Toss of a Coin

Hugh Goins with fellow soldiers, WWII

Hugh Goins with fellow soldiers, WWII


About 16 million American men and women served during WWII.

Of these 16 million, about 1 million were African-Americans.

Nearly half a million were Hispanic- or Latin-Americans.

Including indigenous Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipinos, and other ethnic minorities, perhaps 1 in 7 service members were from what would be considered a “non-white” background according to American “race” categories of the time.

While stationed or fighting in Europe, many “white” American soldiers tried to export their American apartheid/segregationalist attitudes, leading to tensions and outright violence in European countries where American people of color were often widely accepted in cafes, bars and nightclubs for the first time in their lives.

Coming from a world where men of color could be lynched for daring to flirt or dance with a “white” woman, many “white” American GIs were shocked and outraged to see African-American men dancing and co-mingling freely with European women receptive to their charms and overtures.

There is little to be gained from pointing-out how few of these men have ever been represented in the innumerable films made about WWII.

But here’s the twist.  In the photo below you will find men bearing the surname “Goins“.

Goins is a core surname among the people from the hills and hollers of Southern Appalachia known as “Melungeons“.

There are as many lines of Goins people in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri as there are trees in the woods.

They have ancestors in Africa. And ancestors among the Tuscarora.  And the Catawba.  The Creek and the Cherokee.

They are intermarried with Appalachian families of German, French, Scottish, Welsh, English, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Iberian, South Asian, Malagasy, Jewish and Romani ancestry.

It is simply a matter of happenstance, petty bureaucracy, circumstance, accident, racist legislation, war, epidemic, luck, love, lust or affection which determined whether a Goins (or any other person) fell on one side or the other of American “race” classifications.

Some of the men in this photo are my cousins – real, actual “blood” relatives – but the Wheel of Fortune landed on “white” in the end for most of my family.

This situation is true for the majority of people from an underclass background with deep roots in colonial era America.

As Americans, our so-called “race” has often been determined by one single fork in the road, or one or two marriages made by mountain folks 200 or more years ago.

Until we understand this, we are doomed to fight identity wars among ourselves.

Identitarian conflict only benefits wealthy, unscrupulous politicians who use this constructed social division to distract us from fighting for the real prize – universal social justice and equality.

#WWII #melungeon #appalachia #beforewewerewhite

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