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Morris Rockford Hatton Sr.

Originally published: 2013-06-11 19:05:10
Last modified: 2013-06-11 19:06:35

Junaluska celebrates legacy


On Saturday, June 15, the Junaluska neighborhood of Boone will celebrate the living legacy of Morris Rockford Hatton Sr., who was ordained in the Mennonite Brethren ministry and ministered for 40 years in churches throughout the region.

Hatton pastored the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church at various times from 1930-60. He was instrumental also in establishing two other black Mennonite churches -- Bushtown and Darby -- in western North Carolina. He also pastored at Mennonite Brethren churches in Lenoir, Laytown and Beach Bottoms. He also preached the revival circuit at mountain churches throughout the area.

Hatton's son, Morris Rockford Hatton Jr., remembers his father coming home many times with chickens, in payment for his preaching in the early 20th century.

"Uncle Rock," as he was affectionately known, was born in 1889 in the small Wilkes County community of Darby. He was one of eight children born to Lee and Sally Mott Hatton, both descendants of slaves.

Hatton was drafted into the army in World War I and served as a night guard in a black company in West Virginia's McDowell County. He stayed on several years after the war ended to work in the McDowell coalfields alongside other family members.

By 1926, he had moved back to Darby and then walked up the Elk River to Boone where he met and married Nealie Grimes. 

Morris Hatton said his mother remembers her first sight of him in the neighborhood and thought he was the handsomest man she'd ever seen. In addition to Morris, they had two other children: Hallie Belle and Thelma.
Hatton also worked as a plasterer. The Hattons also grew most of their own food and had pigs and a milk cow. Nealie made and sold butter and they took boarders into the home.

The Hattons lived on Church Street adjacent to the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church in the Junaluska community until his death at 82 in 1971.  He was buried in Clarissa Hill Cemetery outside of Boone.

The senior Hatton often told about his encounter with the Lord, as he hiked up the mountain to Boone one day, during which he made a commitment to Jesus. From that point on, he ministered on an ecumenical basis in churches -- both black and white -- throughout the area. His son remembers his father as a dynamic evangelist who was called to preach, a man with a charismatic personality and an ability to talk easily to anyone.
Morris Hatton remembers a time when they were in Ashe County where "Rock" was preaching at a country church and one man became so convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit that he jumped up, ran to the altar, and slid in like he was coming into home base.

"He got saved," Hatton said, "and his life was changed forever as a result."

According to Katherine Seimens Richert in "Go Tell it on the Mountain: The Story of North Carolina-Tennessee Mennonite Mission" (Jet Print, 1984), "Rock was ordained to the ministry in 1927 and proved to be a great blessing to both colored and white. Brother Hatton was a big, warm-hearted, friendly man. There was something about his personality that attracted people and he was greatly loved. He was very tenderhearted and shed many tears for the lost souls of men. One of his favorite verses was Revelations 7:17: 'And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.'"

Morris Hatton recalled driving with his daddy to country churches where his dad preached and Morris sang.
"One time we were pulling into a white church parking lot and daddy said, 'Junior, you better back in here. These folks ain't seen folks like us before and we might have to leave here in a hurry.' But by the time we were ready to leave, they was huggin' and lovin' all over us," Morris said.

"When people heard that the Rev. Rock Hatton was coming to preach, the ones that walked to church would start out walking real early to make sure they didn't miss him," Morris said.

Rock Hatton's obituary stated: "Rev. Hatton was a man dedicated to a life of compassion, love and service to God and to His Son, a man dedicated to races of black and white, a man dedicated to a great song he loved and lived by patiently: 'I'll go Through, Lord Jesus, I'll go Through.' With such a dedicated life, he won love and respect from everyone" (Watauga Democrat, June 24, 1971).

if you go

The first Junaluska Jubilee was held in 2012. The second Jubilee celebration will be held on Saturday, June 15, and the public is invited to attend. The memorial service will begin at 11 a.m. at the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church, 222 Church St. Parking is available on Queen Street.
A meal will be served after the service in the fellowship hall from noon to 1:30 p.m.; a donation is requested.