/ Stories of the Land,

They Wanted the Children to Know

African-American Storyline recalls a vibrant Rosenwald community.


Nicola Karesh and Edith Darity
Nicola Karesh and Edith Darity show a historical image in front of Bethel-A Baptist Church in Rosenwald. Photo courtesy of Nicola Karesh, Morning Glory Inspirations.


It was Edith Darity’s last year of high school, but it was her first year at this school—the newly integrated Brevard High School. It was 1963. Students from Edith’s neighborhood, the Rosenwald community on the north side of Brevard, would get off their bus and walk through hallways lined with white students. 

“Sometimes people were courteous and sometimes they were not and tried to put their foot out so you could trip and drop your books. Or someone would be in front of your locker,” Edith says. “I’m sure there were comments. There could have been name calling. But we had already been groomed to go to school and not get in any trouble or cause any disturbance because the organization wanted it to work.” 

In Rosenwald, the Transylvania Citizens Improvement Organization had come together with the goal of integrating schools. They sued the school board and won, making Transylvania one of the first integrated school districts in North Carolina—possibly the very first—although it was nearly a decade after Brown vs. the Board of Education.  

“Everything was just like the nonviolence movement,” Edith says. “Everybody tried to be respectful in spite of anything that was said or done, because our real purpose was to do this intelligently and safely. That was the organization’s goal—to integrate successfully.” 

Painting of Moms Mabley by Billy Smith
This portrait of Moms Mabley, a famous comedienne who grew up in Rosenwald, was painted by Billy Smith. Photo courtesy of Nicola Karesh, Morning Glory Inspirations.


Hear Edith in Her Own Voice

Listen to Edith speak about why the African-American Storyline project, which shares local Black history, was important to her. 


A Vibrant Community

If you walk through the Rosenwald community today, you’ll see vacant lots and older homes, the brick Bethel-A Baptist Church, a playground with rusted equipment, a smokestack from the former tannery, and an empty hillside where the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center once stood.  

A historic sign marks the site of Daddy Roy’s, which was owned by Edith Darity’s parents.

Edith remembers a very different place, a vibrant community. The streets were lined with locally owned businesses—dance clubs, pool halls, boarding houses, cafes, taxi stands, and barber shops. Her parents owned Daddy Roy’s store, where kids could go to get a soda or a hot dog. On weekends, they had a cook and served meals. There was a jukebox and they kept the wood floor shiny for dancing. Above the store were two more businesses—a beauty salon and a casino.   

At the community center, the residents enjoyed bands, talent shows, fashion shows, banquets, and fundraisers. Although most community members didn’t have much income, they raised enough to provide two $1,000 scholarships each year to help students go to college.  

“If we were poor, we didn’t know that,” Edith says, “because everybody in our community had gardens and people shared the things that they would grow. It was a neighborly community and if one person didn’t have something, there was another person that would probably share with you or give it to you.”  

For Edith as a child, the neighborhood was a sheltered enclave. “If there was danger and if there was ugliness in the world, they didn’t let us see all of that. They tried to provide for us things that were positive, to keep us focused and to enjoy our lives as children.” 


The Story in a Vacant Lot

Silversteen playground
The playground in Rosenwald is overdue for renovations.

But, how much would a child in Rosenwald today know about this legacy? While Bethel-A Baptist Church remains a community hub and the former tannery now sports a skate park, parts of the neighborhood might seem desolate. Edith says, “We’re trying to educate the children because they would think, ‘There’s nothing. We never had anything. We never done anything.’”  

Nicola Karesh, a transplant to Brevard from Jamaica, took on a role in changing that. Nicola was active in the local arts scene, and in 2012 the City approached her about facilitating a creative approach to community engagement in Rosenwald. While the neighborhood had, at times, been overlooked by the City, this was a foray into revitalization.   

To Nicola, the contrast with her home country was striking. “In Jamaica, everywhere you go, you can feel your local history,” she says. Murals, billboards, and even graffiti proclaim local pride and celebrate heroes like Bob Marley and Usain Bolt. “I loved that and I wanted that for here,” she says. 

Riley Blackwell, L'tien Collington, and Nichelle Stanton
Riley Blackwell, L’tien Collington, and Nichelle Stanton are scholars at the Rise & Shine after school program in Rosenwald. See their story. 

