ASHEVILLE’S FIRST CITY SCHOOLS FOR BLACK STUDENTS, Part Four: Builders of Black Schools (Continued)

“Asheville from Beaucatcher,” published by Taylor & Jones, Land of the Sky, Beauties of Western North Carolina and Northeast Georgia, Class D. The photo was taken before the original Battery Park Hotel was built in 1886. A200-5

In our last post in this series on early black public schools, we looked at the lives and careers of Harrison B. Brown and Daniel Cato Suggs, two of the original five teachers who opened Beaumont School on January 9, 1888. This new post profiles two more of these teachers, Edward H. Lipscombe and Mary Dickson.

An Overview of Early Black Public Schools in Asheville

Beaumont Academy, February 1886 through December 1887, was a Buncombe County School that closed after Asheville voted to establish a city school system in July 1887.

Beaumont Street School, January 9, 1888, through October 1892, was a city school housed in the old Beaumont Academy building. The school closed with the opening of Catholic Hill School.

Mountain Street School opened on September 1, 1890, to relieve crowded conditions at Beaumont Street. Mountain Street closed on May 18, 1892, but reopened in January 1910 because Catholic Hill, too, became overcrowded–an all-too-familiar story in the early history of Asheville’s black city schools.

Catholic Hill School served the black community from October 1892 until it was destroyed by fire on November 16, 1917. For the next six years, classes met in other buildings in the East End including the Circle Sanitarium, also known as the Colored Odd Fellows building.

Stephens-Lee High School was built on the site of Catholic Hill School in 1923. The city school board closed Stephens-Lee in 1965. For the next four years, black students attended the newly built South French Broad High School, where there was some integration of the faculty but none in the student body. In 1969, the formerly white Lee Edwards High School was renamed Asheville High School, and students of both races began learning there, together in one school.

The Original Five Teachers in Asheville’s First Public City School for Blacks in 1888– Beaumont Street School, Serving Grades 1-5

As reported by the Asheville Citizen (May 16, 1888), the five teachers were:

First Grade: Mrs. Ford and Miss Mary Dickson, with 85 students for the two teachers.

Second Grade: H. B. Brown, with 29 students.

Third Grade: E. H. Lipscombe, with 28 students.

Fourth and Fifth Grade: D. C. Suggs, with 21 students.

E. H. Lipscombe

Edward H. Lipscombe stands out as the most accomplished of the original five teachers at Beaumont Street School.  Clearly, the Asheville school committee thought highly of him. Lipscombe viewed the milestones in his career as achievements for his race, keeping racial uplift always in mind as he pursued one educational and religious goal after another.   

Edward Hart Lipscombe was born in 1858 in Orange County, North Carolina, to Green and Jane Lipscombe. Showing a variety of talents at an early age, Lipscombe joined the North Carolina Jubilee Singers in 1873 and went on tour with the group to raise money for Shaw University, a historically black Baptist university (HBCU) in Raleigh.  He eventually enrolled at Shaw, where he and two of his professors founded and edited the African Expositor journal. Graduating in 1879 as the youngest member of his class, Lipscombe was appointed a professor of mathematics and languages at Shaw and taught there from 1879 to 1881. 

He received a master’s degree from Shaw in 1882, and that same year he married Lizzie L. Taylor of Lynchburg, Virginia.  They had three sons and one daughter. Their daughter was the only child to live into adulthood.

Driven by a lifelong desire to achieve, Lipscombe moved around North Carolina for the next five years and kept busy as the principal of graded schools in Raleigh and Durham; as an officer of the Baptist State Convention, which ordained him as a minister in 1883; once again as a professor at Shaw; and as the editor of the Light-House (later renamed the Mountain Gleaner), a religious paper.

In 1884 Lipscombe became principal of the Dallas Institute, a religious training school in Gaston County, North Carolina, operated by the Western Baptist Missionary Union.  According to the biographical dictionary of Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887), Lipscombe built Dallas Institute from the ground up.  The school attracted students “from many counties of North Carolina and from South Carolina, old and young, married and single, enrolling over one hundred in each of the two years . . . in Dallas.”

In 1886, Lipscombe moved the Dallas Institute to Asheville, where the name changed to the Western Union Institute for Colored People.  The board of trustees included Thomas W. Patton, Rev. J. L. Carroll, Richmond Pearson, and other influential whites as well as Harrison B. Brown, who would soon become one of Lipscombe’s fellow teachers at Beaumont Street School.  Despite high hopes and Lipscombe’s best efforts, no evidence has been found to show that the institute lasted past 1887. Men of Mark mentions the erection of one good building and students from North and South Carolina and Tennessee.

Lipscombe must have worked night and day in 1888-1889.  Still trying to get the Western Union Institute back on its feet, he signed on as one of the five teachers who opened Beaumont Street, serving as principal while teaching 28 third-grade students in crowded, substandard conditions. As reported in the August 19, 1889, minutes of the Asheville school committee, Lipscombe was re-elected principal of “the Colored School” at a salary of $40 per month.  The June 5 and July 5, 1889, minutes reported that the monthly salaries of the principals of the two white schools, Academy Street and Orange Street, were $75 and $70, and the principal assistants earned $50 and $60.

