The Rosenwald School Story

Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald, president and leader of Sears, Roebuck and Company, donated millions of dollars to have black schools built in the South.  By 1920, the Rosenwald Fund in Chicago, established its office for the school building program in Nashville.

At program’s conclusion in 1932, it had produced 4,977 new black schools, including nearly 900 in North Carolina.  The Fund required a money match from N.C., Madison County, and the Long Ridge Community.  The Anderson Rosenwald School was built by 1929-1930 in the Long Ridge Community at Mars Hill, NC.

This history overview is a work-in-progress, prepared in support of the Rosenwald School Project’s Planning Committee by its history committee composed of Dorothy Coone, Edwin Cheek, Pauline Cheek, Richard Dillingham, Dan Slagle, chair, and Charity Ray.  Both Ms. Coone and Ms. Ray attended the Long Ridge Colored School in the Rosenwald building.  Their mother, Augusta Briscoe Ray, also attended the Long Ridge Colored School in the older building which was built in 1905.


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.

Stories connected to this Long Ridge School and its community have attracted both state and national attention:

*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]

*In March 1910 the mother and father of Billy Strayhorn, the eminent African-American composer-arranger, were married in Mt. Olive Baptist Church, organized near the school in 1905.  Both his mother, Lillian Young, and his maternal grandmother, Alice Young, had attended the colored schools of Mars Hill.[xx]

*The Long Ridge School was visited in August 1918 by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs.  Students at Long Ridge were told to dress in their best for this occasion.  The men stopped at Long Ridge School, as the Dixie Highway ran through Marshall, Mars Hill, and the Long Ridge Community. [xxi]

*Viola King Barnett was a washerwoman for Mars Hill College personnel.  All of her children, including Shirley Sewell, attended Long Ridge School that went to the seventh grade.  Mrs. Barnett wrote to the Superintendent of NC Schools saying that her children and other black students were entitled by law to secondary public education.  In reply she was told that because of her letter,  all black children in NC would have access to secondary education, thus began the student busing to Asheville from Mars Hill, continuing until 1965.[xxii]  Her story is told by Emily Wilson in Hope and Dignity: Older Black Women of the South.


Mars Hill School, circa 1930s

Mars Hill School, circa 1930s

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.

A Visit from John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

“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.”

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

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.

Long Ridge Achievers

Five students from the Long Ridge School and community are given as examples of academic achievement and cultural contributions, still living today, from second to sixth school generations:

*Charity Ray, retired from Mars Hill University School of Education and Library, is a local artist.  Her water colors have been purchased by individuals from many states, and her renderings of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church building and the Mars Hill Rosenwald School building are published by the Friends Group.  Her love for art began when she was allowed to sit-in the Long Ridge School at age five, where she began her first drawings.  This was before the days of kindergarten.  She continued her art work at Allen High School for African-American girls in Asheville, where she graduated.  Today she is a member of a Mars Hill arts group, The Church Mice.  Also she is a member of the History Committee of the Rosenwald Building Rehabilitation Project.  Thank you Rockefeller Room, her parents, and her teachers at Rosenwald Elementary and Allen High Schools, who encouraged her.

*Oralene Simmons attended the Long Ridge School in the Rosenwald building, and graduated from Stephens-Lee High School in Asheville, NC.  She was the first African-American admitted to Mars Hill College in 1961,[xxvii] one of the first admissions in the South, two years before Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I Have A Dream!”  She is the great great granddaughter of Joseph Anderson. Her grandmother, Effie Anderson Coone, granddaughter of Joe Anderson, taught at the Mars Hill Colored School in 1901.[xxviii]   Oralene became a leader in Asheville during the integration protest years, later becoming Director of the YMI Cultural Center.  She organized the Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast in Asheville, the largest in the Southeast. Today, she continues her leadership in cultural diversity activities.  She is a member of the Friends of the Mars Hill Rosenwald School Rehabilitation Project.

