Women from the Junaluska community in Boone recently gathered around a table and shared gardening memories with their parents as they created hanging lettuce gardens – a precursor to a heritage garden to be built in the community.
Pegge Laine, former director of the Turchin Center for Visual Arts Community Outreach Program, has worked for almost five years with women in the Junaluska community through artistic experiences. After learning more about the community of Junaluska, Pegge then received a grant to lead four projects aimed at consolidating the contribution of the community of Junaluska in western North Carolina and honoring its rich heritage.
One of the initiatives of the grant is the creation of a heritage garden to preserve the long-standing practice of food production in Junaluska. The Heritage Garden, when completed, will help bring the community together while tackling food insecurity issues.
To promote the Heritage Garden, local residents Peggy Horton, Roberta Jackson and Betty Grimes recently collaborated to create and distribute the aforementioned Hanging Lettuce Gardens. These mini-gardens are “something to keep the excitement and excitement” for the heritage garden, says Pegge Laine. They are also a way to promote the idea of sustainability and community. And, as Roberta says, “We have to see it grow the way it used to be. ”
Pegge Laine describes the idea of the heritage garden a bit like creating art.
“The Heritage Garden is another blank canvas that provides an opportunity for the creative minds of Junaluska to flourish,” says Pegge Laine. “By working together on this project, the community is reconnecting with their childhood by sharing stories about the importance of gardening in their families. Gardening was an integral part of the fabric of their community and contributed greatly to survival during segregation. It is also a common thread in their spiritual life as well as in their love for one another.
By the mid-19th century, enslaved and freed black Americans resided in and around the Boone region. As the city grew, so did this community. Through the struggles of the Civil War and the victory of emancipation, this small group of African-American families clung tightly to each other and to the Boone region they had come to claim as their own.
“The Hill” or “The Mountain,” as it was first called, was eventually established as Junaluska – one of the first black communities in western North Carolina, and possibly the only one that has persisted in the 21st century. This is according to the book “Junaluska: Oral Histories of a Black Appalachian Community”, written with assistance from Susan Keefe and the Junaluska Heritage Association.
Life in the early 20th century was difficult for those who lived in the Appalachian region, especially for those who lived in Junaluska. The residents of Junaluska describe their neighborhood as the result of white segregation on the hill above Boone towards Howard’s Knob on “steep terrain that no one wanted”, according to “Oral Histories.”
“The free blacks of Junaluska were originally farmers,” according to the book. “They owned land but, for the most part, no farms. On the contrary, they had small plots for the gardens of the house. They cultivated and sharecropped fields on the Howard’s Knob side, which by the turn of the century was largely clear-cut.
However, the quality of life that many remember was not one of poverty or need. It was community and love. “Junaluska left me with an inherently warm feeling and an extremely happy spirit. We had love in family and community. We had decent accommodation, clothes, food and whatever a child would want. We did not know that we were poor in the sense of the world. We felt rich because we felt special, ”Emma Horton explained in“ Oral Histories ”.
Growing up in Junaluska, Roberta echoed similar sentiments, saying it was always the people of Junaluska who made the region special.
“We didn’t have a lot of it, but we didn’t need it. We met. We didn’t go out of town, didn’t have a car. But we didn’t need it. We played with each other and had fun, ”says Roberta.
Church, school, agriculture and gardening made up the daily life of the community. Often the Junaluskans enjoyed entertainment in church. “Sunday was dedicated to church. On special holidays we had musical and dramatic performances, contests and programs; we recited poetry and showed other creative talents. It made it interesting and exciting for everyone, ”Emma recalls.
Families took great pride in gardening and canning. Many of their children and grandchildren remember working alongside their parents and grandparents. “They didn’t let us sit there watching them work. They wanted us to help them, ”describes Peggy Horton, who grew up helping her parents garden in Vilas. She now resides in Junaluska.
Peggy Horton says she now gardens flowers, but is unable to produce vegetables due to lack of garden space. She is happy that the community of Junaluska has a garden so that her neighbors can all work and grow plants together.
Roberta says her family grew items like beans and corn in their garden, often canning food for the winter months.
“Now (gardening) is more (for) fun, when I was little it was a necessity. We needed food. I had five siblings, we needed to eat. donated vegetables and stuff all year round, ”she said.
Junaluska also operated with an open door policy. The neighbors helped the neighbors. Children come in and out of each other with confidence and a sense of belonging. “People are so nice to each other. If you don’t have it and they have it, then you have it. This is how it always has been, ”describes Betty.
Betty says her mother had rhubarb, potatoes, green beans and peas in their garden. She also remembered that her mother had killed lettuce (kilt); Roberta added that no one can cook the dish like Betty’s mom.
Although many residents of Junaluska moved throughout the 20th century in search of employment opportunities, others remained in Junaluska and continue to thrive in the richness of its heritage and community. Recently, efforts have been made to document and preserve as much as possible this heritage while continuing to nourish and maintain its contemporary life.
Preservation projects, in addition to the heritage garden, include a proposed square quilting path, a children’s book, and a mapping project that will identify those who died in the 40-50 anonymous graves at Clarissa Hill Cemetery.
The proposed quilting trail will show how schools, churches, and businesses once thrived within the community. The trail would consist of freestanding paintings on wood, metal or quilt squares along a route that shows its history.
The children’s book will be based on “Junaluska: Oral Stories of a Black Appalachian Community”.
“They talk so much about their childhood in the book,” says Pegge Laine. “That is why I would like to do it for the children, so the children will know the loss of African Americans in Boone.”
Pegge Laine adds that the Junaluska community is constantly evolving with new people arriving all the time.
“The heritage garden offers an opportunity to preserve the historical importance of gardening, an opportunity to build relationships with their neighbors and an opportunity to provide fresh vegetables for their tables. I hope the garden becomes a gathering space that embraces the past as the community grows, ”says Pegge Laine.
The community of Junaluska is looking for “Garden Buddies” to help with the garden. Pegge Laine said the vision is to grow food so community members can eat together, listen to each other’s stories, and create new memories. If you are interested in becoming a garden buddy, contact Pegge Laine at [email protected] with “Junaluska Garden” in the subject line.
The legacy and permanence of the Junaluska community can be attributed to the passion and resilience of its members. Thanks to their efforts and those of their parents and grandparents, this part of the world will remain both a haven of heritage and hope.