The mission of the Junaluska Heritage Association is to research the history of African-Americans in Boone, but everyone is invited to join the jubilee.
The inaugural Junaluska Jubilee comes to Boone’s Junaluska neighborhood Saturday, April 21, featuring not only a diverse slate of entertainment, but a fair share of history, as well.
The Junaluska Heritage Association was formed in February 2011 by local residents wishing to explore and document the rich history of Boone’s downtown Junaluska neighborhood.
“We’re proud of our community, and we want people to know we’re here,” said Roberta Jackson, the co-facilitator of the upcoming jubilee.
Jackson explained that the group began through the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church History Project and now meets weekly to unearth the long and vibrant past of the Junaluska neighborhood.
The Junaluska area, located in the hills above the Watauga Public Library in Boone, has long been an African-American enclave in what many erroneously consider an all-white region. Jackson, who is a member of the Junaluska Heritage Association, describes the challenging research undertaken by the group.
“The (Appalachian State University) library has been wonderful in opening up special collections,” Jackson said.
She explained that the association’s researchers have had success in examining records from the current time back to the 1880s, but have difficulty finding helpful records from before that era.
During and before the Civil War, free people of color and slaves often existed outside of official records, forcing modern historians to be creative in their quest for information about this population.
Jackson said the Junaluska Heritage Association researchers have recently begun examining wills of slave owners from the Civil War era and earlier. These documents often named slaves to be passed on to others after the owner’s death, therefore unwittingly leaving records of an otherwise unrecorded population.
The association is holding its inaugural jubilee this Saturday in order to highlight the history of the neighborhood, create more awareness of its presence and to honor a leader from the Junaluska community.
This year’s honoree is the Rev. Rondo Horton, who was a native of Watauga County and the leader of Boone’s historically African-American Mennonite Brethren Church. Born on April 27, 1895, Horton was well known in Boone as both a religious leader and a business owner. He ran a coal and ice delivery business, which served both the black and white populations, and eventually moderated over six district churches in the region. He died in 1986 at the age of 91.
The Mennonite Brethren Church, a worship center for the Junaluska community, will host the beginning of this Saturday’s jubilee. The day will begin with morning services at the church, and at 1 p.m., a parade of entertainers will lead the way to Junaluska Park. Entertainers will include “Star of the Sea” puppeteers, magician Rick Ramseur, the ASU African Women’s Group and the Mennonite Brethren Church Gospel Choir.
There will also be sports and children’s activities, with free popcorn and ice cream offered until the close of the gala at 6 p.m. There is free town parking at the foot of the hill on Queen Street adjacent to the library, and a van service to the celebration is available for the handicapped and elderly. For more information, contact Roberta Jackson at (828) 773-2540 or email@example.com. The rain date is set for Saturday, April 28.
In Horton’s Words
Submitted by Alice P. Naylor and Earl LeClaire
Following are excerpts from an interview with Horton conducted by Winston Kinsey in 1973. Transcripts are available from the W.L. Eury Collection at Appalachian State University’s Belk Library.
“We got a good place to live in — Boone. Always has been, but it has changed a lot. I was born in Boone. This is my home, my birthplace. Lived here all my life. The house I was born on was on a street called the back street. It’s called Queen Street now. I don’t know if they even had street names back then. They had one street they called Main Street, King Street now. They had a street toward Appalachian and that was just a short street that come down by the bus station. That was called the short street. North Street was just called a lane.
“All the rest of the land around here was farmland, pastures and corn patches and playgrounds. Main Street was just a muddy road, no pavement and the sidewalk was plank. There were stores called the Backwoods Store, and Mr. Green had a store, too. Just four or five little stores were all we had.”
“The house I was born in was called the Coffey house. It had one room. It was maybe 14 feet one way by 24 feet the other way. We cooked and ate and slept in this same little room. We didn’t have a cook stove; we had a big fireplace, and we cooked on it. The winters were cold, and the snow would blow through the cracks. But it was all right.”
“When I was a boy, the boys worked; they didn’t play all the time like they do now. If our parents told us to do something, back then, we didn’t bring up any arguments about it. We just did it. Wages were very low, even for the time. Boys, when we worked, got a quarter a day. My dad got 50 cents a day. And we worked from sunrise to sunset. We worked a lot in the summer time. During the winter there wasn’t much to do but we would clean up some to make a living on. We didn’t have any money and mighty few clothes, but we managed to have a lot to eat.”
On Justice and Equality
“Talk about the awful spirit of people. Well, at the Blair Family Hotel they kept a lot of schoolboys. Those boys would pick on black people. There were cold days, and those boys would have a bucket of cold water up on the porch, and they would throw it down on the colored people that walked by.
Once there were three men staying there, and they got the awful spirit of people. I was just a little boy, and it was about dark, and I passed those three men and one turned and kicked me. It hurt me badly. It hurt my feelings and for a long time gave me a bad feeling.
“I made a resolution that if a white man ever kicked me again, I’d get me a gun, find him and kill him. That stayed in my life for years until I was a grown man, a plum grown up and settled man. A lot of things like that have given people a bad feeling and caused hatred to grow in people. It did in me, but the Lord took that away from me.”
On Military Service
“I went to work in the coal fields a number of years before I went into the mines. The crews were both black and white, about half and half. The foreman was white. They didn’t have unions then. But we got along. I worked there for nine years. I was working there when I was drafted into the Army.
“But I didn’t stay long, just a few months. I was in a segregated unit. One day the Army called me into the office and asked if I had ever worked for Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke Company. I said yes.
They said, ‘Would you go up and work there if you were out of the Army?’ I said, ‘Well, yes. I’d like to go up home and visit with my people before I go back.’ Four days later they called me back in and I was discharged. I was in the Army for 90 days.”
On the Mennonite Church
“The Mennonite Brethren missionaries came up to Boone. They wanted to do some mission work here. The Mennonites were never segregationists. They bought a school over in Avery County, a church school, and they started their own school, an integrated school. They were told that they couldn’t do that. It would not be allowed. The school, which was also an orphanage, had to be either for whites or blacks, but not both.
“The Mennonites felt the black children needed it worse, so they made it for black children. I attended that school, even though I wasn’t an orphan. They started a Mennonite Brethren Church here in 1917 on Church Street in the Junaluska neighborhood, the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church, the only historically black church in the county.”