Lipscome left the city school system for several years.  He surely spent some of this time working at the Western Union Institute, and an article from the Evening Star of Washington, D.C. (August 15, 1894) indicates he served in the military as well. 

In 1895 Lipscombe returned to the school system as the principal and fifth/sixth grade teacher at Catholic Hill School for a monthly salary of $40.  Catholic Hill, housed in a new school building, must have been a welcome change from the makeshift conditions he endured at Beaumont Street.  The minutes of the school committee for September 16, 1895, state that “Prof. Lipscombe’s former record here as a teacher and principal procured him the unanimous vote of the committee.”

Lipscombe continued as principal of Catholic Hill, and as higher grades were added to the school, he taught grades six through nine in 1896-1898 and grades six through ten in 1899-1901. During these years he also served as president of the Young Men’s Institute (Y.M.I.), and in 1898 he recruited black men for the Spanish-American War. 

Asheville Citizen-Times June 28, 1898

During the last two decades of his life, Lipscombe was on the move again, serving as a faculty member at the summer normal school for black teachers at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University in Greensboro; as the financial agent and principal of a religious school in Wadesboro, North Carolina, where he was also pastor of the First Baptist Church and manager of the Colored High School; and as the principal of Rich Square Academy in Northampton County, North Carolina.

Lipscombe came back to Asheville in 1912 and kept on working.  City directories list him in 1914 as a teacher and in 1915 as office man for Dr. H. H. Briggs.

Edward Hart Lipscombe died in Asheville on April 21, 1917.  Considering all he accomplished in his life, it is hard to realize that he died at the age of 53. His funeral services were held at Mount Zion Baptist Church, and he was buried at the South Asheville Cemetery.

Miss Mary Dickson

Mary Jane Dickson (Harris)
Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, UNC Asheville, Ramsey Library, Special Collections and University Archives

Miss Mary Dickson worked alongside Hester Ford teaching 85 first graders at Beaumont Street School.  Most of their students were the first generation of their families to attend school, and most had parents who were born into slavery.  Some students would have already known Mary Dickson.  Only 17 or 18 years old when she started teaching at Beaumont, she had grown up in Asheville, and her father Isaac was known and respected throughout the city by people of both races. 

Part One of this series on early black schools explains how Isaac Dickson was appointed to Asheville’s first city school committee to reward black voters for turning out at the polls and carrying the referendum that established a public school system. 

Mary Jane, the daughter of Isaac and Delia E. Dickson, was born in 1871, just three years after her parents moved to Asheville in 1868.  Isaac had been born into slavery in Shelby, North Carolina, in 1839.  His parents were Andy Peeler and Rachel Wheeler, who was Peeler’s slave.  After emancipation Isaac met Cordelia “Delia” Emealine Reed in Morganton, North Carolina, and they married around 1870.

Mary Dickson most likely attended Trinity Chapel school, established in 1870 in the basement of the Episcopal church (later renamed St. Matthias) that Dickson and his family attended.  In contrast to her co-teacher Hester Ford, she may not have had any formal education beyond what she received at the parochial school. 

In 1895 Mary Dickson married Jesse Cunningham “J.C.” Harris, a native of Chapel Hill. They had at least one child, Jessie Aanlee Harris.  J.C. left Asheville in 1898 to work as a waiter at a resort hotel in Ohio.  He died there of pneumonia that same year. 

Mary Harris taught the 1889 school year at Beaumont Street School, but she does not appear again in published teacher lists until 1900, when she was teaching at Catholic Hill School. She had returned to teaching after her husband J.C.’s death.  Harris is in the 1900 census as a widow living with her parents.  She taught at Catholic Hill through 1909, resigning her position “after 12 years teaching” when she married Joe Collington of Hendersonville (Citizen, “Over Six Thousand School Children” and “Marriage Licenses,” November 4, 1909). They spent 19 years together before Joe died (Citizen, “Collington Will Is Filed at Courthouse,” January 13, 1929).  

St. Matthias Episcopal at 1 Dundee Street, believed to be the oldest African American congregation in Asheville. The original church, known as Freedmen’s Church and later as Trinity Chapel, served as a parochial day school as well as a place of worship. The congregation soon outgrew the original frame building, and the present brick structure was built in 1894. The church was completed and consecrated in 1898. Photo from the Richard Hansley Collection, RHS-140-DS.

Mary Collington lived for 28 more years, but she never remarried, and it appears she never returned to teaching.  Her biography suggests that she preferred a quieter life at home to the demanding job of teaching. She died in Asheville on January 30, 1957.  Following a funeral service at St. Matthias Church, she was buried in Riverside Cemetery (Citizen-Times, “Mrs. Mary Collington,” February 2, 1957).

In the next post we’ll look at the life and career of the last of the city school system’s original five black teachers, Hester Walker Ford Lee, most often known as Hester Lee. She was a woman of such great accomplishment that the black community honored her as the Lee in Stephens-Lee. We’ll conclude the post with our thoughts on why such distinguished people were willing to move to Asheville and take on the daunting work of building black public schools in a small but growing mountain city.

Click on links below for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.



Post written and researched by Zoe Rhine, North Carolina Room librarian, and Joe Newman, board member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room.


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