The Mount Olive Baptist Church and the committee to rehabilitate the historic Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School will host Homecoming events August 30 through September 1, 2019.
For many families with ties to Mt. Olive Church, the Labor Day weekend is the traditional time for honoring ancestors buried at the Mt. Olive Cemetery. Sunday will see a regular church service in the morning, followed by a luncheon at the church, and an afternoon service before families lay fresh flowers on the gravestones of loved ones.
The school rehabilitation celebration and ribbon cutting takes place on Friday, August 30 at 10 a.m. with a public event and speakers at Broyhill Chapel on the Mars Hill University Campus. At 11 a.m., shuttle buses will take those interested to the school itself, lcoated at 225 Mount Olive Drive, off of Long Ridge Road, just south of the town.
Come out for fellowship, the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and take a tour of the building in honor of alumni and community leaders.
The historic school is one of more than 5,000 built across the South in the 1910s, ’20s, and ’30s to provide public education to rural black children. The program was the brainchild of Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, and was funded in part by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck & Company, with additional funding from each local community required as well. For more than four decades, the schools provided education through 7th grade for countless rural African American children.
The Anderson Rosenwald School, built in 1929, replaced a previous building, the Long Ridge Colored School, and was named in honor of Joe Anderson, the slave who famously was sent to jail to be held as collateral for a debt owed by the founders of Mars Hill College (now University). The only Rosenwald building known to be still standing in western NC, it served local children for more than 35 years, with many of its graduates having to ride buses from Mars Hill to Asheville in order to continue their educations.
Only two schools—Stephens-Lee, the segregated public high school, and the private Allen School—offered African American children from the area their only opportunity to finish high school. (Among those children was Mars Hill native and future civil rights leader Oralene Simmons, who was bused to Stephens-Lee for four years and then returned to Mars Hill in 1961 as the first African American allowed to enroll at the college.)
Integration, Deterioration, Restoration
After the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, it took another decade for Madison County to integrate its public schools. The Anderson Rosenwald School closed its doors in 1965, though it remains to this day under the ownership of the Madison County School Board. In the years since its closure, the building was used variously as a gymnasium, a tobacco-drying warehouse, and a storage building.
Beginning in 2009, a group of alumni and other interested citizens gained permission from the school board to rehabilitate the school; the process is ongoing, and is expected to be completed in 2020, when the building will be reopened as a state historic site. The Mars Hilll Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When it opens, it will include an interactive museum, historic artifacts from the school, and educational programming.
For a complete schedule of weekend events, visit www.andersonrosenwaldschool.com.