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Beyond the Sunset: The Melungeon Outdoor Drama 1969-1976 by Wayne Winkler

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Walk Toward the Sunset was the name of an outdoor drama that played from 1969 until 1976 in Sneedville, Tennessee, the Hancock County seat. The drama was created and continued by a remarkable coalition of people with widely different perspectives and purposes, yet the drama was primarily seen as an attempt to bring economic development to this isolated county. The topic and attraction of the drama was the presence of Melungeon people on Newman’s Ridge just north of Sneedville and in the Vardy Valley to the north of the ridge. The Melungeons are a mixed race group of people who lived for generations pretty much to themselves. So, the initial challenges were to convince locals of Melungeon heritage that the play would not denigrate them, while, at the same time, convincing the rest of the County, that they, too, would benefit from the publicity engendered. The drama was written by Kermit Hunter, the most outstanding outdoor drama writer of the time, and directed by John Lee Weldon, a professor at Carson-Newman University, about fifty miles away. He managed a cast that included students and local people. “In Beyond the Sunset, Wayne Winkler has well researched and documented the experience that changed the attitude and outlook of a whole group of people, the Melungeons. The outdoor historical drama, Walk Toward the Sunset, was the turning point of how this mixed-race people saw themselves and how their attitudes turned from shame to a pride in their heritage. Winkler takes the reader through the challenges in bringing this production to life, and in interviews sharing the personal experiences of many of the participating individuals. Beyond the Sunset is an excellent follow-up to Winkler's earlier book, Walking Toward the Sunset, in which he explored the origins and theories concerning the Melungeons.” --John Lee Welton. Wayne Winkler is a descendant of Hancock County Melungeons who directs a public radio station in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2019. 420 pages with an Index, Bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback.