An organization credited with preserving the history of an African American community in Boone was recently awarded the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Historic Preservation Award.
The Daniel Boone Chapter of the NSDAR hosted an event on May 25 honoring the Junaluska Heritage Association with the award — the highest given by the NSDAR. This award is given to an individual or group that has volunteered service, promoted and dedicated time to historic preservation and has made a distinguished contribution on a national, regional or state level, according to the NSDAR.
The JHA was formed in 2011 and works to preserve the history of the Junaluska community in Boone — the community’s historic black community.
“When we began the association, the goal was to have people understand that our community was and always has been a part of the fabric that makes up the town of Boone,” said JHA founding member Roberta Jackson. “We have been a productive and vital part of this community and the surrounding areas for many years. This recognition just brings us one step closer to our goal and mission for our association.”
NSDAR Daniel Boone Chapter Regent Jill Privott said part of the criteria to be considered for this nationally selected award is historic preservation that can include oral history or archival documentation — both of which have been done by the JHA.
“This work directly reflects the values and missions of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in their quest to preserve our country’s rich heritage,” Privott said. “Without the formation of the JHA ... and the due diligence of its members to begin the journey of documenting their community’s story, much may have already been lost.”
Susan Keefe, JHA member and Appalachian State University emerita professor of anthropology, gave a brief history of the organization. JHA was formed with two main focuses — forming the Junaluska Jubilee event (an annual celebration to increase visibility of Boone’s black community) and a history project to help Junaluska residents research family genealogy and community history.
Four jubilee events, open to the wider Boone community, were held between 2012 and 2015. Community member Sandra Hagler has led the genealogy tracking effort by helping to identify more than 120 families in the history of the community, Keefe said.
JHA has also worked to collect an oral history of the community by using previous interviews from the 1970s gathered from Appalachian State University collections at ASU, interviews done by Keefe’s students in 1989 and 16 other interviews done in 2013 and 2014. Keefe said that work is culminating next month to complete the editing of the oral history — which includes a brief biography of the community and narratives of 37 Junaluska residents born between 1885 and 1993. Information from the work is planned to be published by next year.
NSDAR Daniel Boone Chapter Chair Mary Moretz talked about the importance of genealogy to the NSDAR. She said some in the group can trace their lineage seven generations back with 254 ancestors or even 12 generations with 8,190 ancestors.
Eric Plaag, founder and principal consultant of Carolina Historical Consulting LLC as well as a winner of the very same award in 2018, also commented on the JHA’s work at the Boone town cemetery. JHA played a vital part in erecting a gravestone at the Boone town cemetery on Howard Street that named 65 known African Americans buried in the area with mention to the 100 or so that were unnamed.
Boone’s historic black cemetery that began as a burial ground for blacks enslaved by local landowner and storekeeper Jordan Councill had went largely unmarked and was located outside the original fence around the white portion of the town’s cemetery.
The JHA joined the town of Boone, Boone’s Historic Preservation Commission and Appalachian State University to have the fence removed and the monument erected in October 2017.
Privott mentioned that not only is cemetery preservation of particular importance to the NSDAR, but also significant to the community due to the county courthouse experiencing several fires and compromising historical documents.
“Past vital records were lost in these fires, and consequently one of the only known records of a person’s existence is the information contained on the face of a tombstone,” Privott said.
“(The Junaluska Heritage Association) gave us the opportunity to address our past and correct mistakes to the degree possible,” Moretz said. “They have … opened their doors and their hearts to the town, to gown, to black and to white as they move forward with their mission.”
Plaag also mentioned the work of Jackson in the success of Digital Watauga — an online database of Boone’s history. He said Jackson’s tireless service has been absolutely vital to the success of the project.
Interpretive panels are planned to be placed in the cemetery that will tell the story of the black section, Plaag said. This is in addition to a historical marker on Queen Street that recognizes Junaluska’s contributions to Boone.
The group also heard from Boone Mennonite Brethren Church Pastor Mike Mathes as well as a proclamation read in honor of the JHA by Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz. Attendees also enjoyed “Ride on King Jesus,” sang by Lynn Clayborn, Lynn Patterson and Tonia Coles — members of the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church choir.