* Dr. David Lloyd Briscoe grew up in the Long Ridge Community, and attended the Long Ridge School.  Also, he was a member of Boy Scout Troop 85 that met at the school.  After receiving his Ph.D. in Sociology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, he became a tenured, full Professor of Sociology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  He is U.S. Fulbright Scholar’s Program Representative, a Graduate School Faculty Member, a Distinguished Teaching Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and coauthor of one book and author of four more.  He serves on the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board, and is a recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest award in the Boy Scouts of America for distinguished service to youth on a  national level.  He is the first Board of Advisors member with the Mars Hill Rosenwald School’s Friends Group.

*Charlene Ray, great, great, great granddaughter of Joseph Anderson,  graduated from Mars Hill College in 1982 with  honors.  She was the first Appalachian Scholar at the school, receiving a full scholarship.  For her senior research project, she researched and wrote, “History of Blacks in Madison County.”[xxix]  After receiving her Masters Degree at ETSU, Mrs. Dunn became a staff member at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

*Kevin Barnette, grandson of Viola King Barnett, graduated from Mars Hill College in 1985, having been one of the school’s star football players.  He achieved his Masters Degree from the U.S. Sports Academy at Daphne, Alabama.  Kevin returned to his Alma Mater as Assistant Football Coach, where he works today.  He serves as Deacon in his Baptist Church in Asheville, NC.  At Mars Hill, he helped organized the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the school, one of the largest in the South.  He, also, is a member of the Rosenwald Friends Group, serving as chair of Community Relations Committee.


The Mars Hill Rosenwald School Building Rehabilitation Project

Friends of the Mars Hill Rosenwald School began meeting in the fall of 2009 and organized the Planning Committee to save the school building. Steward Coates was elected as leader of the group, and committees were appointed: Building, Grants, History, and Publicity.

Margaret Newbold, Associate Director of Diversity, Conservation Trust of North Carolina from Raleigh met with the Friends Group.  Her grandfather, Nathan Carter Newbold, was Director of the NC Division of Negro Education with the NC Department of Public Instruction.  Viola King Barnett’s letter may have gone to Director Newbold.  Barry Williams, Diversity Project Coordinator also met with the Planning Committee.  During 2010, monies were secured from Conservation Trust of North Carolina and Madison County School Board to place a new roof on the building.

The first public gathering, celebrating the Long Ridge Community and the Rosenwald building rehabilitation took place in October 2010 as part of the Mars Hill College Founders Week, celebrating Joe Anderson, for whom the Anderson Elementary School was named.[xxx]

Also during 2010, Willa Wyatt was elected chair of the Planning Committee, as she and husband David Wyatt had been members since the beginning.  Architect Scott Donald, Padgett & Freeman Architects, rendered the drawings for the rehabilitation of the historic school building, meeting preservation standards for historic preservation, as the Mars Hill Rosenwald School building was placed on the State Study List for possible listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  Long Ridge neighbor Simone Bouyer, Ad World Services, is webmaster for the Friends Group, and Theresa and Ryan Phillips, Legacy Films, Ltd., are media specialist, and Fatima Shabazz is chairwoman of the Alumni Committee.

In 2011, students from Elon  University filmed interviews of alumni and friends of the school for an eight minute video on the Rosenwald School, now posted on the web site.  Also, Mars Hill University students from Lifeworks and Bonner Scholars Program have rendered community service for the school project.  In fact, they received the National Award for the best photograph during the National Martin Luther King Day of Service in 2012, for their work on the Rosenwald school property.

The Friends of the Mars Hill Rosenwald School have completed the Strategic Plan with the leadership of Judy Futch and Paul Smith, Judy Futch Consulting, Inc., and are in the process of Incorporation as a 501 (C) (3) non-profit.

Today, the Mars Hill Rosenwald School building is the only Rosenwald school building still standing in western North Carolina.

NOTE:   This history overview is shared for input, corrections, or additions by alumni, members of the community, and friends of the Mars Hill Rosenwald School Project: Contact, Willa Wyatt, (828) 689-3922, email;WebSites:;;; or find the Mars Hill Rosenwald Friends Group on FaceBook.




[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.