By Dasha Morgan
The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County, with the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald Society, is offering a rare opportunity to visit the “ only remaining intact Rosenwald school in Western North Carolina “ says Preservation Society coordinator for this program, Kim Leatherwood. The history of the Rosenwald Schools is of utmost importance for a better understanding of life in the South after the Civil War, when schools for southern African American children were all but nonexistent. The schools’ benefits have undoubtedly rippled through the generations, benefitting not only alumni but their offspring and the nation.
The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County invite all to come to the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 9, at 40 Mount Olive Drive, Mars Hill, North Carolina, 28754 for music and song before moving a short distance to the Rosenwald School at 225 Mount Olive Drive.
Civil War reconstruction in the South ended in 1877. It did not include any schools for children of former slaves. Such schools were few to nonexistant for decades. Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute collaborated with Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of Sears and Roebuck, to build 5,000 schools for these children across the South—from Maryland to Texas; recognized as one of the most important initiatives to advance their education in the early 20th century. The state of education for African Americans in the rural South was deplorable. Thanks to the efforts of Rosenwald and his Fund— by 1928, it is said that one-in-every-five schools for blacks in the rural South was a Rosenwald School. Rosenwald summarized his philosophy of philanthropy quite simply: “What I want to do is try and cure the things that seem wrong.”
From 1917 to 1932, Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald donated millions of dollars to build schools for African American children throughout the rural South. He gave half the money needed and required that the black and white community work to raise the other half. Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., helped build more than 5,000 schools in 15 states. There were 813 of these schools in North Carolina.
Rosenwald schools — characteristically, wooden buildings with windows — were designed to accommodate one to four teachers. Many were built next to churches. Rosenwald schools began to be phased out during the 1940s and 1950s, when school buses started transporting children to more centrally located schools. Many were demolished. Thanks to the work of pioneering grassroots activists and the National Trust’s Rosenwald Schools Initiative, Rosenwald schools have begun to be identified, preserved and celebrated. In fact, Friends of the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School led a celebration service, ribbon cutting, and tour of the school on Friday, August 30, 2019, in celebration of ten years of progress on the school’s rehabilitation.
To learn more details about the Mars Hills Rosenwald School, one only needs to drive 20 minute drive from Asheville, where the Preservation Society of Asheville Buncombe County program starts at historic Mount Olive Missionary Baptist church on Saturday November 9th. It will undoubtedly be an informative and interesting program. A children’s choir begins the event with songs that were sung by African American children who attended the school a century ago. Then there will be a very short 5-minute walk (or van ride if handicapped) to the renovated Rosenwald School for the main program. Willa Wyatt will introduce the program, which will include former students. Willa is chair of the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School Renovation committee and a former Madison County educator. Willa and her husband, David Wyatt, live on their family farm in Mars Hill. David is also a teacher and principal in Madison County and former Haywood County schools superintendent.
The one room building was in seriously dilapidated condition just 5 years ago. A dedicated committee of volunteers not only raised funds but invested generous sweat equity to restore the building inside and out. Even the bead board was carefully removed for refinishing. This is a rare opportunity to see the school and have a better understanding of the cultural and social history of all the Rosenwald schools and see what has been done to preserve these schools.