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Redbone is a term historically used in much of the southern United States, particularly in Louisiana, referring to a specific brown-to-reddish skinned people with dark eyes and straight, frizzy or curly hair. They are often thought of as a tri-racial people of Native American, African and some form of Eastern or Western European heritage. Redbones are not necessarily Creole or Cajun and traditionally speak English.
The term had various meanings according to locality, mostly implying multiracial people. In Louisiana, the Redbones were migrants to the state from South Carolina following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. They settled primarily in the western areas and were distinguished by surnames of English origin (in contrast to the French and Spanish names of the Louisiana Creole people), as well as by following Protestant rather than Catholic religion, which predominated in much of Louisiana.
The term Redbone became disfavored in the late 1960s, as it was a pejorative nickname applied by others to the geographically and socially isolated multi-racial populations in most western Louisiana parishes, from Sabine Parish in the northwest and Rapides Parish near the center of the state down to Calcasieu Parish in the southwest. This area is roughly coextensive with what was once known as the Neutral Ground or Sabine Free State, when no US state exercised jurisdiction over the area from the Calcasieu River on the east to the Sabine River on the west.
Families ancestral to the Louisiana Redbones came primarily from South Carolina (where they were generally classified in census records as "other free persons", in other words, non-white). They settled in the hills and prairies of western Louisiana following the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803. In this frontier area, the settlers successfully resisted classification as non-white. In addition, in New Orleans and associated areas, Louisiana had a strong tradition of a free class of multi-racial people who developed during the colonial period.
But, enough discrimination existed so Redbones typically established their own communities with churches, stores, and schools. Public schools were first established following the American Civil War by the Reconstruction era legislature; they were segregated until the United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Though their descendants now number over 20,000 and are dispersed to other states, especially eastern Texas, academically the group has been termed "largely unstudied."
- Campbell, Will D.. The Glad River, 1982
- Martha Redbone
- Sabine Free State
- Adams-Onís Treaty
- Regulator-Moderator War
- Brass Ankles
- Gilmer, Jason A., Selected Works Free People in a Slave Country,, March, 2010.
- Redbone Heritage Foundation
- Melungeon Heritage Association
- Heinegg, Paul. Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, 2005.
- DeMarce, Virginia. National Genealogical Society Quarterly, March 1992.
- Taukchiray, Wes; Alice Bee Kasikoff, and Gene Crediford. Indians of the Southeastern United States in the Late Twentieth Century, ed. J. Anthony Paredes, 1992.
- Marler, D. C. Louisiana Redbones, presented at the First Union, a meeting of Melungeons, at Clinch Valley College in Wise, Virginia, July 1997. (anecdotal history)
- Marler, D. C. Redbones of Louisiana, Dogwood Press.
- Fair-skinned female African American celebrities The Redbone Diaries