A Junaluska Jubilee
While the mystery of how Junaluska, Boone’s predominant
African-American community, was founded has confounded local historians, the legacy of the
neighborhood has come with little dispute.
To celebrate the neighborhood’s rich history, which has played out behind downtown Boone, the Junaluska Heritage Association took it upon itself to hold an annual celebration to remember prominent faces in the tightly knit community.
Known as the Junaluska Jubilee, the celebration is vivid reminder of the cohesion still apparent in the community. This year’s festivities take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 15, at the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church.
“Last year, it (the jubilee) was started to celebrate the late Rev. Rhonda Horton of the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church,” said Susan Keefe, an anthropology professor at Appalachian State University.
This year’s jubilee looks to remember the life and work of the Rev. Rockford Hatton.
According to a news release, Hatton was the pastor at the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church at various times from 1930-60. He was instrumental in establishing two other black Mennonite churches in Western North Carolina’s Bushtown and Darby.
“We try to honor someone every year,” lifelong resident Roberta Jackson said. “We decided to honor someone because of their contributions to our community that have kept it alive all of these years.”
The church was built in 1917 for the purpose of fulfilling the spiritual needs of the local African-American population, Keefe said.
Originally, Mennonite missionaries had intended to construct a racially integrated church and school in Elk Park in Avery County.
“The community made it very clear they would not tolerate an integrated church, so the Mennonites chose to have an exclusive church for blacks (in Boone),” Keefe said.
While the Junaluska community existed long before the church’s arrival, it was been woven into the neighborhood’s tapestry and has served as a community center for gatherings and worship services.
Today, Junaluska is home to approximately 200 residents.
“We don’t have as many as we used to because, for one reason, people are not having as many as kids as they used to, and people are moving away,” Jackson said. “We are still a strong community, even though we aren’t as big as we were.”
The jubilee looks to celebrate the proud lineage of Junaluska, organizers said.
Saturday’s community get-together also coincides with the freeing of the American slave more than 150 years ago, adding extra meaning to the event, Keefe said.
The jubilee begins with a special service at 11 a.m. that commemorates the life of Hatton and his accomplishments in spiritual revival. A meal will follow the main special service in the fellowship hall, Keefe said.
Following a homemade meal and fellowship, a magician and singing from the church’s gospel choir will round the day of remembrance and looking forward.
“This is an opportunity to come to know more about (Junaluska) and to celebrate diversity in Boone,” Keefe said. “We can also learn about the old African-American neighborhood that has been part of Boone for more than 100 years and to celebrate the things that we have in common.”
Organizers are hoping for a similar turnout to last year’s inaugural event.
“We really enjoyed ourselves,” Robertson said. “The community pitches in and helps to make it an enjoyable day.”