Keeping History Alive: How Brevard Became a Pioneering Civil Rights Community
We invite you to learn more about a landmark effort by Brevard and Transylvania County’s African American citizens who made history – and the extraordinary African American community that is sharing their history in exciting new ways.
Pictured: Edith Darity
Sometimes change requires courage. And tenacity. And an unwavering belief in the American Dream. Those are the qualities that describe Brevard’s African American community in the early 60s. At the time, virtually every school in the South was still segregated, despite the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision handed down by the Supreme Court that declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
In Brevard and Transylvania County, high school age African American students were bussed 42 miles every day to attend an all-Black high school in Henderson County. Enter Reverend Samuel A. Raper, who encouraged local African Americans to form the Transylvania Citizens Improvement Organization in 1960. After twice being turned down by the local Board of Education, these citizens took their case to the Federal Courts – and won – helping Transylvania County become the first desegregated school system in North Carolina.
Brevard resident Edith Darity lived that history. For the first three years of high school, she was bussed to Henderson County. But for her senior year, in 1963, she attended Brevard High School as part of the first fully integrated class – all thanks to the landmark efforts of the Transylvania Citizens Improvement Organization.
“Everything was just like the non-violence movement,” said Edith in a 2020 interview with Conserving Carolina, “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.”
As an adult, Edith joined the Transylvania Citizens Improvement Organization and was a member for over 40 years, including serving as president. And some six decades after her groundbreaking enrollment at Brevard High School, Edith is still going strong. Edith was instrumental in developing a partnership with the City of Brevard to build the new Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center, which opened in 2022.
Pictured: Tyree Griffin
“Since the opening of the Mary C. Jenkins Community & Cultural Center, it has served as a gathering place for various community members to celebrate special moments in their lives. The center’s overarching mission is to foster collaboration with local leaders and organizations, working toward the betterment of both the City of Brevard and Transylvania County. In the context of this mission, we understand that local African American history is not confined to the pages of a book. Instead, it forms the heartbeat of our community, encompassing narratives of resilience, triumph, and the enduring spirit that has profoundly shaped our shared heritage.” – Tyree Griffin, the director of the Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center.
Pictured: The Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center
One year after its opening, the community center has become a hub of activity for the city. The walls of the community center are filled with displays that showcase the history of Brevard’s African American residents. And who is responsible for chronicling this rich history? None other than Edith Darity.
“I’ve tried to preserve as many pictures of things, activities, and people as long as I could,” says Edith. “Somebody needs to tell the story.”
That story is also being told on historical markers that have recently been erected in the county. In 2022, a marker celebrating the historic integration of Brevard High School went up in front of the school as part of the North Carolina Civil Rights Trail. The road marker also celebrated Brevard High School’s 1963 integrated football team that became North Carolina’s AAA co-champions that year.
Pictured: “Moms” Mabley
On October 20th of this year, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources erected the “Moms” Mabley historical marker in downtown Brevard’s Clemson Plaza on West Main Street to honor the famous Brevard native. Born Loretta Aiken, “Moms” Mabley went on to become a world-famous comedian and performer, inspiring the likes of Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg.
Another notable contributor to Transylvania County’s rich African American heritage is the African American Storyline Project. The project’s goal is to preserve and showcase the county’s local Black history through historic art murals, signage, kiosks, and oral histories.
Today, a series of permanent metal signs guide visitors through the Rosenwald Community, Brevard’s traditional African American community. The signs highlight the locations of Black-owned businesses that once stood in these spots. In some cases, the buildings still stand, in others, they are just a memory. But all these historical markers serve a purpose – to remind the world of the Rosenwald Community and to serve as inspiration for a Rosenwald renaissance – a renaissance that is already taking shape through places like the Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center.