By Harley Nefe
Located on a hill overlooking downtown Boone and being walking distance away from Appalachian State University, lies Junaluska, a historic African American neighborhood. The community began as a segregated neighborhood in the 19th century set apart from the larger community below it. Junaluska is one of the oldest African American communities in western North Carolina and one of the few surviving today.
A project aimed to honor the Junaluska community has recently been awarded $20,000 from the Central Appalachia Arts & Cultural Growth fund, which derived from Artplace America.
Artplace America was a 10-year, $150 million collaboration among a number of foundations, federal agencies and financial institutions that operated from 2010-2020. According to its website, the mission of Artplace America was to position arts and culture as a core sector of equitable community planning and development.
In 2019, Artplace America designated central Appalachia, including counties in southern Ohio, West Virginia, western Virginia, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina as one of the regions of focus to continue their mission. The central Appalachia region received $4.5 million to strengthen creative placemaking in the area by having invited artists, cultural workers, community activists and regional funders form a Central Appalachia Assembly to decide how best to allocate the funds.
Town of Boone Cultural Resources Director Mark Freed was invited to be a part of the Central Appalachia Assembly as the sole North Carolina representative of the group.
To start out, the Central Appalachia Assembly wanted to see what kind of projects were out there in the region; therefore, the group designated around $500,000 to do initial grants to support projects that align with the mission.
The Central Appalachia Arts & Cultural Growth Fund awarded 27 different grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 to projects in the central Appalachia region, with a project focused on the Junaluska community being one of them.
This Junaluska project is being led by artist and retired school counselor Pegge Laine, who has been working on arts-based projects with the Junaluska community for several years.
“This project being funded is really exciting,” said Freed, who nominated Laine for the grant. “This is a new fund, which covers the entirety of central Appalachia. Pegge’s project was the only local proposal funded, and one of a small number of North Carolina projects that were funded.”
In fact, the Junaluska project was one in four projects funded in North Carolina.
“It’s really exciting that Pegge and the Junaluska group are getting in on the ground floor on this to continue the efforts that Pegge has been doing with that community and the art that they have been doing and also just to be recognized. I think it’s really going to bring some nice attention to those efforts and this project,” Freed said.
Laine, the leader of the Junaluska project, has worked as a teacher and school counselor in multiple school systems for 30 years with the last one being Watauga County Schools for the past 18 years. She retired as a counselor in 2007.
“I had always used art as a school counselor because art is a way of dealing with traumatic situations in your life and learning to express your feelings,” Laine said.
From there, Laine enrolled at Appalachian State University to earn her certification in expressive arts. She later received an international certification as a registered expressive arts consultant educator. In 2008, Laine began working at the Turchin Center for Visual Arts in the outreach program.
“One of the missions of the Turchin Center talks about art being healing arts, and it also talks about providing and involving the underserved populations in the community,” Laine said.
Following the mission statement, she began working with underserved populations within the region providing art-making opportunities for children and adults that don’t have access to the arts necessarily that readily at hand. Laine has worked with different groups including the Junaluska community.
Laine’s relationship with the Junaluska community began with her going to the director of the Turchin Center program at the time, Hank Foreman, and she said, “There’s an African American population here right in town, and I know nothing about them. I had never been up and into the community. They were not attending workshops, and it’s a part of the mission statement to have a diverse group of people, to serve a diverse and underserved group of people. As far as I can tell we’re not doing anything to offer services or to want to connect with them.”
Therefore, Laine connected with Lynn Patterson, who works in Appalachian State University’s Belk Library. Patterson is also a member of the Junaluska community and lives with her mother Roberta Jackson. Patterson was Laine’s liaison, as she went to Jackson who went to other people in the community.
Laine has now worked closely with the Junaluska community for around six years.
“I primarily worked with who I call the elders of the community, the women of the community, who are just rich in their experiences of life,” Laine said.
The main art residents in the Junaluska community have done before is quilting; however, Laine began introducing them to other mediums after jumping a hurdle.
“All of us have this voice that says ‘but I’m not an artist,’” Laine said. “At some point, we forget what creative human beings we are.”
Laine started by doing some painting with the Junaluska residents, then they worked with alcohol inks.
“It is a medium that is just bright,” Laine said. “It has bright colors and is spontaneous. It can be abstract and beautiful.”
Laine and the Junaluska residents worked some in the Turchin Center, but they found it more convenient because of parking to work at the Mennonite Brethren Church.
Laine also worked with the Western Watauga Community Center, which has a clay program, so she started to take residents there to work with clay.
“There are several women who have really, really loved that,” Laine said.
The work Laine and the Junaluska community members completed together have been a part of various exhibits throughout the area like at the Turchin Center. In the community gallery there, Laine did an exhibit called Pieces of the Puzzle which showcased their art such as their paintings for many years. They also had several exhibitions at The Jones House, which is how Freed became aware of the work Laine was doing. There have also been exhibits at the Watauga County Arts Council’s Blue Ridge ArtSpace.
“They get to sell their work, which makes them feel like they’re artists,” Laine said. “And they are all creative people.”
