tllE BRAZOSPORTPACTS, Freeport, Texas, Wednesday, October 28,l9to, Section I, Page 6 Mystery still shrouds origin of Melungeons ._. _,«.-,, _» .._• _*.. * »^t , _._ ._. A «.»_ ^1.* «.t*id. *».t*.^Kk.. I.MII tt* A t fok*ti tf ntttf rtai^Afi tttt Air* "**»Vi»n *11*1*4* I MA<% n*n IKnl I linen r^ u ^.__l_ 11 ft >.*(...•*•« M «.* AAH!HW t it .. i .. •_ i. __i_ n4t»^«*M« t\t ««M(» SNEEDV1LLE, Tenn. (AP) *- With a flicker of a smile, Claude Collins sat in his plush living room, leaned forward and began touching on his mysterious ancestory. Collins' past Is of special importance because he's a Melungeon — a people different different from most in this East Tennessee mountain farming community. "I don't think we'll ever know," said Collins, making references to the origin of the Melungeons. For untold years the mystery of the Melungeon people's origin has been painstakingly pondered by scholars, historians and outsiders in general. In this Hancock County area where about 200 Melungeons live, most of them farmers, Collins, 35, is one of the more wel-to-do. "I'm as inclined to believe the theory about the Jews as t am the one about (Portuguese," (Portuguese," said Collins. Recently a Brandets University professor, Cyrus H. Gordon, said certain artifacts artifacts indicate the Melungeons were of Mediterranean, and possibly Jewish origin, and came to the American continent 1,000 years or more before Columbus. Gordon's theory is just one of many that tries to piece together the mystery of these mountain folk who live in the Appalachla poverty belt. Another prominent theory is the Melungeons were originally a band of shipwrecked shipwrecked Portuguese sailors who wandered from the North Carolina coast into Bast Tennessee in the mid 1600s, married Indian girls and lived undisturbed until the white man drove westward. But whatever their origin, the Melungeons have tilled for about 300 years, or so history Says, the hillside farms of this area about 70 miles northeast of Knoxville and along the Kentucky border. And it wasn't until recently that few, if any, dared utter the word "Melungeon" In these parts—for not only did secrecy totally envelop these people but the mere word sparked a form of contempt in many. "A lot of people felt they were " better than the Melungeons," said Dora Bowltn, a part Melungeon. "It wasn't the Melungeon character," she added. "It was just the fact that they were Melungeons." "H was the people who really didn't know the Melungeons that were the discriminators," she said. "They didn't rcawe thai these people could be an Important part o( the heritage of the rich American history." Intermarriage with others has made a "pure" Melungeon hard to find. Collins, who Is the county's school superintendent, said he doubls If nny pure Melungeons still exist. Nevertheless, they are still described as people who are neither Indian nor Negro, who arc Caucasian but not Anglo-Saxon. Still another missing link is the origin of the word Melungeon. Some theorists speculate It comes from the French "Melange," meaning mixture. Others refer to the Portuguese word "melango," for shipmate. Most Mclungcons live in the communities of Vardy and Snake Hollow, n couple of miles from Snccdvllle. They arc separated from Sncedvllle by Newman's Hldgc, which stands n rugged 2,600 feet high. It hns only been In the past 50 yours that both communities communities have been reachable by narrow mountain dirt roads. Prior to that, Collins recalled, the only com- munication was by horseback. This Isolation was apparently apparently one of severnl factors that led to the discrimination — and mystery — regarding the Melungeons. Not only were non-Mclungeons frightened by the "strangeness" of these people but the Melungeon's physical features were different from people in this area. The 1795 census llAled 300 "frffc persona In the East Tennessee mountains." But the 1834 Tennessee constitutional constitutional convention declared Mohmgcons "free persons of color." By state law, the words "of color" deprived these people of (heir rights to vote, hold property and sue In court The Mcluntfeoru were re- enfranchised shortly before the Civil War. but the scars never fully healed. C Kven today, despite their Improving relationship ami their mingling with others, Melungeuns remain a bl( uneasy with outsiders Must of them Mill live in the Vardy Snake Hollow area, and »eml their children lo one of two schools there i.