Portraits from Our Past:
Southwest Virginia Authors
Brent Kennedy

In 1988, Brent Kennedy's past caught up with him. He fell ill and was eventually diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a disease of people with Middle Eastern heritage. This led Brent to begin to question his ancestral heritage. He grew up in school learning that people from the southern Appalachians were all Scots–Irish. The Wise, Virginia native’s quests into his past would lead the black-haired, blue-eyed Kennedy to conclude that he was a Melungeon.

The word Melungeon is both Portuguese meaning "white person" and Turkish, meaning "cursed soul." Webster's Dictionary defines Melungeon as a group of people of mixed Indian, white and Negro ancestry in the southern Appalachians. The first U.S. census in the 1790s classified the Melungeons as "free persons of color" and used this classification to strip Melungeons of their lands, their right to be represented in court, their right to vote, and their right to public education.

After discovering his Melungeon past, Kennedy began an extensive study of the origins of Melungeons. His research suggests a significant Mediterranean descent in people who settled in southern Appalachia as early as 1567.Kennedy's research was published into the best-selling book, The Melungeons of Appalachia: The Resurrection of a Proud People.

Kennedy has commented "I wrote my book purposefully to inspire, encourage, or provoke mainstream academia into taking a more serious—and less dismissive and disparaging—look at not only Melungeons, but also other American mixed-race populations." Kennedy, who holds a BA in English Literature, a MA in Theatre, and a PhD in Mass Communications, has had his research on Melungeons covered by both the national and world press including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, Associated Press, and hundreds of other media entities. Additionally he has authored two award-winning dramas including Research Into Darkness produced for public television.


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