African and Native American Ethnic Heritage at Mars Hill University

1905 – President Moore of Mars Hill College, while serving as Superintendent of Madison County Schools with the Board of Education, built a new Mars Hill Colored Elementary school building in what became the Long Ridge Community in Mars Hill,1 consolidating Mars Hill, Grapevine, and Ivy colored schools.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 was 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 by Milton Fuller. 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 Jr.12

1928-29 – MHC President R. L. Moore serves as Chairman of the Board of Education in Madison County for its new Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School, which credits his leadership with two new African-American school houses in the Long Ridge Community.13

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

    1. Churches in Hickory Mill-villages were integrated.14
    2. Black and White ministers from across the South came to summer meetings at Mars Hill College;15 many of whom became Christian leaders in the southern integration movement during the 1960s.
    3. MHC contributed influences to the “Social Gospel” movement in the South.
    4. Koinonia, a 1942 interracial community in Georgia was founded by Clarence Jordan and Martin England.16

1932 – During the Moore Administration and with the leadership of professor McLeod, 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.”17

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.18

1938 – Mars Hill College employed African American residents of the Long Ridge Community: Dallas Anderson and sister Doskie Anderson McDowell, grandchildren of Joe Anderson, began work in the new college cafeteria kitchen.19

1940s – Dr. Blackwell accepted Native Americans from eastern North Carolina, the Croatan/Pembroke/Lumbee, into Mars Hill College.20

1940s – College personnel, Caroline and Martha Biggers, with 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.21

1953 – Dr. Jim Jones, a Lumbee Indian, after graduating from MHC went on to medical school and later became head of the Department of Family Practice at East Carolina University Medical School.21a

1961 – Oralene Graves (Simmons) was accepted to Mars Hill College,22 the first African-American accepted by the school, making it the first Baptist School in North Carolina to fully integrate.23 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.24 Ms. Simmons is retired Executive Director of the YMI Cultural Center in Asheville, NC.25 She organized the Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast in Asheville, NC, the largest in the southeast.26

1960s – Nine to twelve other African-American students attended Mars Hill College during the 1960s.27

1968 – Significant academic programs that benefited minorities were begun by Academic Dean Dr. Richard Hoffman. The Upward Program began at the college in the Summer of 1968 with 55 high school students on campus for 8 weeks. Ten of those students were African American students from Asheville City Schools and one from Mars Hill. Two of these 9 students became very successful. Dr. Joe Crawford became a medical doctor in New York City and Audrey Byrd Mosley became a highly successful attorney in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the Federal Upward Bound Program was to encourage disadvantaged high school students to attend college. Dr. John Hough, Chair of Education Department wrote the federal grant proposal and became the first director of the program at Mars Hill.28

1971 (Aug.) – Patricia Brown Griffin graduated from Mars Hill College, becoming the first African American to graduate from the senior college. Ms. Griffin studied in the COP Program with Dr. John Hough. She transferred to Mars Hill from Spillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She worked in the Asheville City School System after receiving her BA from Mars Hill College and 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, living in Asheville.29

1970-1975 – The Career Opportunity Program (COP) was an innovative initiative that provided the education training needed by teacher’s assistants to become fully certified teachers. The COP Program was written by Sylvia Airhart, from Mars Hill, Supervisor for the Asheville City Schools and Dr. John Hough, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Mars Hill College, who also served as Director of COP from 1973-1975. The program served some 200 teachers’ assistants in the Asheville City, Buncombe County and Madison County School Systems. It graduated 125 of these students as full certified teachers who taught in the three school systems. Over 60 of these were African Americans who taught in Asheville City and Buncombe County School Systems, becoming graduates of the Mars Hill COP Program. In 1975 the COP Program became the Continuing Education Program, directed by Mr. Ray Rapp.30

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

    1. Rodney Lynn Johnson, Asheville High School athlete, received a BS in Physical Education, and is now working at George Washington University.31
    2. Sammy Lewis Lucas, from Lamar, South Carolina, received a BS in music education and voice.32
    3. Roger David McGowan, from Laurens, South Carolina, received a BS in biology.33

1975 – Sarah Roland Weston Hart, a native of the Long Ridge African American Community in Mars Hill, graduated from MHC with a degree in Elementary Education, being the first African-American to graduate from Madison County and her Long Ridge Community. She taught school in the Asheville City School System from 1975-1984. Moving to Virginia, she taught school in Alexandra, VA, and in Prince William County where she received her Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership Management from George Mason University. After retirement, Sara returned home to NC in 2007. Her granddaughter, Stephanie Weston, will continue her family education tradition by graduating from MHU in 2007. . Sarah Roland Weston Hart is an alumna of the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School and Stevens-Lee High School in Asheville. Today, she is serving as a member of the MHARS’ Friends Group and their History Committee.34

1981 – Charlene Delores Ray was the first Joseph Anderson descendent to graduate from Mars Hill Senior College; she was a great granddaughter of Doskey McDowell, granddaughter of Joseph Anderson.35 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.36 She graduated with Honors and while at Mars Hill was named to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.37 After she received her Master’s Degree at ETSU, Mrs. Charlene Ray Dunn was employed at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.38