Roberta Jackson, a resident of the Junaluska neighborhood, said the attendants of the Laine’s art workshops have really gotten to know Laine and had a great time until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
As a result of COVID-19 and there not being the ability to work safely out in communities, Laine’s position at the Turchin Center was terminated.
Laine’s work with the Junaluska community has also been temporarily put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I haven’t seen them since early March, and that’s been really hard,” Laine said. “I keep up with them by phone calling, just checking in with them and seeing how they are doing and supporting them through all the things that have happened with the killings of people and Black Lives Matter. I just kind of built a relationship with them over the last six years.”
Laine further said, “Art builds community. We become kins through that, through our shared experiences through working with the art. When people are working with their hands like that, people share. We share our experiences. I can be curious about things. I can ask questions. They ask. We’re so connected now. I know if somebody is sick or if any of them is sick or they know if I’m sick. We built a relationship based on doing art together, so we built our own little community.”
Jackson explained that many of the Junaluska residents are senior citizens and are more susceptible to getting really sick. In addition, many residents have health complications such as being diabetic or having heart or kidney problems. Therefore, they won’t get out much unless it’s safe.
“Laine’s work with Junaluska had sort of been put on the Covid pause with everything else, and I don’t know if she saw a clear path forward for it, not that she was giving up the work or ending it, but there just wasn’t really a clear path forward so it was kind of in limbo, and I reached out and told her about this project grant, and it got her excited, and it got her thinking,” Freed said.
Freed talked to Laine in late September about the grant opportunity. She then took it upon herself to complete the application only having about a month to submit everything.
“Pegge is just a really neat person. She is very passionate about her work and can write extensively on it,” Freed said. “Her work with Junaluska was one that really spoke to her heart, so when we talked about all her different, various work she had going on, this is the one that we both sort of honed in on as the most important.”
Laine further said, “Everything was happening with Black Lives Matter, and it just felt like that when he and I talked, we both agreed that Junaluska was the one. We thought it would be the one that met the criteria. I was very surprised and very honored, and I felt very humbled that he thought of me.”
After Laine was asked by Freed to apply for the grant, she consulted with the Junaluska participants of her workshops and the Junaluska Heritage Association. She also read and did research with the recently published book titled “Junaluska: Oral Histories of a Black Appalachian Community.” This book was edited by Susan Keefe, who is a professor emerita of anthropology at App State who retired in 2016, along with the Junaluska Heritage Association. The book contains history narratives that were adapted from interviews with residents of the Junaluska community.
“Junaluska is really like a little village within the town, and most people don’t know about it. I didn’t know. Now I know about it, and now I’ve been there,” Laine said. “I’ve worked there, and I’ve developed relationships, but most people who live here have no idea about the whole roots of this community, about their contributions to the community, anything about Junaluska as a place.”
Laine further said, “It’s a rich, rich history and in some ways, they’re just beginning to talk about it. One of the greatest resources you can read is the book. It is such an amazing history. I read it, and I couldn’t stop thinking about possible projects.”
For the grant, applicants could apply for up to $50,000 to support their projects; however, no applicant ended up receiving that amount. Laine applied for $50,000; however, she ended up receiving $20,000 to support her project idea she came up with.
“That was the hardest part of applying for the grant — How do I narrow down what might be possible and what might be the most important? I really looked at a lot of different things,” Laine said.
Laine’s proposal ended up focusing on four different projects remembering and honoring the contributions of the African American community in Boone. The proposed projects seek to preserve the community and provide opportunities to make the history and culture of the community within the town of Boone more visible.
“She’s doing this work but she’s doing it because of how much she cares for the community and the women there, women and men, but she particularly has worked with a group of women there closely,” Freed said. “ Pegge would probably be the first to say it — she’s administering this and leading it, but it’s really the Junaluska community’s project.”
Using the talents of the Junaluska community, one focus will be a children’s book written and illustrated by the art group Laine has worked with. The children’s book will act as an educational tool for teachers and be a living legacy for future generations.
“The Junaluska book is a great resource for adults, but I think it’s the next generation of children who need to know,” Laine said. “There’s nothing out there for kids to say this is a community, and this is part of our heritage in Boone. So, I thought about writing and illustrating a children’s book, and I wanted to use a lot of what the book is dedicated to. They talk a lot about their childhood, what it was like to live in Junaluska, so I thought OK let’s maybe think of something like the ABC’s of growing up in Junaluska and use that as a format for kind of talking about what their childhood was like.”
Jackson is also a member of the Junaluska Heritage Association, and she said Laine met with them a couple of times during the association’s monthly meetings to discuss ideas.
“She proposed the children’s book idea to us first, and I think it’s great,” Jackson said. “It’s also going to involve the ladies who took her alcohol ink class to illustrate the book. We’re already one step ahead in the game because we’re used to doing alcohol inks now. We’re ready, and I think it’s going to be a really great idea as it’s more for children.”
Laine further explained that she wants the residents to use their words and to illustrate the children’s book themselves because she doesn’t want all of their knowledge and all of their experiences to be lost.
The children’s book idea also gives residents the opportunity to have their names as writers and illustrators as well as any of the income made from sales of the book will go directly back to their community.
