The Allen School: Educational Opportunity for African Americans in Asheville
Did you know that between 1887 and 1974 Asheville was home to a private school created specifically for the education of members of the black community? The school’s genesis can be traced to the arrival of the Reverend and Mrs. L. M. Pease to Asheville in 1875. The couple left New York with thoughts of retiring, however upon taking up residence in western North Carolina, their aspirations shifted course. They acquired a piece of land on College Street which was donated to the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church and a school was established there. Educational goals would be threefold—industrial, mental, and spiritual.
Early on, the school—located on the northeast side of downtown, near Beaucatcher Mountain—catered to all segments of the black community, serving all ages and both sexes, with children attending lessons during the day and adults at night. The institution functioned as a primary school with an emphasis on offering industrial, domestic, and religious education classes. Soon afterwards, courses for high school study were added. By the turn of the twentieth century, the institution was made up of the Allen Home School, where 31 students lived, and Asheville Academy, attended by over 120 children.
The Annual Report of the Women’s Home Missionary Society stated that 1909 was the most prosperous year for the Allen Home School and Asheville Academy. “The new building is full to overflowing and new adjustments must be made in the coming year to provide for all the lines of work.”
By 1924 the Allen School was an accredited four-year high school and offered a one-year preparatory teaching program. Over time, in addition to domestic courses, secretarial classes such as typing and shorthand were added, but the Allen School would shift towards a college preparatory curriculum. In 1939, when primary instruction was discontinued, the name was changed to Allen High School. About this same time the school became primarily a girls’ school, however evidence suggests that a few male students from Burnsville were allowed to attend since Yancey County had no schools for blacks.
While a large number of students came from Asheville and communities in western North Carolina, the school’s reputation spread, and soon young people from neighboring states boarded locally in order to attend.
Extracurricular activities were also important at Allen High School. A touring choir, various clubs, cultural events and concerts, sports teams, a student newspaper, dramatics, and church activities all added to the Allen experience.
Many Allen School graduates went on to college, some gaining admission to prestigious schools up North such as Vassar and Wellesley which had started integrating, while others stayed closer to home attending historically black colleges and universities in the South.