THE MARS HILL ANDERSON ROSENWALD SCHOOL PROJECT
Madison County, NC, operated a black school from the early 1900’s until schools were integrated in 1964. Research on this school is a work in progress; therefore, the following information is provisional.
This information was prepared in support of the Rosenwald School Project in Mars Hill, NC, by a planning committee composed of Dorothy Koon, Edwin Cheek, Pauline Cheek, Richard Dillingham Chair, and Charity Ray. Both Ms. Koon and Ms. Ray attended the Anderson Elementary School (Rosenwald) in the 1940’s.
It is surmised that from 1902 through 1905 there were three colored schools in the greater Mars Hill area: Grapevine, Mars Hill, and Middle Fork neighborhoods (Moore Papers, Mars Hill College Archives). Richard Dillingham surmises that Madison County consolidated these three schools into Anderson Elementary School which was named for Joe Anderson, the Mars Hill slave who went to prison to provide collateral for Mars Hill College’s indebtedness (John McLeod, FROM THESE STONES). The property on which this Rosenwald school was constructed was secured in 1927 (Madison County Schools Archives).
According to oral interviews with Manuel Briscoe, Augusta Ray, and Shirley Sewell, the Long Ridge School was in this community from 1906 until the Rosenwald School was built (“Long Ridge Schools in Memory and On Record,” paper by Edwin B Cheek, 1983, Mars Hill College Archives).
Students from this school have attracted both state and national attention:
- In March 1910 the mother and father of Billy Strayhorn, the eminent African- American composer-arranger, were married in the Mt. Olive Church. Both his mother and his maternal grandmother had attended Long Ridge School (David Hajou, LUSH LIFE: BIOGRAPHY OF BILLY STRAYHORN, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, p.9).
- This school was visited in August 1918 by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs. Students at Long Ridge were told to dress in their best clothes for this occasion. The men stopped at Long Ridge School, and Henry Ford donated money for an additional room for art. (Their visit was mentioned in all three interviews recorded in Edwin B Cheek’s paper.)
- Viola King Barnette was a washerwoman for Mars Hill College Faculty and administration. All her children, including Shirley Sewell, attended Long Ridge School. She wrote to the Superintendent of North Carolina Schools saying that her children were entitled by law to public education. In reply she was told that because of her letter all black children in North Carolina would have access to high school, beginning with busing to Asheville from Mars Hill. She and her story are featured in Emily Wilson’s, HOPE AND DIGNITY.
On the basis of this information we concluded that this school deserves restoration and preservation and that its story be told. Submitted By: Polly Cheek, March 19, 2010.
How can you help? Donations for the Anderson School Project can be sent to the Madison County Schools central office in care of the MC Education Foundation. Please make all donations designated to the Anderson Rosenwald School Project. Address for the central office is 5738 Hwy 25/70 Marshall, NC 28753.