Nina Simone’s High School

Did you know Nina Simone went to High School in Asheville?

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon NC in 1933, Nina Simone attended Allen High School, a private boarding school for black girls, from September 1945 until June 1950 – when she left North Carolina to study music for the summer at Julliard. She was very smart: skipping two grades and graduating valedictorian of her class.

 

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Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon NC in 1933, Nina Simone attended Allen High School, a private boarding school for black girls, from September 1945 until June 1950 – when she left North Carolina to study music for the summer at Julliard. She was very smart: skipping two grades and graduating valedictorian of her class.

Simone went on to record over 40 albums during her career as a pianist and singer, and has regained popularity in recent years thanks to multiple documentaries about her life, like What Happened, Miss Simone?, and The Amazing Nina Simone(See more about Simone on my blog post here).

Allen High School was founded in 1887 and went by multiple names through the years. It was started by the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church as an elementary school for black children in the mountains.

In 1888 a high school curriculum was started; this was also the same year that the Asheville Public Schools first opened – three elementary schools and one high school for white students. One public school was opened for black students, and although 800 black students showed up to the revamped abandoned building on S. Beaumont street, it could only house 300, so the other 500 were turned away.

In 1892 Allen became a boarding school just for females; it was advertised in the 1917 Asheville directory as Asheville Academy and Allen Industrial Home for Colored Girls. In 1924 it officially became a 4-year North Carolina accredited high school, and in 1940 became one of only 2 black high schools accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in the 17 counties of Western North Carolina.

The first building of ‘Allen Industrial Training School ‘ – a 3 story wood-frame building located at 241 College Street in Asheville – was built with money donated from Mrs. Marriage Allen, for whom the school was named. A second wood-frame building (a chapel) was later added, and in 1925 another classroom building. All of the frame buildings were demolished in the 1950s to make way for new buildings: a residence hall, school building that included an auditorium, a teacher’s residence, a dining hall, and a gymnasium were all completed from 1952-1956.

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The Congregation of Berry Temple Church met in the chapel of the school until Berry Temple was built across the street, where it still stands.

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Simone wasn’t the only accomplished graduate of Allen School. Christine Mann Darden, one of the four female African-American mathematicians who worked at NASA and helped win the ‘space-race’ in the 1960s as told in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures, also graduated from Allen School.

 

Integration of schools in the 1960s and 1970s led to a decreased demand for a private black high school, and in 1974 the last class graduated from Allen.

Today, the buildings that once housed Allen High School still exist on College Street:  Asheville Office Park now houses the Girl Scouts, iWanna, ExploreAsheville, and other businesses.

 

*Sidenote*

On July 18th, 2017 the Mountain Xpress reprinted a letter written to the editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times by Anne Hunter Jenkins, where she chastised the paper for not covering visits of two prominent speakers, including Langston Hughes, who spoke at the Allen school on February 8th, 1949:

“This event was the very fine, completely sane and (if I may coin a word) “trans-racial” address made by the well-known Negro poet, Langston Hughes, on Tuesday night, February 8, at the Allen School. He is one of the representatives chosen by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to speak to schools and other groups across our country. His talk, interspersed with readings of his poems, was so simple and unbiased, and yet so powerful, that if it could have been heard or even read about, by enough people, it would advance 100 per cent the cause of intranational tolerance and understanding. There was no report. …

I would like to ask you, the editor, what is the purpose of a newspaper? Is it not to report the news, to give its readers a full account of all important events, as soon as possible after they have taken place? Is it not to be a vehicle, through its editorial page, for opinions and thoughts which will help people toward a better world? Even if it is merely a money-making project pure and simple, is it not in the paper’s own best interest to give its readers full and satisfactory coverage of all local events of interest to the majority? I ask you, the editor, to answer these questions, and the following one: Why do The Citizen, The Times, and The Citizen-Times, our only source of local news, fail so frequently to report adequately happenings which are obviously of interest and importance, not only to the majority of Asheville readers but to all the people of Western North Carolina?”

Hannah Frisch, a writer for the Mountain Xpress,  explains in her article that the The Asheville YWCA’s Phyllis Wheatley Branch — the African-American division of the local organization, facilitated “discussions aimed at improving interracial understanding and relations. However, the coverage of these discussions was cursory in the mainstream local media.” (Tuesday History: Outrage over Langston Hughes’ unreported visit to Asheville, 1949, July 18, 2017)

Almost 70 years after that letter we’re still asking why the press covers some things, and not others. I often ask myself that question when it comes to historical events and markers – why do I know that F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at the Grove Park for a few weeks, but not that Nina Simone spent years at a once prestigious and now unknown and unmarked high school? How many people know that Babe Ruth played in Asheville and stayed at the Battery Park Hotel, but don’t realize Jackie Robinson also played at McCormick field but had to stay in a separate hotel from his white teammates? Did he stay at the Rabbits Motel, which still stands – although vacant and boarded up – on McDowell Street, or the James Key Hotel on Southside Avenue – which was visited by greats like Nat King Cole and Count Basie, but demolished long ago?

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