Mars Hill University Hosts Descendants of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington - TribPapers

Mars Hill University Hosts Descendants of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington

Kenneth B Morris Jr. Photo submitted.

Mars Hill – On Sunday, October 2, the Rosenwald Collaborative and Mars Hill University will present a panel from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. at Broyhill Chapel on the MHU campus. Kenneth Morris, Peter Ascoli, and Stephanie Deutsch will share memories and knowledge of their ancestors. 
All the speakers have a connection to either Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, or Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck, and Company. Rosenwald and Washington partnered in the early 1900s to build more than 5,000 elementary schools in the South for children of color. One of these schools, the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School, located in the Long Ridge community, was built in 1929-30. 

Morris is the great-great-grandson of Washington and also a descendant of Frederick Douglass. He is also cofounder and president of the Rochester, NY-based nonprofit Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI), which works “to build strong children and to end systems of exploitation and oppression.”

Deutsch is married to Rosenwald’s great-grandson. She is the author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South. Ascoli is the grandson of Rosenwald and author of Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South. For details about this event and to RSVP, please visit Malaprops. com/rosenwald-school-events


This month, the friends of the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School and the Madison County Board of Education celebrated the completion of a school rehabilitation project that has been in progress since 2009. Simultaneously, local publisher Pisgah Press, LLC, is releasing the new book, Our Story, This Place (hardcover, $40; softcover, $19.95) that tells the full history of the school, its alumni and teachers, and the significance of the school in Black rural education across the South during the first half of the 20th century.

The Rosenwald Schools were the brainchild of Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, cofounder and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. More than 5,000 of these schools were built across the segregated South between 1910 and 1930 to serve rural Black children who had no other options for an education under prevailing Jim Crow laws.

Some 500 of the schools were in North Carolina, and the school in Mars Hill is the only one known to have been continuously part of the local school board, the Madison County Board of Education. The school was built by local Black labor following one of several blueprints provided by the Rosenwald Schools Fund. The school was funded by local contributions and a grant of $750 from the Rosenwald Fund.

The Mars Hill Rosenwald School succeeded the original “Mars Hill Colored School”; it was later renamed for the enslaved brick mason, Joseph Anderson, who was held in jail as collateral for a construction loan during the building of Mars Hill College (now University). Many descendants of Joseph Anderson attended the school, and a number of those alumni have been active in the restoration process.
The school operated between 1929 and 1965, when Madison County school segregation ended following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court. Thereafter, it fell into disrepair, being used at various times as a tobacco curing barn, basketball court, and storage facility. The rehabilitation began in 2009 when a group of interested, concerned residents, alumni, and friends began to save the building and restore it to its historic place in the community.

Now, after completion of the 13-year project, the school has opened as an interactive historic site and museum. It is registered on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information, contact Fatimah Shabazz by phone or text at (828) 273-4236, or at A.D. Reed, Pisgah Press – or (828) 301-8968