History columnist Rob Neufeld looks back at Allen School, the private school for African-American women that was a beacon of education during the years of segregation.
A column two weeks ago about Inez Daugherty, an African-American civic leader from Black Mountain, took us inside an Asheville city bus in the 1950s to witness how she was told by the driver that sitting three rows from the back was not far back enough as a large number of white people got on.
Years later, Daugherty revealed in a 2005 interview, the bus driver ran for office and obliviously sought Daugherty’s vote.
“He was so polite,” she remarked. “He didn’t win.” Daugherty also told about a daughter who attended Allen High School, a private school for girls.
As it turns out, Daugherty “didn’t have just one daughter who went to (Allen); she had four daughters who did,” her next-to-youngest daughter, Carolyn Copeland, revealed in response to the column.
“My mother was an avid reader,” Copeland related. She worked for the wife of Benjamin Hunter, owner of Black Mountain Hosiery Mills, and named Carolyn after her.
Education was key to Carolyn’s mother and her Papa — her stepfather, Robert Moreland. But opportunities beyond grammar school were few.
The Allen answer
In an era when races were segregated, school buses were lacking for African-Americans and African-American parents sought environments that bolstered the dignity and strength of their children, Allen High School was an oasis with a beacon.
It was called Allen Home High School from 1924-41, for it had dormitories. It also had a preschool at which mothers could drop off their little ones. Dr. John P. Holt, who became an Asheville physician, was one of those tots.
“At that time, Allen School was one of the excellent private schools for blacks in the whole country,” he told Bruce Greenawalt, a UNC Asheville professor, in a 1979 interview. “But it was a girls’ school. As I understand it, four of us were the first black boys to go to Allen School.”
Society supported African-American women, whose roles were generally more domestic, maternal and educational than men’s.
The school was founded in 1887 by a women’s group — the Methodist Episcopal Church Woman’s Home Missionary Society — and it stressed home economics. A Quaker woman, Marriage Allen — after whom the school was named — donated the funds for housing in 1897.
Focus on women
>Edward Pearson, son of E.W. Pearson, founder of the Burton Street community in the early 1910s, saw his sisters, Iola and Annette, go to Allen School in the 1930s when vocational training for women included teaching as well as sewing and cooking.
But no one taught young men the skills of “bricklaying and construction work, where you could make some money,” he said in my 1991 interview with Burton Street elders. “That’s why I left this town. I didn’t go to school for photography because it wasn’t taught here.” He became a professional photographer, picking up his skills in the Army and at the Miami Herald.
The opportunities for women at Allen were so great some families sent their daughters long distances to attend.
Cab Calloway’s niece came from White Plains, New York, Copeland reports. Musical prodigy Nina Simone, then known as Eunice Waymon, transferred from Tryon.
“Many of the schools out in the country just went to sixth and seventh grades,” Edna Ford explained at the gathering of Burton Street elders.
“They would send their children to stay with some of their family in the city,” or they would board at the school. “Some came from Black Mountain,” she said.
“Black history was a requirement” at the school, Ford noted.
So was polite behavior.
“They kept up the practice that my mother had taught us,” Copeland says of her 1950s student days.
“You learned to cook and sew. I was in drama. Teachers (black and white) stressed the importance of education. And you had to act like a lady; you couldn’t act otherwise because when you went out to represent Allen, you better act like a lady.”
“The girls received fifty points each semester,” Nadine Cohodas wrote of Eunice Waymon’s experience in her biography, “Princess Noire” — “and if they broke any of the rules, points were deducted — chewing gum in public, one point for the first time, second time four points, third time six points.
“If you lost all fifty points, you were sent home.”
Civil rights leadership
Allen High School students were members of ASCORE — Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality — and were active in desegregating public places in the 1960s.
Viola Jones Spells helped get Pack Memorial Library desegregated. She went to the director and, without delay, on Sept. 15, 1961, the board approved the admission of African-Americans, who previously only had access to Eagle Street Library.
“Even though we had a library at Allen, I went (to Pack Library) because they told me I couldn’t go,” Spells told Deborah Miles and members of the Center for Diversity Education in 2005. “I loved books, and I wanted to read books that weren’t available to me.”
“I remember the first book I checked out was ‘Great Expectations,’” added Anita White Carter, another Allen alumna.
Allen High School closed in 1974 “due to a decreased enrollment resulting from desegregation and from the lack of funds,” states the guide to “Allen High School Records” at Western Carolina University’s Belk Library. “In all, it had graduated 1,177 students.”
Stephens-Lee High School, the African-American public high school in Asheville, was closed in 1965, and after a short time at South French Broad School, its students were integrated into Lee Edwards, which changed its name to Asheville High School.
The private Allen school had thoroughly embraced its students in a protective and positive environment.
Carolyn Copeland, who also benefited from her community’s tolerance of interracial childhood friendships, said, “I did not encounter true (blatant) racism until after I was married.”
It happened at a fruit stand in Lake Lure where she’d not been allowed to use the restroom in 1960.
Years later, when she was clerking at Family Dollar Store to supplement her retirement, “two white women came in with a little boy they were pushing in a buggy, and he said, ‘Is that a n____?’
“They were trying to hush him up. When they came through the line, I said, ‘Don’t try to hush him up. He is only repeating what he has heard.’”
“That sounds just like your mom!” I said to Carolyn.
“Well, I’m a lot like my mother,” she responded.
That’s the Daugherty spirit, and the Allen School spirit.
(Rob Neufeld writes the weekly “Visiting Our Past” column for the Citizen-Times. He is the author of books on history and literature and manages the WNC book and heritage website The Read on WNC. Contact him at RNeufeld@charter.net or 505-1973. Source: http://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2014/04/27/visiting-past-allen-school-asheville/8341369/)