African-American Public Education in Madison County

After the Civil War, public education began again in North Carolina by the 1870’s, including free public education for elementary colored students in Madison County.[i]

Later, by 1901, Madison County operated colored schools at Hot Springs, Little Pine, Marshall, and in the Mars Hill area.[ii] The Madison schools were fully integrated by 1965.

Before 1905 there were three colored schools in the greater Mars Hill area: in the Grapevine, Mars Hill, and Ivy neighborhoods.[iii] The Mars Hill Colored School moved to a new building in the fall of 1905. The property, one acre, on which the new school house was erected was secured from Mr. Scudder Willis in April of that year,[iv] and the Superintendent reported in June, “a new school house built for colored people at Mars Hill at a cost of $125 dollars, including one acre of ground”.[v] In 1908, J.R. Rogers was paid $10.50 for the road to the school, what would become Mt. Olive Drive.[vi]

This new colored school location was on a long ridge knoll, above the Ivy River Basin, facing the Blue Ridge Mountains,“The Blacks,” to the south and overlooking the Forks of Ivy crossroad settlement location below, where pioneer homestead settlers and Native Americans have left past and even ancient history evidence in oral traditions and artifacts.[vii]

The long ridge place name came from this ridge that runs south from Little Mountain at Mars Hill to the Forks of Ivy, along the horse and buggy road that developed between the two settlements, over two miles long, running through what became the Long Ridge Colored Community. This community grew around two new buildings, both built in 1905, the school and the church. The Mt. Olive Baptist Church house was built not distant from the school, close to where the church building is today. The Strayhorns were married in that building in 1910, where family members remembered its being located in “wooded Mars Hill, North Carolina”.[viii]

According to oral interviews with Manuel Briscoe, Augusta Ray, and Shirley Sewell, all three attended school in this building, and referred to the school as the Long Ridge School. That local name continued being used even after the new Rosenwald building replaced the older building in 1929-1930; however, the School Board still referred to the school as Mars Hill Colored, until 1959, when they voted to give the school a more appropriate name, Anderson Elementary School.[ix] The new name was to honor Joe Anderson, the Mars Hill slave who went to prison for Mars Hill College indebtedness in 1859. The name may have been suggested by the Mars Hill Colored School Committee according to members of the History Committee. Two members of that school committee were Manual Briscoe, great grand son-in-law of Joe Anderson, and Augusta Briscoe Ray, sister to Manuel, and mother of Charity Ray and Dorothy Coone. The three Long Ridge School student interviewees also told of the 1918 visit of Henry Ford and friends to the school.

By 1920, the Federal Census for Madison County, lists 120 colored children in the Mars Hill district with 319 in the whole county, ages five through twenty.[x] By the 1920’s, it appears that the three colored schools in the Mars Hill area were consolidated at Long Ridge.

The Mars Hill Rosenwald school was built in 1928.

The New Long Ridge School Building, 1929-1930

The Rosenwald Building

In 1929-1930, $750 in monies were received from the Rosenwald Fund of North Carolina,[xxiii] and was matched by State, Madison County, and the Long Ridge Community monies. John Ferguson of the Long Ridge Community gave the $200 for the community match, according to oral tradition by Ms. Dorothy Coone of the community, school, and History Committee. Total cost for the school was $2093.00.[xxiv] Another acre of land was purchased in 1927, adjacent to the older school lot, from J.M. Rice and wife for $150.[xxv] This additional land was required to secure Rosenwald funds for the new building; thus, the two acres of land met that requirement.

Eighty-three Negro children were enrolled in Madison County colored schools in 1930 according to the North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction, “9th smallest of any county in the state”.[xxvi]

This beautiful new school building was a two teacher school house, that served all the colored students of Madison County through the seventh grade, with high school students being bussed to Stephens-Lee High School in Asheville after the 1940’s, continuing until Madison County schools were integrated by 1965.

The empty building continued standing after integration, being used as a possible Recreation Center in the 1970’s, even a basketball court by local youth, and later as a burley tobacco air-curing barn for the Briscoes In the 1980’s. The building continued being owned by the Madison County School Board, but forgotten by Board Members until a local Long Ridge neighbor requested that the building be removed for widening the road by the school. Steward Coates, having grown up as a youth in the neighborhood, a Board of Education member, suggested that the historic building be given back to the Long Ridge Community for preservation. Thus the building was not torn down, but survived for posterity.

The John D. Rockefeller Room
From an interview with Mrs. Shirley [Barnette] Sewell, conducted in June 9, 1983 by Edwin Cheek.