Nicola connected with Edith, who is now president of the Transylvania Citizens Improvement Organization. She also met Billy Smith, a local artist interested in telling the community’s story. With other partners, including Conserving Carolina, they held art exhibits, block parties, community gardens, and historical tours. They launched the African-American Storyline Project to give life to local Black history.  

This summer, part of the African-American Storyline took shape with small metal signs peppered throughout Rosenwald and other parts of Brevard. The signs mark the locations of places like Daddy Roy’s, the Blue Diamond nightclub, and the Rosenwald School 

“I thought these historical markers would shed light on the work that had been done by the generations before us,” Edith says. “They did as much as possible with what they had to work with, during difficult times. They showed how you stand when it seems like you can’t stand. They did stand and they stood tall. So, today when you see those signs, to me, it shows the sacrifice of their labor.

They wanted the children to know that they were somebody and there was somebody that was providing something for them to enjoy their life. I want the children today to know that even though they see a vacant lot, that doesn’t mean that there’s no history behind it. There’s a story. Even with a vacant lot, there is a story.” 

Blue Diamond sign
A sign marks the location of the former Blue Diamond nightclub.

But how did the lots go from vibrant to vacant? And what comes next?  

The Struggle Over Schools 

Rosenwald is a neighborhood named for a school—one of more than 5,000 African-American schools conceived by Booker T. Washington and funded by Julius Rosenwald. 

“One thing that was really outstanding to us as children was our Rosenwald School,” Edith says. “It was made up of all Black teachers. They were very professional and we all grew up loving our teachers, loving our school.” 

But, at the end of eighth grade, the students had to decide what to do. They could move away to live with a relative somewhere they could go to high school. They could try to go to private school. Or, they could ride the bus to the Ninth Avenue School in Hendersonville, which is what most of them did. They’d get up early to make the long trip, over rough roads, with a student driver at the wheel. And if they wanted to take part in sports or activities after school, it was no easy thing to find a ride home. 

So, the families in Rosenwald fought for change. They sued the school board, lost, and later won on appeal. Brevard’s football team became the first in the state to integrate. Edith recounts that when the team traveled, some restaurants would refuse to serve them. Their coach would say that if they couldn’t all be served, then none of them would be served, and the whole team ate on the bus. The team formed a strong bond and the players and coach would attend church together, at different churches throughout the county.  

Edith Darity leading Rosenwald historical tour
Edith Darity leads a historical tour of Rosenwald. Photo courtesy of Nicola Karesh, Morning Glory Inspirations.

But integration brought losses too. “There were minuses and pluses,” Edith says. “You’d have to really think about it to detail exactly which things made it better and other things that weakened the community.”  

New opportunities opened up—but those opportunities drew people away from the self-sufficient Black neighborhood that Rosenwald had been. Once the schools integrated, employers started to open up too. Companies like Ecusta and DuPont offered better-paying jobs in other parts of the county. And Black people no longer had to keep their business in the Black community; they could go where they wanted. One by one, small businesses in the community shut down.  

Today, Edith says, young people still leave to pursue opportunities that they can’t find in Brevard. They are successful, but you don’t see that in Rosenwald.  

A Renaissance in Rosenwald 

Nicola Karesh at MJCC site
Nicola Karesh stands at the historic and future site of the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center.

However, there are signs of a new vitality—in part because of partnerships that have come out of projects like the African-American Storyline.  

The community partnered with the City to move forward on rebuilding the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center, although progress has slowed due to COVID. Edith looks forward to the day when the community center is bringing people together, once again, to connect and thrive. Billy Smith, the artist, plans to paint a mural nearby, showing local history in black and white scenes that transition to color as they move forward in time.

He says, “With the world being in its current state it’s interesting that I wanted to portray the future being bright and full of unity, which I still wholeheartedly believe will be our reality.”


There are also plans for the new Tannery Park and renovations at the Silversteen Memorial Playground. Conserving Carolina has played a role in expanding and improving community green spaces, including a new link in the Brevard greenway system that will connect to Rosenwald. Nicola says that the popular bike path will benefit from the African-American Storyline, which adds a new point of interest. And Edith welcomes the health benefits that people may enjoy from more outdoor activity.  

Related: Estatoe Trail to Connect to Rosenwald Community

She says, “We really want to see opportunity again. We want to give hope and joy and education and all the things it takes to have a whole life for the young people who are coming along today.”

Billy Smith painting at event
Billy Smith painted this portrait of Moms Mabley at a community event in Rosenwald. Photo courtesy of Nicola Karesh, Morning Glory Inspirations.


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