African and Native American Ethnic Heritage at Mars Hill University

1905 – President Moore of Mars Hill College, while serving Superintendent of Madison County Schools with the Board of Education, built a new Mars Hill Colored Elementary school building on Long Ridge in Mars Hill,1 Mars Hill, Grapevine, and Ivy.2 The Long Ridge Community and Mount Olive Baptist Church evolved around this new school building.3 This building would be replaced in 1928 with the new Rosenwald School building.4

1920s – Mars Hill College accepted students of color, Native American and Foreign.5

1922 – Rev. Dr. Walter N. Johnson, a Stewardship leader in the Southern Baptist Convention and beginning in 1922, professor in Mars Hill’s Department of Religion. He helped organize the interracial Minister’s Conference held at Mars Hill, 1930-1950, and his pamphlet, “The Next Step,” was printed at Mars Hill and mailed to Christian leaders through the South.6 College historian, John Angus McLeod called him “a prophetic Christian philosopher of his day.”7 The Social Gospel ministry which he espoused had a profound impact on the Civil Rights Movement in the South, and with Christian leaders nationally.8

1922-44 – Dr. Walter Johnson’s The Next Step was published at Mars Hill College for Christian ministers throughout the south.9

1928-31 – Rev. Dr. Martin England, professor of Religion and Math at Mars Hill College.10 Having come under the influence of Dr. Walter Johnson, he became active in the Social Gospel Movement and, in 1942 helped Clarence Jordan to found Koinonia Farm, an interracial community in Sumter County, Georgia.11 Out of this community came “The Cotton Patch Gospel” by Jordon and Habitat for Humanity. Further, Dr. England was called “The Johnny Appleseed of the Peace Movement,” because of his work nationally for peace, especially in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr12.

1930s – From Dr. Johnson’s influence during the 1930s:

  • Churches in Hickory Mill-villages were integrated.13
  • Black and White ministers from across the South came to summer meetings at Mars Hill College;14 many of whom became Christian leaders in the southern integration movement during the 1960s.
  • MHC contributed influences to the “Social Gospel” movement in the South.
  • Koinonia, a 1942 interracial community in Georgia was founded by Clarence Jordan and Martin England.15

1932 – Joseph Anderson’s grave was moved to the Oak Grove near the south entrance to Mars Hill College campus, with an appropriate granite Memorial Marker, “In Memory of Joe.”16

1933 – Mars Hill College integrated its summer conferences in this year, with southern church leaders coming to the college, both White and Black, men and women.17

1940s – Dr. Blackwell accepted Native Americans from eastern North Carolina, the Croatan/Pembroke/Lumbee, into Mars Hill College.18

1940s – College personnel, Caroline and Martha Biggers, with Cornelia-Vann, encouraged African American laundress Viola King-Barnette (MHU Coach Kevin Barnette’s grandmother) to write to the North Carolina Superintendent of Schools seeking colored students’ access to high school, resulting in all North Carolina rural children’s access to high school.19

1961 – Oralene Graves (Simmons) was accepted to Mars Hill College, 20 the first African-American accepted by the school, making it the first Baptist School in North Carolina to fully integrate.21 She is the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Anderson, the slave who went to jail in 1859 for a college debt owed to the contractors on the first academic building.22 Ms. Simmons is retired Executive Director of the YMI Cultural Center in Asheville, NC.23 She organized the Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast in Asheville, NC, the largest in the southeast.24

1960s – Nine to twelve other African-American students attended Mars Hill College during the 1960s.25

1971 (Aug) – Patricia Brown Griffin graduated from Mars Hill Senior College. Ms. Griffin studied in the adult Career Opportunities Program with Dr. John Hough. She transferred to Mars Hill from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She worked in the Asheville city school system after receiving her BA from Mars Hill College and her MA from Western Carolina University in Elementary Education; she served as the Principal of the Randolph Learning Center. She also taught in adult classes at Mars Hill College in 1996 and 1997. Patricia Brown Griffin is now retired and lives in Asheville, North Carolina.26

1972 (May) – Three African-American students graduated from Mars Hill College in 1972:

  • Rodney Lynn Johnson, Asheville High School athlete, received a BS in Physical Education, and is now working at George Washington University.27
  • Sammy Lewis Lucas, from Lamar, South Carolina, received a BS in music education and voice.28
  • Roger David McGowan, from Laurens, South Carolina, received a BS in biology.29

1972-1975 – Under the leadership of Dr. Richard Hoffman, Dean at Mars Hill college and Dr. John Hough, Director of Continuing Education Program at the school, an adult education program was established to train African-American elementary school teachers.30

The Buncombe and Madison Counties’ Opportunity Corporation of the “War on Poverty” funded this special education program at Mars Hill College.31 One hundred twenty-seven African-American adults were trained through this program, meeting the needs for recently integrated elementary schools in Buncombe County and across North Carolina.32

1975 – Sarah Roland Hart, native of the Long Ridge African American Community in Mars Hill graduated with a degree in Education. Later she secured a Masters Degree in VA before she retired in Asheville as a public school teacher.33

1981 – Charlene Delores Ray was the first Joseph Anderson descendent to graduate from Mars Hill Senior College; she was a great granddaughter of Doskie McDowell, granddaughter of Joseph Anderson.34 Ms. Ray was first Appalachian Scholar at Mars Hill College. Her Scholar’s Research was entitled “History of Blacks in Madison County, 1860-1981,” now in the school archives.35 She graduated with Honors and while at Mars Hill was named to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.36 After she received her Master’s Degree at ETSU, Mrs. Dunn was employed at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.37

1995 – Namurah Simmons, daughter of Oralene Graves Simmons, graduated from Mars Hill College.38

1999 – Joseph Anderson and the Jane Ray Family designated a Mars Hill College Founding Family.39

2006 – Joe Anderson Memorial Site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.40

2009 (May) – Shamia Terry, granddaughter of Oralene Graves Simmons, graduated from Mars Hill College.41

2010 (Oct.) – East Dormitory Drive on the University campus was re-named Joe Anderson Drive to further honor Joseph Anderson.42 MHU Founders Week celebrated the Joseph Anderson Family, meeting in the Long Ridge Community at Mount Olive Church and Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School.43

2011 – President Lunsford and Principal Chief Michael Hicks of the Eastern Band of Cherokees signed Heritage Agreement in support of Scholarships and Historic Resources for Cherokee students attending MHU.44

2013 – Mars Hill College graduate Rodney Lynn Johnson, an African-American, was named Mars Hill University Alumnus of the Year.45

2014 – MHU students received the National Picture Award, taken by Dr. Mullinax, for their Community Service at the Rosenwald School during the Martin Luther King Day of Service.46

2015 – Weeping Cherry Tree planted during Founders Week by MHU students at the Joe Anderson Memorial to honor Oralene Graves Simmons.47

2017 – Joseph Anderson Kiosk “From Slave to Founder” was erected at the Anderson Memorial.48

2018 – 217 African American and 17 Native American students were enrolled in the MHU student body of 1,132.49

2019 – Public celebration of Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School Ten Year Rehabilitation Milestone50 at Mars Hill University, in the Long Ridge Community and at the Rosenwald school.

2020 – Unveiling Our Treasures, “From Margins to Center: Reflections on the History of African Americans at Mars Hill University, 1856-1980.” Dr. David Gilbert and Malik Frost. Liston B. Ramsey Center.51