BOONE, N.C.—For many years, the graves of over 160 African-Americans laid in the open field below Old Boone Cemetery behind Appalachian State University’s Cone Residence Hall unknown and mostly forgotten.
They’re a secret no longer. A project that began in 2014 to recognize and restore the cemetery will culminate in the unveiling of a historic marker at the site Sunday, Oct. 1, at 2 p.m. The marker lists the names of 65 people researchers have discovered were interred there. The public is invited.
The project was led by the Junaluska Heritage Association, which works to preserve the only remaining African-American community in Watauga County. Roberta Jackson, a 1991 graduate of Appalachian and a founding member of the organization, said that the $5,000 project was embraced by a wide swath of the community that included individuals, Appalachian students and community organizations.
Jackson said that some of her ancestors are buried there, but the cemetery has significance beyond those with family ties.
“We want people to recognize us in the African-American community and our contributions to the town of Boone,” she said. “We have a lot of people in our community who graduated from App State. We worked downtown in various businesses all of our lives.”
Chancellor Sheri N. Everts hailed the spirit of cooperation between Junaluska, the Town of Boone, Appalachian and numerous community groups that contributed to the restoration effort.
“We will celebrate a fuller, richer version of our history by telling all the stories, embracing and recognizing that we must dig deeper to understand the complete stories of our past,” she said in a message to faculty, staff and students Sept. 16.
Jackson earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and retired in 2007 as an administrative assistant in the university’s Physical Plant. She said there are many ties between her organization and the university. Students were active in the effort to raise money for the marker.
Jaelyn Felder, an Appalachian senior from Columbia, South Carolina, and president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), said raising money for the project was a way for the council to repay the Junaluska community for its enthusiastic attendance at NPHC events through the years.
“For years the members of the Junaluska community have supported NPHC’s growth and prosperity on campus,” she said. “Also, we have members within our council who are from this community as well.”
The project began when the Junaluska Heritage Association asked the Historic Preservation Commission of the Town of Boone to help improve conditions in the cemetery. The town took ownership of both the black and white sections of the cemetery in 2016. The town put in a retaining wall, cleared vegetation and commissioned a survey of the site with ground-penetrating radar that discovered 164 unmarked graves.
The cemetery had its beginnings as a burying ground for African-Americans enslaved by a local landowner, Jordan Councill. Through the years, the tombstones were moved or deteriorated and only four markers were left. Many early graves had only flat rocks as markers, and those had disappeared.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.