“I was born in 1913, and I started school when I was 6; so that was 1919, and I finished the 7th grade, that’s all that they had here. I was 8 or 9 years old when … John D. Rockefeller came through. I remember that the teacher told us to get dressed; so we put on our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and wore them to school that day. He had been to Marshall, so he came to Long Ridge School to see our work…

“So he came up — seems like it was a T-model Ford, he and two other guys. I know he had on a big Stetson-like hat, and I don’t remember what the other people wore, ‘cause all we wanted to see was the richest man in the world, John D. Rockefeller. So we saw him… He appropriated the money for us to add an addition to the school, and this additional room was called the John D. Rockefeller Room.”


[i] W.E. White, Superintendent, Annual Report by Superintendent of Public Instruction (Raleigh, NC: Josiah Turner, Public Printer and Binder) 1875.

[ii] Madison County Board of Education, “School Expense Ledger Book, 1901-1904” (Robert L. Moore, Superintendent) MHU Archives, Local History, Box 103, Folder 1.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Madison County Register of Deeds (Marshall, NC) Book 20, Page 186.

[v] Madison County Board of Education “Minutes, June 5, 1905,” Microfilm, MHU Archives.

[vi] Madison County Board of Education, “School Expense Ledger Book, 1903-1908,” p. 151 (Robert L. Moore, Superintendent) MHU Archives, Local History, Box 103, Folder 2.

[vii] Ruth Dilling, et al. eds., Os Deaver Historic Diary, 1885-1896 (Mars Hill, NC: MHU Pawprints) 2013. Richard Dillingham, “The Forks of Ivy,” Unpublished Manuscript, 2013. U.S. Geological Survey Map, Mars Hill, NC Quad, 1935.

[viii] David Hajou, Lush Life: Biography of Billy Strayhorn, p. 4 (New York: North Point Press) 1996.

[ix] Madison County Board of Education, Madison County Schools, “Anderson Elementary School,” 1965.

[x] Shirley Crowder and Lisa Bass, Transcribers, U.S. Federal Census, 1920: Madison County, NC (Mars Hill, NC: MHC Pawprints) 2004.

[xi] Madison County Board of Education, “School Expense Ledger Book, 1901-1904,” Sept.-Oct. 1901 (Robert L. Moore, Superintendent) MHU Archives, Local History, Box 103, Folder 1.

[xii] Ibid., 1903-1908, p. 151, Box 103, Folder 2.

[xiii] Ibid., 1909-1912, Box 103, Folder 3.

[xiv]Madison County Board of Education “Minutes,” Sept. 7, 1907, Microfilm, MHU Archives.

[xv] Madison County Board of Education, “School Expense Ledger Book, 1903-1908,” p.151, Box 103, Folder 2.

[xvi] Mars Hill College, “Long Ridge Community Celebration Program,” 2010, MHU Archives.

[xvii] Harley E. Jolley, “That Magnificent Army of Youth and Peace…” (Raleigh, NC: Edwards Brothers Printers), 2007.

[xviii] John Angus McLeod, From These Stones, pp. 19-21 (Mars Hill, NC: MHC Press) 1968, Reprint 2000.

[xix] A.M. Rivera, Jr., “A Slave Named Joe, Pittsburgh Courier, (Pittsburgh, PA) 1947, MHU Archives.

[xx] David Hajou, Lush Life: Biography of Billy Strayhorn, p. 4 (New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux) 1996.

[xxi]Edwin B. Cheek, “Long Ridge School: In Memory And On Record,” MHC History Research Paper, Summer 1983, MHU Archives. Mars Hill College, Quarterly, Dec. 1918, Vol. XV, No. 1, MHU Archives. Lou Harshaw, Asheville: Mountain Majesty, Grove Park Inn, p. 180 (Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books) 2007.

[xxii] Emily Herring Wilson, Hope and Dignity: Older Black Women of the South, pp. 169-174 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press)1983.

[xxiii] A.T. Alleu,Superintendent, Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of NC, 1929-1930, p. 315 (Raleigh, NC) 1931.

[xxiv] Fisk University, “Rosenwald Fund Card Database,” Slagle.

[xxv] Madison County Register of Deeds (Marshall, NC) Book 49, Page 452.

[xxvi] News Record (Marshall, NC) “Few Negroes in Madison,” Feb. 7, 1930, p.1, Microfilm, MHU Archives.

[xxvii] McLeod, p. 251.

[xxviii] Madison County Board of Education, “School Expense Ledger Book, 1901-1904 (Robert L. Moore, Superintendent) MHU Archives, Local History, Box 103, Folder 1.

[xxix] Charlene Ray, “History of Blacks in Madison County,” MHC History Research Paper, 1981, MHU Archives.

[xxx] Mars Hill College, “Long Ridge Community Celebration Program,” Oct. 2010, MHU Archives.