September 25, 2006

Kentucky: A Melungeon from Covington

Kentucky: A Melungeon from Covington

The view of Cincinnati from Kentucky

A view from Covington’s Devou Park, with Cincinnati only a bridge ride away. [vidiot / Flickr]

We’ve been reaching out to local bloggers as we profile toss-up races across the country René Thompson of Covington, Kentucky, lives in Kentucky’s fourth district, where Geoff Davis (R) and Ken Lucas (D) are in a tight race for the House. Thompson blogs at The View from the Sandbox under the home-spun tagline “political discourse from a mother’s point of view.”

We got an email from her this week, which you can read in full on our 2006 Election Wiki. She paints a picture of a long-standing family history in a place she calls “a social and geographic buffet.”

My mother’s family have lived in southeastern KY for longer than there’s been a Commonwealth. We are Melungeons. (Look that term up and learn something about Kentucky history.) My grandparents and aunts and uncle moved here to get away from the mines. (My grandfather had acquired black lung.) My mother had already moved out of the mountains after finishing school. We moved permanently to northern Kentucky after my father’s death in 1976 but during his time in the Navy, Mom and I lived with my grandparents in the 60’s. My mother and both my aunts taught in this area. Mom in Belleview, Aunt Jewell at Boone Co. High School and my Aunt Darlene just retired from 40 years teaching at Yealey Elementary in Florence.

My husband’s family has been in 4th District since they got off the boat from Ireland around 1805. They first lived in Bracken and then moved to Kenton.

Safe to say, we’re pretty grounded here.

René Thompson, in an email to Open Source

René told us to look it up, and we did. Melungeons are an ethnic group of the Southern Appalachians composed of early mixtures of black, white and American Indian. The group worked in the region’s coal mines, and a movement is now growing toward the definition of a unique Melungeon heritage.

The KY 4th is a social and geographic buffet. We stretch between urban and truly rural. Industrial to farming and coal. From a cultural point of view you have the families whose heritage stretches back to Germany, England and Scotland. These were the settlers who came by wagon and oxen out of the east and built the gateway to the western frontier.

You also have the families from southeastern Kentucky who moved up here in the late ’50s and early sixties when the mines played out. These were the hardworking families that worked in the plants like GE during the boom years in the ’70s and ’80s. For many years you just had to hear a last name and you knew where they hailed from. (Heck, give me the right last name and their mother’s maiden name and I could tell you what holler their family came out of in southeastern Kentucky.)

In the ’90s came the Delta folks who came from every corner and brought money and new ideas. While they worked in Boone Co. where the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport is, they lived in surrounding counties as well.

And within the last five years we have seen the influx of Hispanics from Mexico and Central/South America. They have worked in our construction and service areas and add a new flavor to the mix.

The 4th is odd in that while it’s part of Kentucky, it’s not treated like part of Kentucky. There are some from outside the area who see places like Kenton Co. and Campbell Co. as “the south side of Cincinnati.” I must admit that it doesn’t have the same feel as the other areas of the Commonwealth, but that said, those that live here are still proud to be Kentuckians.

Religiously, you have the urban Catholics (German and Irish) and then there’s every mix of Protestant under the sun. And then there’s me, my Mom, my son and Dr. Cohen, we are the Jewish contingent. (Explanation: one side of the family was Baptist, the other side was Methodist, my parents converted to Judaism and sent me to a Catholic school. I can do guilt in 4 languages.) My husband is a devout agnostic.

From a political standpoint, it’s pretty Republican around here. That said, the Democratic Party in the area has grown over the last 10-15 years. There’s an old saying by Mark Twain that when the end of the world comes he wanted to be in Cincinnati because everything hits it about 10 years later. The man sure knew what he was talking about and given our proximity we probably lag about the 7-8 year range. (Disco was big here in the ’80s. I rest my case.)

No one will ever mistake 4th District for San Francisco but over time liberals are finding a footing and with this administration making the mistakes it is, even the most conservative of our neighbors is becoming more moderate.

René Thompson in an email to Open Source

For more from René and KY 04, check the 2006 Election Wiki.

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