Asheville Area Human Relations Council


"The Pitiful State of Negro Education in Western North Carolina." Notes from talk given Feb. 20, 1962

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The Pitiful State of Negro Education in Western North Carolina

If you have school age children, would you like for them to have to leave home before daylight to ride a bus 50 miles over mountain roads to get to school, knowing that they would also have to ride 50 miles on the return trip and that they would not arrive hone in the afternoon until dark? This, plus knowing that they would pass two or three other [schools along the way? This happens for 13 Allegheny County Negro children. Or, would you be satisfied if your high school child were required to attend a 1-teacher school whose total enrollment was six students; even though there was another well staffed high school nearly with several hundred students" This is the plight of Avery County's Negro high school students.

These are pitiful situations, but they are exceptional, you say. On the contrary, there are five counties in Western N.C. which have 1-teacher high schools of 6-16 students each for Negro students. Each county has fairly adequate high schools for its white students.

There are two counties which have no schools for Negroes, even though both have a few Negro students. There are six counties and 16 school districts which have no Negro high schools although all have some Negro students of high school age. There are two counties and four school districts which have no Negro elementary schools although all have some Negro elementary students.

Altogether, about 150 Negro students in Western N.C. are required to take long bus rides to attend schools in counties other than those in which they live. About 1,000 Negro students live in school districts in Western N.C. which have no school facilities for them.

In the Western 22 counties of N.C., beginning with Caldwell, Burke, Ashe and Allegheny on the East and including all counties to Cherokee on the West, there are nearly 600,000 people. Only 6% or 1 in every 17 of these persons is a Negro. All the others, except about 3300 Indians, are members of what we call the white race. In one county there are no Negroes. In 18 others there are less than 5% Negroes, and several have 1% or 2% Negro population. Only three counties, Buncombe, Polk and Rutherford, have as much as 10% Negro population and none over 12%. Thus the racial arguments and prejudices of the Black Belt areas seem far away and hardly applicable here.

It is true that there are many poor school facilities for white children in the area also. However, of the 94 white high schools in the area, there are only two with as few is three teachers each. Of the 247 white elementary, schools, less than a dozen have as few as two teachers. This was well pointed up in an editorial in the Asheville Citizen of February 190

Why the particularly poor condition of Negro education in many of the western counties? I have talked with a number of school officials and other key persons throughout the area. Most of them readily admit the sad state of Negro schools. Very few of them indicate any strong personal race bias and only a few seem to think this kind of feeling exists in any quantity among the general population.

However, apathy, lack of leadership, lack of vision and planning for the future, and excessive concern about political implications of any major change in local conditions seems to be behind the lock of activity to provide even equal opportunities for all children in these counties and districts.

In larger communities such as Asheville, Morganton, Rutherfordton, Lenoir, Marion and Hendersonville the school facilities for Negroes and whites are fairly comparable. Even these cities, however; are required often to provide Negro education for a whole county or sometimes two or three counties and in all cases for more than one school district Hendersonville, for example, provides a high school for all Negroes from that community, from all

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1 talk_feb20_1962_002 of Henderson County, from all of Transylvania County and from part of Polk County. Asheville provides Negro schools for all students from Asheville, for nearly 200 from Buncombe County and for all Madison County's high school students. Buncombe County has no high school facilities for Negroes even though the Black Mountain-Swannanoa area, in which 2/3 of the County's Negroes live, has one fairly large high school for white students.

For the 22 counties of Western North Carolina and for most of the 32 school districts in this area, the continued operation of unequal and inadequate schools for Negroes, certainly has serious implications.

1. It promotes inferior education for all children in the area, particularly Negro children.

2. It creates a situation difficult to justify morally.

3. It encourages lawsuits difficult and expensive to defend.

4. It costs thousands of extra dollars each year. (one study estimates that $100,000a year could be saved by Western North Carolina counties if this problem were removed)

5. It causes misunderstanding,, bitterness and tension between citizens of different racial groups.

6. It hampers the development of your county and area economically, morally, intellectually, and spiritually.

7. It gives the enemies of our nation excellent propaganda material.

The solution to this serious but not insurmountable problem seems to lie in providing the best possible educational system for all children of the area—a thing difficult enough with one school system in each district and certainly not possible with the dual school systems now operated in most districts. This does not necessarily mean that all Negro schools must be abolished. Even with the geographical assignment of all children in the area, many would still go to all-white schools or to all-Negro schools. The unifying of school systems within each district or within each county is certainly necessary, however.

How can we arrive at a practical and fair solution to this problem?

With our current statewide emphasis in North Carolina on quality education, we certainly have a springboard from which to approach it« Meetings are scheduled to be held in every county in the state within the next few months to discuss ways and means of raising educational standards. Each county is being encouraged to set up a Citizens Committee for Better Schools. Perhaps within one or both of these organized activities some consideration could be given to the plight of Negro education.

Or, should key school and community leaders of the area be called together for a conference on this special issue? What persons or group could convene such a conference, either as a public meeting or as an off-the-record meeting? If such a conference were convened, what leaders should be involved? School officials, county commissioners, business leaders, civic leaders, religious leaders? Who are the key policy makers in these western counties?

From information we have gathered from federal officials in Washington it seems highly probable that within three years the U.S. Government either by congressional action, court action or executive action, will make it mandatory for every community to desegregate its public schools. Certainly, if Secretary of State Dean Rusk must admit, as he did in a recent newspaper interview, that "the biggest single burden we carry on our backs in the 1960's is the problem of racial discrimination here at home" the federal government is going to feel compelled to take strong action against segregation Would it not be better for all of us, for our community, for our state, for our nation to show that we can deal with this problem without being forced to do so?


Talk given Feb. 20, 1962 to Asheville Area Council on Human Relations' Executive Committee By William Bagwell, Director of American Friends Service Committee's School Program.

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