Junaluska community celebrates heritage through oral histories


Adrienne Fouts

Located above King Street on the twisting roads that make their way up Howard’s Knob, the community of Junaluska has persevered through the countless changes to Boone since the mid-19th century. Now, it wants to make sure its story is heard.

Junaluska, sometimes called “The Hill” or “The Mountain,” is a historically black community, one of the oldest in western North Carolina. It is also home to the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church, one of few remaining black Mennonite congregations in the country. In 1890, a few hundred people called Junaluska home; today, the community has 42 homes and 97 residents.

The expansion of Boone and Appalachian State University, along with Junaluska’s small size, has sometimes caused the community to be invisible over the years. However, they are hoping to change that by permanently recording their history and working to honor past and present community members.

Susan Keefe, a professor of anthropology at Appalachian State, has been working with members of the Junaluska community for 27 years. During that time, she has received university grants to interview community members with her students, attempted to save historic Junaluska buildings and helped found the Junaluska Heritage Association, or JHA.

Now, the JHA has decided to put together an oral history by Junaluska community members. There are already a few interviews from the 1970s in Belk Library’s Special Collections, as well as more recent interviews that the JHA hopes to publish.

Keefe hosted a presentation entitled “Junaluska: The African-American Neighborhood in Boone” Aug. 18 at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, in which she gave an overview of the neighborhood’s history and current efforts to preserve it.

During the presentation, Keefe also read excerpts from four interviews with Junaluska community members, whose lives spanned from the turn of the 20th century until the present. In these interviews, the subjects talked about their everyday life, how Boone developed over the years and their experiences with segregation.

The first excerpt was from an interview conducted in the 1970s with Reverend Ronda Horton, who died in 1986 and was the first black pastor of the Mennonite Church in Boone. He was born in 1895 on what is now Queen Street. Growing up, he said, King Street was called Main Street, and it was a muddy road with only a few buildings. What was then Watauga Academy would eventually become Appalachian State University.

“The rest of the land was farmland,” Horton said. “You’d look up Howard’s Knob and it was all clean, not a tree, just farms.”

Horton helped haul and lay gravel for Main Street around the time of World War I, and also helped build Farmer’s Hardware in the 1920s, but there wasn’t much work to be found for the Junaluska community.

“Our young people leave this country when they get old enough,” Horton said. “There’s not much work for black people in Boone.”

Reverend Leroy Kirkpatrick was the subject of the second interview excerpt read at the Junaluska presentation. He was born in Charlotte in 1910, and moved to Boone with his wife, who was from the High Country, in 1932. Kirkpatrick was a sharecropper who also raised hogs and chickens, and hunted and fished in the area. He was the assistant pastor at the Mennonite Church at the time of the interview in 1989.

Keefe said that Kirkpatrick, like many others interviewed, did not often discuss his experiences with discrimination. Junaluska as a community tried to avoid racism and conflict by maintaining a low profile and a peaceful existence.

“We’ve got love in our hearts, and we’ve got to exercise it,” Kirkpatrick said in the interview.

However, the next interview excerpt with JHA facilitator Roberta Jackson did touch on her experiences with segregation in Boone. Blacks had to sit in the balcony of the movie theatre, she said, and when they ordered food at a restaurant they picked it up from a back window.

“There were no social interactions between black and white kids at the time,” Jackson said. “We were separated, and that’s just the way it was.”

Jackson said that she is glad that her kids got to grow up after segregation ended, because it is good to interact with different kinds of people.

One of Jackson’s children is Lynn Patterson, subject of the final interview excerpt and University Program Associate at Appalachian State’s Belk Library. She lived through the integration changes that came about in 1968, and said that life in the mountains was tough for everyone.

One of the struggles that Junaluska has faced is increasing gentrification and growth of the university, but despite changes, Keefe said that the community has displayed a “remarkable spirit of resilience” by working to preserve and celebrate its history.

“You hear people saying that Junaluska is dying,” Patterson said in her interview. “But as long as we write it down, it’ll always be there.”

Story by Adrienne Fouts, Senior A&E Reporter