Thanks for your coverage of the Asheville City Schools review of their desegregation order [“Separate But Better? Asheville City Schools Seeks Changes to Desegregation Order,” March 17, Xpress]. I would like to correct one part of the article. Daniel Walton states that Stephens-Lee closed as a result of integration. This is not accurate. Rather, Stephens-Lee closed in 1965 due to the deterioration of the structure due to deferred repairs.
Black students were then sent to a newly constructed, segregated South French Broad High School — 11 years after the first Brown v. Board of Education decision. This later became Asheville Middle School. The newly constructed school clearly violated the much earlier Plessy v. Ferguson decision (rendering “separate but equal” legal). One doesn’t have to spend much time looking at images of the two buildings to see that South French Broad was clearly inferior to Asheville High (then known as Lee Edwards High). This was widely perceived as a direct assault on Asheville’s African American community.
One of the strategies that ACS has been working to adopt is a concept known as restorative practices. The idea with this is to address harm when it’s been committed and to offer a chance to repair that harm. While this is a tool the city schools are implementing as a way to reduce the terrible racial disparity seen in how discipline is addressed within the schools, the system itself has much work to do.
The Stephens-Lee Alumni Association is a very active organization that does important work in the community. I have had the privilege of attending a few of their functions and know many Stephens-Lee alumni. They speak very proudly of the legacy of this school — its academics as well as its co-curricular activities (state championship titles, a banging marching band, etc.). One of the most powerful aspects of Stephens-Lee was the exceptionally high standards demanded by its highly credentialed teachers and the tight connection between the school and the broader community. This is something the system should rededicate themselves to.
Many alumni of Stephens-Lee proudly retain bricks they salvaged from the demolition of this school. Such was the place of pride the community felt toward Stephens-Lee. I have heard no such stories from South French Broad High. Asheville City Schools owes a debt to the African American community. This debt must be paid forward; Stephens-Lee faculty offer a model.
— Reid Chapman
Editor’s note: Thank you for adding to our understanding of the history of public education in Asheville. We have corrected the article on our website. For more information about Stephens-Lee and its former faculty, see the 2019 Xpress story “Alumni and Local Historians Remember the Faculty of Stephens-Lee” (avl.mx/5vr).