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Lake Junaluska To Celebrate Juneteenth For The First Time

Cory Vaillancourt
Lake Junaluska has hosted Methodists for over 100 years. This is the first time Juneteenth will be celebrated there.

For the first time, Juneteenth will be an official holiday across the country. Beyond governments, local institutions are also recognizing the holiday for the first time.  Here’s how Lake Junaluska will celebrate Juneteenth for the first time:

For more than 100 years, Lake Junaluska has been a meaningful place for Methodist ministers like Rev. Dr. Stephanie Moore Hand.  The vitality strategist for the Western North Carolina Conference  was ordained at Lake Junaluska.

Credit Courtesy of Rev. Dr. Stephanie Moore Hand
Rev. Dr. Stephanie Moore Hand shared that she was ordained at Lake Junaluska. She is the keynote speaker for the Juneteenth celebration.

“So I count it as a ginormous privilege for this first time event there on at lake. Junaluska is a place where we have annual conference every year, a place where I was ordained in the Methodist church, a place where I take my family who are African American,” said Moore Hand, who is the keynote speaker for the event on Saturday from 2pm – 6pm.

The Western North Carolina Conference extends from the tip of the state to Greensboro. It includes 1,100 churches.

Juneteenth is the celebration of the last emancipation of Black people in the United States.  They were enslaved in Galveston, Texas and learned about emancipation over two years after the Civil War ended. The holiday has long been celebrated in the Black community but in recent years it has become celebrated across the country. This year it will be recognized as a holiday in Buncombe County for the first time.

“This is why it's important to celebrate Juneteenth so that we know American history. This isn't just Black history. But this is at the fabric and the core and the foundation, this is American history,” said Moore Hand.

Lake Junaluska apologized for its own racist past in 2017.  Housing, swimming pools and other facilities were segregated at the center until the 1960s.

Keith Turman is senior pastor at Waynesville First United Methodist Church and one of the organizers of the Juneteenth event. Turman said he believes that his faith calls him to act on matters of social justice:

Credit Lilly Knoepp
Waynesville FUMC Senior Pastor Keith Turman in his office.

“God doesn't want us to be quiet and just go on our merry little way,” said Turman, who wore a ‘Black Lives Matter’ mask during the interview.   

As a white man, Turman said he has learned about a lot of Black history in the last year - including Juneteenth:

“S0 much of this is, I'm 54 years old. How did I not know this? How did I not see this? And so, you know, that the tendency is well, I'll blame my education and that I learned it in a history class - but that's really on me. So just frustration with myself that I allowed myself to sleep through so much of that,” said Turman.  

He hopes the event will be a learning experience and a celebration:

“What we want to encourage is you're eating together under the big tent with someone that you don't know, preferably someone of a different color. You know, that's kind of the hope,” said Turman.

‘Daddy D’s on Wheels’ out of Asheville will be one of the food trucks helping feed those at the event.  Michael Darity Jr. owns the truck which is an extension of his family’s iconic Hendersonville restaurant.

“It’s based off of my grandfather Odell Suber. They named it Daddy D’s because he passed 3 months before opening the restaurant,” explained Darity.

“As far as the food is concerned, the name. Everything that I do is based off what I learned from them. They have been open 16 years. I’ve been open 1 year,” he said.  

Darity said his first Juneteenth celebration with the truck was last year in Hillcrest and this year he’s excited to be somewhere new:

“Us being a Black owned business soul food restaurant. I think that gives people an opportunity to taste soul food and connect it with the Juneteenth holiday and the Black community,” said Darity.

He added sharing a meal creates a space for connection:

“I feel like there are so many things that need to be addressed and it just creates a platform to address those things in a safe environment,” said Darity.

The Juneteenth event comes at a time when the United Methodist Church once again grapples with a schism based on a human rights issue.  The church is at odds over whether LGBTQ+ people can be ordained and married. The decision was postponed because of COVID-19 but a split is expected.

An international deal for the conservative churches has already been proposed. The conference is currently scheduled for August 2022.

Dr. Stephanie Moore Hand explains this is common it church history – it split previously on the rights of enslaved Black people, and women:

“And now here we are standing at the crossroad once again of another schism,” said Moore Hand.  

The Waynesville First United Methodist Church has already decided where they stands on the issue. Ninety percent of the congregation voted in 2019 to recognize LGBTQ+ clergy and marriage.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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