Alumni Of Historic Black School In Mars Hill Return To Their Classroom

Sep 4, 2019

A 10-year restoration of the Historic Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School has just been completed. 

The property was first called the Long Ridge Colored School -- until it received money from a  philanthropist who helped fund schools for black children across the South. 

On Aug. 30, alumni returned to their old classroom for the ribbon cutting ceremony. 

The interior is stark. Exposed wood walls and a white beadboard ceiling. Half of the room is lined with the original, dark wood. The other half is brighter, newly placed pine. 

Credit Cass Herrington / BPR News

Windows line one side of the room --- and those windows were the classroom’s only source of light. 

“Because we didn’t have electricity,” Fatimah Shabazz said. 

Shabazz stood facing the blank wood wall, where she remembers the chalkboard used to be. 

“So we faced this way in our little desks, and as the sun would come up, we got more and more light,” Shabazz said. 

Her mother Mary Wilson taught in this one room schoolhouse. Shabazz says she remembers her early morning drives with her mom to school from Asheville, down a two-lane road to Mars Hill.  

“She was my first teach. She was invested in our education, and everyone’s,” Shabazz said. 

Shabazz is proud to see her old school restored and preserved, and she says, she hopes the next generation carries the story forward. 

“And to look at where we are today, as far as race. Why we are going backwards?,” Shabazz said. “I think A lot of it is not being aware of what has happened previously to overcome those things, versus going back to them.”  

The Rosenwald School is a concept created by Sears Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald and educator Booker T. Washington, himself a freed slave. Rosenwald had the financial means and Washington had the vision to establish thousands of state-of-the-art schools for black children in the Jim Crow South. 

“The socio-economic structure that we had was unknown but it carried us through to this day,” Bohanon said. 

Wallace Bohanon is with the Friends Group of the Historic Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School. He says in addition to funds from Rosenwald, the schools required a third of their funding come from the Board of Education, and the final third from the school community.  

“The African American community was so involved in their own education. I always had the impression that maybe we were kind of waiting on handouts. But naww, they did the work,” Bohanon said.  

Bohanon, who’s black, moved to Marshall from New York. He says he decided to get involved because he wanted to continue the legacy that the school’s founders started. 

 That’s the spirit behind the restoration effort that took a decade to complete. A shared desire to say to the wider Appalachian region -- African Americans were here, are here, and continue to invest in their futures here.