Our Side of The Mountain

A Pocahontas to Melungeon Revolution

My name is Allafair. At least that’s what my grandma Annie called me from as far back as I can remember. As a child, I never gave much thought to where our family came from. I heard all the stories about George Washington Watts and the rock houses at the Kentucky edge of the Appalachian mountains. We were told he and a band of explorers and their families were the first to venture over that very spot from Virginia in the late 1700s. I also wondered about who they left back in Virginia. Those people would still be our family, after all.

A family of Nobles – that was their last name, not their title – and a family of Watts made the trek here to our secluded Eastern Kentucky hollow. Knowing each other, they alone knew the circumstances and must certainly have trusted one another. How is it that we developed our customs and rituals, and why did it seem so necessary to stay blocked from the rest of the world?

I look at myself now in the mirror and see dark skin that deepens still every summer to the point my Grandma Annie would scold me to wear long sleeves and a bonnet.

“Allafair, you’re getting browner than a biscuit!” she was determined to keep me from looking like a biscuit.

Mommy plaited my black, coarse, curly hair nearly every day to make sure it didn’t look so unruly.

I look into those deep, brown eyes in the mirror and wonder who I see staring back. We didn’t think so at the time, but what a perfectly mesmerizing mixture.

I just had to delve into these mysteries. Perhaps, if I examine a slice of our life a little at a time, then answers could seep out month by month, task by task, and ancestor to ancestor.

The Condition of Living
The Condition of Living

Singing Down the Preacher

 An old religious practice of my people, the Melungeons from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Subject to long-winded traveling preachers, the congregation often took control of a service by singing long and loud enough to let the preacher know it was time to conclude. History reports Melungeons as a race of people who developed in early America from the mixing of Turkish, Portuguese, Spanish, Scottish, African, and British settlers with native Cherokee Indians. The result was a beautiful people; strong, skillful, devoted, yet timid and secretive from generations of persecution.

This story is about the Watts, a 1950s Melungeon family, whose desperate financial circumstances force them to emerge from their secluded, rustic lifestyle into an unfamiliar, and sometimes cruel modern society.

A learning disability makes a family member, Hogan, an easy target for a few unaccepting and hardhearted residents of this new world. His simplistic thinking lands him in unsavory and even dangerous situations. Yet, he is able to brave his fears, search for answers, pray long and loud and in the end, receive the message that unites them all once more.

The Condition of Living

• A young cynical journalist, after a childhood of tragedy, makes his reputation with unsympathetic no-holds-barred reporting.
• A middle-aged newspaper editor who has lost something precious and doesn’t know how he’ll ever find it again.
• A single mother with three kids, few options, and a litter of pups she must either feed or find homes for.
• A Habitat for Humanity volunteer who believes that a home is more than shelter.

The characters of this story are brought together by an uncharacteristic kind deed, a challenge, and a community project. In the midst of building a Habitat for Humanity house, they discover, to their surprise, that something much stronger binds them to one another—the condition of living.

How God brings people and situations together for His purpose, we can’t often comprehend, but the result is real. Habitat for Humanity is a tool used to help elevate God’s people out of terrible living conditions. When it also becomes a catalyst to create a Godly condition within a person’s heart, we can stand in awe of His grace and goodness.

Through the lives of those who played a role in this story, we understand that Habitat for Humanity’s mantra of strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter will continue to bind neighbor to neighbor and heart to heart.

The Condition of Living

About the author

Darlene Nixon is a Christian with professional experience in the fields of banking and journalism. Before tackling the position of Executive Director for Hart County Habitat for Humanity, Nixon served the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate since 2006 as both volunteer and board member.

Nixon has always shown a passion for writing, enjoying her God-given talent in numerous venues. She wrote as a news reporter for The News Leader newspaper in Royston, Georgia, as well as the Athens Daily News. Her first novel, Singing Down the Preacher, was published in 2011. That piece detailed the fictional version of her Melungeon ancestry from Eastern Kentucky to Southern Indiana. Additionally, she continues to share Christ’s message of love, faith, and hope through the regular newsletter message for Hart Habitat.

Originally from a small farming community in Southern Indiana, Nixon now resides in NE Georgia with her husband, Hubert. The couple boasts two daughters and seven grandchildren. They are active members of their Hart County Church, Serenity Baptist.

Find Darlene Nixon