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Students from the Long Ridge School have attracted both state and national attention.
In March 1910 the mother and father of Billy Strayhorn, the eminent African American composer-arranger, were married in the Mt. Olive Church. Both his mother and his maternal grandmother had attended Long Ridge School (David Hajou, LUSH LIFE: BIOGRAPHY OF BILLY STRAYHORN, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, p.9).
Viola King Barnette
Mars Hill native Viola King Barnette, whose son Herbert attended the Long Ridge School, wrote the North Carolina Department of Education to ask that schoolchildren from the Madison County school got to go to high school, asking him to send them to Asheville’s Stephens-Lee after 8th grade.
Barnette was a washerwoman for Mars Hill College Faculty and administration. All her children, including Shirley Sewell, attended Long Ridge School. Barnette wrote to the Superintendent of North Carolina Schools saying that her children were entitled by law to public education. In reply she was told that because of her letter all black children in North Carolina would have access to high school, beginning with busing to Asheville from Mars Hill. She and her story are featured in Emily Wilson’s, HOPE AND DIGNITY.
Stories connected to the Long Ridge School.
A Visit from John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
From an interview with Mrs. Shirley [Barnette] Sewell, conducted in June 9, 1983 by Edwin B. 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.”
Joe the Slave
The story of Joe the Slave of Mars Hill, who went to prison for Mars Hill College debt in 1859, has made press throughout the nation and Europe. His imprisonment is the only case known where human flesh and blood went to prison for an institution. His descendants have attended the Mars Hill colored schools, granddaughter Effie Anderson being a teacher in the 1901 school,[xi] and his nephew, Sam W. Anderson taught in the Mars Hill Colored School in 1905-1906,[xii] and 1911-1912,[xiii] and Joe himself served on the Mars Hill Colored School Committee in 1907,[xiv] and his son, Neal Anderson was paid .64 cents for school census in Mars Hill colored district for that year.[xv]
Over twenty of Joseph Anderson descendants are buried in the Mt. Olive Cemetery, adjacent to the school.[xvi] Camp Joe, the Mars Hill CCC Camp on South Main Street, established in the 1930’s, also carried Joe’s name.[xvii] By 1910, this Mars Hill Living Negro Legend was deceased, being buried in the Huff family graveyard, before his remains were moved to the college campus in 1935.[xviii] Today, Joe’s grave is located on the Mars Hill University campus beside Joe Anderson Drive, also named for him. The grave’s granite marker, “In Memory of Joe,” “is one of the first known incidents of a monument erected to a person for going to jail.[xix]