School Used to Educate Black Students Preserved - TribPapers

School Used to Educate Black Students Preserved

The restored Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School as it sits today. Photo by Clint Parker.

Mars HIll – It was a time of segregation, and white and black students were prohibited from attending the same school. A prominent businessman, Julius Rosenwald, part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, helped financially build thousands of schools across the South for black students. Those schools became known as Rosenwald Schools.

A more than 10-year program to restore one of the few remaining Rosenwald Schools took place in Mars Hill, with the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School located in the Long Ridge Community just south of Mars Hill. The schoolhouse is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Recently, the Madison County Genealogical Society held its monthly meeting inside the restored schoolhouse. Headlining the meeting’s program was Dan Slagle, a member of the Friends of Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School, the group that led the project to revitalize one of two Rosenwald schools left in Western North Carolina and the only school still owned by the Madison County School Board.

Slagle said there were more than three schools in the county for black children. “But then, as schools consolidated with each other and the schools got less and less, they ended up with three color schools in Madison County. Mars Hill, Marshall, and Hot Springs,” explained Slagle.

Slagle went on to say the first to close was Marshall. “When Marshall closed, they started sending their students to Mars Hill.” The Hot Springs school eventually closed, and Slagle explained that the students in Hot Springs took the train to Marshall, where they joined the Marshall students and took a bus to the Mars Hill school.

In Madison County, the only colored schools they had were elementary schools. There were no high schools. So when you turned 16, you still had to be in school. So the story is if you had already graduated the seventh or eighth grade and your parents couldn’t afford to pay to take you or send you to Asheville or Buncombe County School – Stephens-Lee – you just stayed here and repeated the seventh or eighth grade until you were 16.”

The Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School (previously a one-room schoolhouse known as the Anderson School and built-in 1905) was built in 1928 with money from the Rosenwald Funds. The then-superintendent, S.M. Blankenship, of Madison School Board wrote a letter to the North Carolina chapter of the Rosenwald Funds to ask for resources to build a new school and was granted 25% of the money.

Slagle said the money to fund the refurbishing of the building came from several places, including the state, the county, and a number of grants. While the original school cost $2,000 to build, with $500 coming from the Rosenwald Fund, the restoration was slightly more expensive. According to Slagle, the rehab of the building was about $250,000 in cost.

The large period correct windows were $1,500 per window, with eight windows facing west to let the sun in as there was no electricity in the building until the early 1940s. The school also had no indoor plumbing, with the closest well for drinking water nearly half a mile away. So the round trip for water was over a three-quarter mile hike, with the older children making the burdensome trips. Water was installed in the building in the 1940s.

The new school also allowed for a two-teacher facility as a divider in the center of the room, allowing for classrooms on either side. The structure also accommodated two wood stoves for heat in the winter. The school was last used in 1964, when in 1965, 29 students at the school were integrated into the rest of the school system. Slagle said some of those students came into his 7th-grade class.

According to Slagle, what saved the building was that it was used for years to hang tobacco, so a good roof was necessary. “They started to use this building to hang tobacco in. When we started working this building…” tobacco polls were in the building along with tobacco scraps two to three inches deep on the floor. “If they did not keep tobacco in here for those years, I have a feeling this building would not have been here,” Slagle added. After the building was used as a tobacco shed, the community used it as a community center.

Slagle said Willa and David Wyatt, who were not at the meeting, were very instrumental in the restoration of the building.