Clarissa Hill Cemetery

Since the 1950s, the Clarissa Hill Cemetery has served as the prominent burial site for the Junaluska Community in Boone, North Carolina. In 1956, the historically Black community purchased the plot of land, previously used by the county’s poor house, from Watauga County for one dollar. The map below, from a 2022 article by Appalachian State University (App State) faculty, shows the location of Clarissa Hill Cemetery relative to the university, the historic Town cemetery, and Junaluska.

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Map of Junaluska, Boone, and Clarissa Hill Cemetery. Courtesy of Dr. Alice Wright, Dr. Kristen Baldwin Deathridge, and Dr. Cameron Gokee.

The Boone Cemetery was firmly segregated with very few grave markers or headstones in the Black section of the cemetery. In the later half of the twentieth century, the rest of the cemetery was fenced off, clearly separating the White and Black portions, and the Black section was not maintained with the same standards as the White counterpart. Starting in 2016, the Junaluska Heritage Association (JHA) partnered with the Town of Boone and App State to conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey of the historically Black section of the cemetery, to remove the fence, and to maintain the entire property. According to Susan Keefe, the survey discovered 165 graves, most of them unmarked. A ceremonial marker, pictured below, was placed on the formerly segregated burial grounds in 2017, during a ceremony alongside the Junaluska Community and friends; a small step in Junaluska’s search to reclaim their history. By the mid-1950s, the entire Town cemetery was filling up, and Boone residents looked for other locations. The map above shows how far the Junaluska Community’s new burial grounds were from Town.

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Historic Black Cemetery marker, Boone Cemetery. Courtesy of Junaluska Heritage Association.

After the success of the 2016-17 project at Boone Cemetery, the JHA expressed a desire to have a similar survey conducted at Junaluska’s prominent burial grounds, Clarissa Hill Cemetery. In 2020, a group of archaeologists, both local and statewide, worked alongside members of the community to map the cemetery with ground-penetrating radar equipment. Team members surveyed the top half of the cemetery, where most of the visible headstones and markers reside. This allowed archaeologists to better discern between naturally occurring objects, like rocks, and anomalies like an unmarked burial site. Perhaps more importantly, the time spent in the field allowed members of the Junaluska Community to share stories of and celebrate their loved ones who are interred in the cemetery. The project represents the great historical potential of collaborative, community-driven archaeological work.

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Photo of Clarissa Hill archaeological project, April 2024. Courtesy of Philip Tyler.

In April 2024, App State faculty and students revisited Clarissa Hill to continue the work that started in 2020. This time, the focus was placed on the hilly bottom half of the cemetery, pictured above. There are far fewer visibly marked graves than in the top section, but the valuable data gained from the previous work made it possible to identify several potentially unmarked burials. Through the combination of oral tradition, a sense of community, and collaborative archaeological work, members of the Junaluska Community continue to discover and preserve their rich history.

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ASU students mapping potentially unmarked graves at Clarissa Hill, April 2024. Photo courtesy of Dr. Andrea Burns.

Clarissa Hill Cemetery