The Chocolate Bar
Although rarely thought of as mountain folk, towns like Boone find themselves home to multi-ethnic communities, some of which date back to a world of slavery. African American communities shape the nuance of mountain life through their mere existence, and yet their presence is not well acknowledged. The Junaluska community was one such community, although it has since dissolved in the wake of integration, and through businesses like the Chocolate Bar as well as churches and other locales, the landscape of Boone has been shaped.
Backstory and Context
In the building that is today the Austin & Barnes Funeral Home was a café and gathering place for the members of the Junaluska community. Reaching its peak in the 1940s and 50s, the Chocolate Bar was a “thriving business” and “a popular neighborhood social club,” servicing the segregated African American community. Situated up the hill from King Street, Junaluska remained separate from, yet present in, the town of Boone, which allowed for businesses like the Chocolate Bar to emerge and thrive, though many of them disappeared as integration took hold.
Although there are few surviving records of the early Junaluska community, it is thought that the earliest settlements of freed African Americans stem from Johnson and Ellington Cuzzins in the 1850s, with an approximated fifteen to eighteen families in the community by the turn of the century. As the community developed, they remained fairly independent of the town of Boone until the bitter, legal end of segregation in the 1960s. In that century in between, a number of small businesses sprung up to meet the needs of the community, as those on King Street itself did not allow African Americans to use their services.
The property has been used by the funeral home since 1987 in varying capacities, from storage to crematory, and currently as a funeral parlor itself. Despite its continued use as a gathering place, the socialization that occurs within has taken a distinctly different tone from earlier uses. It is almost ironic that a place vibrant life within the community would be used as a place of death today.