The second focus of Laine’s project is the creation of a quilt trail denoting the schools, churches and businesses which once thrived within the Junaluska community and are important to the history.
“If you read the Junaluska book or read newspaper articles, there’s so many buildings that are lost,” Laine said. “I want to use the quilt trail as a kind of walking trail for people to go and recognize and preserve that heritage. I don’t ever see that any of those buildings will ever be reconstructed because they have other things built from them, but I think we can at least acknowledge that this is where it was, this is what was here, and this is what was important.”
Since many of the residents are already quilters, this project works with something they are familiar with and that they understand as well as building on and teaching them a new skill.
The third focus of Laine’s project is the creation of a community heritage garden recognizing the historical significance of gardening in the history of the community and addressing the present food insecurity of the residents.
“They talked so much in the Junaluska book about how they survived — They had gardens, and they fed themselves. They were very poor, but those gardens kept them alive,” Laine said. “There are no gardens up there anymore.”
The community garden would also be a place to build relationships and honor the importance of gardening.
“I also think that because Junaluska is changing and so many other families are moving in, it is a way to build community around a garden and around working in the soil,” Laine said. “I kind of wanted it to be a heritage garden like let’s start off by growing things like the familiar foods, the foods that you grew up with. And they mentioned cabbage and beans and potatoes and different things like that.”
The final focus addresses honoring the past lives of residents with a focus of mapping and identifying the deceased in the Clarissa Hill Cemetery on the outskirts of town. This idea came as a result of the Historic Black Cemetery.
The Historic Black Cemetery began as a slave burial ground, and it went unmarked outside of the Boone City Cemetery fence before renovations by the Town of Boone in 2017. Ground penetrating radar revealed 165 mostly unmarked graves in the Black section. On Oct. 1, 2017, a cemetery marker was dedicated by the Junaluska Heritage Association listing the names of 65 individuals known to be buried there.
Like they did in the Historic Black Cemetery, Laine didn’t want graves to go unmarked in the Clarissa Hill Cemetery. There are currently 40-50 graves that have no markers.
“If we can map it out and at least create a map and then begin to, as funds allow, make just little flat markers that say the name of the person and come up with their birth and their death date and mark that out so the same thing doesn’t happen because there’s no way to identify the people in the town cemetery without digging everything up and doing DNA testing, and that won’t happen,” Laine said. “I just want to preserve the memory of the people who are buried in Clarissa Hill Cemetery.”
After submitting her proposal of these four focuses in late October 2020, Laine received notice that she was accepted for the grant around Thanksgiving. The money was later deposited in December.
Laine had to find a fiscal sponsor to receive and administer the money, which ended up being Boone United Methodist Church. As Laine and the others need supplies and things, she can take the receipts to the church and they will reimburse her.
“I’m administering this or helping, but I am not taking a salary with it,” Laine said. “Any people who will be reimbursed for their work would be if we need to have a project manager for helping build the community garden, then some money would go there. My thing is, I want all the people to be from Junaluska, so I’ve been in contact with people who I think will spend their time helping do research. We will also spend some money on the grave stones. I hope to be able to reimburse some of the folks that will help with the research and identifying those graves and those grave sites, and we’ll do money for supplies and things like that. This is a volunteer position for me, but I’m just excited about it.”
However, because of COVID-19 and not being able to meet with the residents in person to work with them, Laine initially was concerned about the timeline of completing the project with the grant.
“As soon as I got the money, I started talking to the funding source. I said, ‘Look this pandemic is not going away, and there’s no way we can even start this until things ease up,’ and the funding source has been very understanding about that,” Laine said. “They have said, ‘We’re not going to take the money away from you. It’s yours. We want you to use it, but we understand the safety issue.’ So, as soon as I can start meeting with them, we will.”
Laine further said the Central Appalachia Arts & Cultural Growth Fund personnel have been very supportive and understanding about COVID-19 limitations, as they said if Laine runs up against roadblocks and needs to use the money in a different way, that’s OK as long as it still supports their goals.
“If we could just all get vaccinated,” Laine said. “The residents are older than I am so they’ll have the opportunity to get vaccinated before I do, but as soon as I can get vaccinated and we can start meeting face to face, then I feel like we’ll make some headway.”
Jackson said she already had her first dose of the vaccine and two other people in the group had theirs as well, but not everyone has yet.
In the meantime, there is some groundwork Laine has been focusing on lately which involves coordinating with individuals and making plans and getting prepared for the project and the four different focuses.
“Part of the groundwork is getting this out to the community because the whole purpose is to educate the whole community about Junaluska,” Laine said.
And until Laine and the Junaluska members can meet safely in person again, Jackson said everyone is ready and looking forward to working on it together.
“We’re proud to have it because when we started the association, our main goal was to be visible, to let people know that we’re here and that we contributed to the community and the town, and this is another example of accomplishing that,” Jackson said.
Laine said one of the overall goals of the project is to connect the Junaluska community to the residents of the town of Boone, and so she would like to invite the public to become involved in any of the four focuses, both to share any skills one may have or to get to know their neighbors. If inclined, Pegge Laine can be contacted by email at [email protected].