Booker researches former school for African-American females

Published 4:33 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dr. Jackie R. Booker, Winston-Salem State University associate professor of history, greets Rhemell Jones, OCtech adjunct faculty member, after his Tuesday, March 8 Women’s History Month presentation at the school. (photo submitted)

by Martha Rose Brown
The impact of an elite private school for young African-American women was the focus of a Women’s History Month program at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College on March 8.
Dr. Jackie R. Booker, formerly of Tryon, an associate professor of history at Winston-Salem State University, shared information about his ongoing research project titled, “For Colored Girls: A History of Allen High School in Asheville, North Carolina, 1887-1974.”
Booker said a year ago while completing research about Nina Simone, an American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist born in Tryon, he learned she was a graduate of Allen High School (AHS) and decided to research the history of the school. He said he hopes to eventually publish a book about it.
In the school’s early days, the Bible served as its only textbook and just a few of its students had access to individual desk slate-boards, Booker said.
The school got its start on Oct. 31, 1887, thanks to Christian missionaries from the north, specifically Lewis Peace and his wife. Only three students showed up for class the first day, Booker said.
By word of mouth, the school in its first month grew from three to 200 students, most of whom were young girls. At that time, the student population was co-ed, and whites served as teachers and administrators. The school eventually began serving only female students ages 12 to 18.
Booker said it didn’t take long for the founders to realize the need for an on-campus dormitory for the young women. Some of them walked more than two miles to school each day, he said.
Booker said it wasn’t until the 1930s that the school began employing black teachers.
According to Booker, in the 1930s, AHS’s leadership chose a more “liberal arts curriculum,” as supported by African-American educator Dr. W.E.B. DuBois. Dr. Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee University supported “industrial education,” Booker said. The two educators had their share of supporters and critics alike, he said.
Secondary and post-secondary education institutions typically chose one or the other types of curricula. Booker said it was also during that time that Allen High sought accreditation by the state of North Carolina and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
By 1942, “Allen was one of the few black high schools that had both state and SACS accreditation,” he said.
The school closed in 1974 because of funding cuts and the impacts of school integration, Booker said. Simone, perhaps Allen High’s most famous alumna, graduated in 1950 with a 3.99 grade point average.
Most of the school’s graduates completed college and went on to have careers in liberal arts occupations such as teaching, Booker said.
“This is a story that needs to be told,” OCtech Librarian Harris Murray said after Booker’s presentation.

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