Shiloh Elementary In Asheville: One Of The Historic Rosenwald Schools

Dec 18, 2018

The Shiloh Elementary school served Asheville's African-American community from the 1920's until it graduated its last class in 1969.  Shiloh was one of the more than 45-hundred Rosenwald Schools, which were built in the early 20th century to serve African-American students in rural parts of the Southern U.S.  There were also Rosenwald Schools in Brevard and Mars Hill.  They were created through a partnership of Julius Rosenwald, a white Jewish businessman and philanthropist, and Booker T. Washington, the famed African-American leader and educator.

This week, BPR is featuring interviews with students at UNC Asheville who presented at this fall's African-Americans in Western North Carolina & Southern Appalachia Conference.  Chris McKoy, a senior at the school, spoke about his research into Shiloh Elementary in Asheville, which included speaking to numerous people who attended the school. 

Excerpts on interview:

Tell us some of the stories that you heard from your interviews with students - "One story was from a woman who was home-schooled in the early part of her life until she was able to go to the Shiloh school.  She was being home-schooled by one of the teachers (at Shiloh) who lived next door to her.  That teacher happened to die right before it was (the student's) time to enroll early, and they wouldn't let her.  She had to wait her turn, but when she came in, she was very smart and very intuitive.  I had one interview with a man who told me how they would get their textbooks.  He was part of a group of young men who would jump in the back of a pickup truck, and they would drive to one of the white schools near the Biltmore estate, and they would be taking (that schools) hand-me-downs.  The old textbooks that school was getting rid of, and that's what they (as students) would have to go off of.  So a lot of their information could have been dated.

Fundraisers were an important part of the Shiloh school - "It was the community's school.  In building it, they used certain resources like fallen trees.  They were chopping up trees for wood.  Families would donate food to the school for the kids to eat during lunch.  It was a school being sustained by the community.  Their biggest fundraiser was fish fry's.  People loved fish fry's.  They said that was always the biggest thing they could do.  They would also have community carnivals.  They would do rides into the country.  Essentially it was a ride in a pickup truck, and someone would drive you all through the countryside before bringing you back to the where the carnival was."

What he took out of his research into the Shiloh school, and what we can all learn from it in 2018 - "I grew up in a community similar to Shiloh.  Not 100% obviously because it's a much later time, but I grew up in a small community of mainly African-American people.  And I went to a school that was right down the street.  When I was talking to the people I interviewed, I could see a lot of parallels with myself and them in the way that they grew up and the way I did through school, and having a lot of teachers and administrators so heavily embedded in my community that would look out for me and make sure I stayed on the right path.  Just like the Shiloh community did.  When integration (of schools) came to the Shiloh community, everything was starting to change.  It's no more coming home, and I'm happy because I went to school with my friends.  Now you're going to school and you're battling racism, and you're trying to be accepted and get an education at the same time and stay focused through adversity.  I feel like when integration came, it didn't break up the community, but it definitely put a strain on it."