkler said.
Bringing the play back to life has been a welcome challenge for Walters State students, according to director Jerry Maloy, associate professor of music and theatre at Walters State. The cast includes several proud Melungeons (some of whom are cast as an angry mob) and many students have embraced the mystery surrounding the people.
“Every day, a student comes into class eager to share something new learned about the group or that someone they know has Melungeon roots,” Maloy shared. Maloy also has special praise for Adele McDonald, music director of the “Walk Toward the Sunset.”
The play has exposed students to the Melungeon world, but it has also given them a glimpse into the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Nation. Native American Fred Bradley appears as Chief Atakullakulla, a friend of the Melungeon people.
The play is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 3, 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5 and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 6. Saturday night’s performance is part of “The Mildred Haun Festival: A Celebration of Appalachian Literature, Culture and Scholarship.” Hunter and Winkler, author of “Walking Toward the Sunset” will both be part of a panel discussion following this performance and tickets will be on a space-available basis. That performance begins at 8 p.m.
Tickets for other performances are $5. Reservations may be made by calling the Division of Humanities at (423) 585-6947.
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