1986 – MHC integrated its Bailey Mountain Clog Team when Dr. Donald Anderson placed Reggie Dixon, an African American student, on the team, making Bailey Mountain the first Appalachian clog dance team to integrate in the South.39

1995 – Namurah Simmons, daughter of Oralene Graves Simmons, graduated from Mars Hill College.40

1999 – Joseph Anderson and the Jane Ray Family was designated a Mars Hill College Founding Family.41

2006 – Joe Anderson Memorial Site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.42

2009 (May) – Shamia Terry, granddaughter of Oralene Graves Simmons, graduated from Mars Hill College.43

2010 (Oct.) – East Dormitory Drive on the University campus was re-named Jo Anderson Drive to further honor Joseph Anderson.44 MHU Founders Week celebrated the Joseph Anderson Family, meeting in the Long Ridge Community at Mount Olive Church and Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School.45

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.46

2013 – Mars Hill College graduate Rodney Lynn Johnson, an African-American, was named Mars Hill University Alumnus of the Year.47

2014 – MHU students received the National Picture Award, taken by Dr. Mullinax, for their Community Service at the Rosenwald School during the American Martin Luther King Day of Service.48

2015 – Weeping Cherry Tree planted during Founders Week by MHU NAACP students at the Joe Anderson Memorial to honor Oralene Graves Simmons.49

2017 – Joseph Anderson Kiosk “From Slave to Founder” was erected at the Anderson Memorial.50

2018 – 217 African American and 17 Native American students were enrolled in the MHU student body of 1,132.51

2019 – Public celebration of Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School Ten Year Rehabilitation Milestone at Mars Hill University, the Long Ridge Community, and at the Rosenwald school.52

2020 – Unveiling Our Treasures, “From Margins to Center: Reflections on the History of African Americans at Mars Hill University, 1856-1980,” by Dr. David Gilbert and Malik Frost. Their presentation was given at the Liston B. Ramsey Center at MHU.53

2022 – Oralene Anderson Graves Simmons is awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Mars Hill University.54


1. MCBE Minutes, 1906; 2. Ibid.; 3. MC Land Records, J.R. Rogers, 1925, Slagle; 4. Op. Cit., Minutes, 1928-29; 5. MHC Family Portrait, The Laurel, 1921. 6. John A. McLeod, From These Stones, pp. 270-271, 1967. Ken Sanford, The Mystique of Mars Hill, p. 47, 2007; 7. Ibid. p. 270; 8. Beverly England Williams, By Faith and By Love, 2015; 9. Ibid.; 10. Sanford, p, 48, England “The Next Step,”1941; 11. Ibid., p. 48; 12. Williams, Addendum, Dr. Albert Blackwell Funeral Comments of England; 13. MCBE Minutes, 1928; 14. McLeod, p. 270; 15. Ibid., p. 271; 16. Williams, 2015; 17. McLeod, pp. 23-24; 18. Ibid., p. 271; 19. Ibid., Opposite p. 251; 20. Ibid., pp. 268-69; 21. Emily Wilson, Hope and Dignity: Older Black Women of the South, pp. 172-73, 1983; 21a Ken Sanford, “The Mystique of Mars Hill, Interview with Dr. Chapman, p. 80, 2006. 22. McLeod, Opposite p. 251; 23. NC Historical Review, “Integration of Baptist Colleges in NC:” 24. Stephen Chandler, “The Story of Joe Anderson Revisited,” Student Research, 1988, MHU Archives; 25. Leigh Anne Rhodes, “Simmons shares lessons of equality with MMS students,” News-Record, pp. 1A, 8A, Feb. 12, 2018; 26. Sam DeGrave, “MLK, Jr. breakfast founder delivers keynote address,” Asheville Citizen Times, p. 3A, Jan. 14, 2018; 27. Walter Smith, MHC Public Relations, MHU Retiree; 28. Dr. John Hough, Upward Bound Program Director, Interview 2021; 29. Chapman Interview, 2009, Hough Interview, 2021; 30. Dr. Hough, Ray Rapp Interviews, 2021; 31. Chapman, Registrar Records, 2009; 32. Ibid.; 33. Ibid.; 34. Sarah Hart Interview, 2021; 35. MHARS “Our Story, This Place,” p. 40; 36. Ibid., 37. Ibid.; 38. Ibid.; 39. MHC Registrar Records, Anderson, Music 469, BMC; 40. Ibid., 1995; 41. Joseph Anderson Kiosk “From Slave to Founder,” 2017; 42. National Register of Historic Places, 2006; 43. MHC Registrar Records, 2009; 44. MHC Founders Week, October 12, 2010; 45. Ibid., 2010; 46. MHU News, Online, 2011; 47. MHU Homecoming, 2013; 48. MHARS, “Our Story, This Place, p. 51; 49. MHU Founders Week, October, 2015, Anderson Kiosk; 50. MHU Founders Week, 2017; 51. MHU News, Online, 2018; 52. MHARS Celebration, “Our Story, This Place,” pp. 50-53; 53. Dr. David Gilbert, “Unveiling Our Treasures,” MHU Liston B. Ramsey Center, 2020; 54. MHU Graduation, May 2022.