The Junaluska community in Boone, North Carolina is one of the earliest African American communities in western North Carolina. “According to census records from 1850 Johnson Cuzzins (also spelled Cuzzens and Cousins) was a 44 year old farmer with a white wife named Charlotta (1). Johnson and Charlotta had nine children ranging from three months to eighteen years. The census records also indicate that Johnson preceded his brother Ellington and family by at least one year. According to the 1860 census records Ellington, who was listed as a shoe and boot maker, lived in Boone with his wife Margaret, who was white, and their two daughters”
Junaluska takes its name from a leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in the 19th century. The community is different from the other early black communities in western North Carolina in that it exists still. Most of the early members of the community were freed enslaved people. However, “slaveholding was not common in the Appalachian Mountains. Ninety percent of mountain people in western North Carolina had no enslaved people and those who did had only a few.” Although the people of Junaluska identify as African American their genealogies demonstrate a mix of white, Native and African American ancestry. Susan Keefe, author of Junaluska: Oral Histories of a Black Appalachian Community notes “While Junaluskans can generally trace descent historically to white slaveowners one way or another, they do not consider them part of the family, nor do they trace descent through their white family tree.”
“Some black residents who moved into the area were able to buy their parcel outright or were allowed to clear land and keep a portion. Most Junaluska residents became landowners and homeowners, a fact that is still true in the community today. Land ownership has been crucial to the survival of Junaluska as an ethnic community.” The community reached its peak in 1942 with 191 black people in 59 families. By 2013 there were only 97 individuals in 42 households. The rich ethnic and cultural tradition that characterizes Junaluska’s history is being threatened as the town of Boone expands and its population declines due to few job opportunities.
I was invited to learn this history last summer and to be a guest artist at Appalachian State University which I did from April 15 – 24. The image chosen for an installation in Junaluska comes from the early 1950s and is found in Keefe’s book. While installing it a member of the community drove by and stopped to share with my assistant, Travis Donavan (art professor at ASU), that it was her mom who found this photo in her archives and shared with Susan Keefe.
A big shoutout goes to Sarah Donavan, Travis Donavan, Ron McCullum of Appalachian State University and Mary Anne Redding of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts for making this project possible. Thank you to the Junaluska Heritage Association for the use of the image from the Chocolate Bar. #appalachia #blackappalachia #junaluska #blackjoy
I love this
What a beautiful tribute to the rich cultural history of Junaluska and its residents! It’s heartening to see the community’s continued ownership of their land and homes, despite the challenges they face. Thank you to all involved in making this project happen.
The Survivalist Prepper
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thanks so much. it was a joy being in that community getting to spend a minute with folks. i’d forgotten how genuinely friendly folks can be in the south.
..”mooi” beauytiful project ! it touches me, it gets me…
…i’ll become your assistant in the future (-;