Update: On Thursday, the Boone Town Council voted to have town staff investigate who owns the Jordan Councill Memorial Cemetery and secure permission to place signage marking the property as a historical cemetery and also note that it is a criminal act, punishable by fines, to deface or desecrate gravesites.
This motion was based on a recommendation from the town’s Historical Preservation Commission, which recently received a letter from a member of the Junaluska Historical Association about a “black section” of cemetery that is unfenced and has been vandalized – unlike the section where dead white folks are laid to rest. See more on that below
By Jesse Wood
June 19, 2014. Last week, the Junaluska Heritage Association (JHA) put in a written request to the Boone Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) for assistance in protecting and preserving the east portion of cemetery off of Howard Street that is known by locals as the black section in the old town cemetery.
The entire cemetery is known as the Jordan Councill Memorial Cemetery, but members of the historically black Junaluska community have used the cemetery “for burials since the 19th century when it was established as a slave cemetery by Jordan Councill,” according to a letter by Roberta Jackson, facilitator of the JHA, to the HPC.
The cemetery is nestled between Howard Street, Brown Street, Cone Hall on ASU and the parking lot behind Plemmons Student Union. The main entrance to the white section is adorned with a black iron gate between two stone pillars. The entire white section is fenced.
Upon walking the full length of the white section of cemetery, you will come to a chain link fence that opens to a grassy field – the black cemetery. This grassy field that features two headstones is unfenced and essentially rolls down to Brown Street, a road that connects the campus of ASU to Howard Street.
In Jackson’s letter to the HPC, she wrote: “The cemetery is adjacent to Appalachian State University and students and others have been observed sunbathing on the property, using the field as a place for pet dogs to relieve themselves, and as a burial ground for pets. Tombstones have been moved, removed or toppled in the past.”
The JHA wants to fence the black cemetery, add a retaining wall on the Cone Hall side to stop erosion and erect a sign indicating the names of those known to be buried in the cemetery and alerting any wrongdoers that it is illegal to vandalize a cemetery. Jackson said that the JHA is looking for funding and that it is investigating the property ownership to be able to pursue grants.
“Much of the black section is on land governed by white trustees,” Jackson wrote.
JHA is asking the HPC to do the following:
– Ask the Town of Boone to erect signs at both existing gates of the white section
– Seek historic designation status for the cemetery to help protect from encroachment by adjacent property owners
– Endorse the research and fundraising efforts of JHA in order to protect and preserve the cemetery
The day after this letter was scribed, the HPC heard a presentation from Dr. Tom Whyte, a professor of Anthropology at ASU. Whyte noted that his research into a found skull that was initially thought to have came from the Jordan Councill Memorial Cemetery led to his discovery of the “sad state of disrepair” of the cemetery and subsequently “fueled in him a desire to see the cemetery preserved,” according to minutes of the June 10 meeting.
Over the course of his research and investigation, Whyte estimated that 30 to 40 people were buried in the black cemetery, yet only two tombstones were still standing. He also noted that two of three tombstones of Union soldiers had been placed by the fence were recently stolen.
At that HPC meeting, the HPC agreed to ask the Boone Town Council to direct staff to erect signing declaring that the property is a cemetery and that defacing or desecrating gravesites is a criminal act.
On Monday evening, Jackson and HPC Vice Chair Diane Blanks spoke before the Boone Town Council during public comment. Council members and staff noted that the town needs to know who owns the property because this would be a public purpose on private property.
The council agreed to put this matter on its agenda for Thursday, June 19.
Below are pictures in order from the main entrance on Howard street to the rear of the cemetery that is closer to Brown Street.