Hendersonville Middle students celebrated “Ninth Avenue School Day” for the second year in a row on Valentine’s Day – just a few days before the official “Ninth Avenue School Day” on Feb. 18, as proclaimed in 2006.
From 1951-1965, the Ninth Avenue School was a segregated school for African-American students, before area schools were integrated in 1965.
Coinciding with Black History Month, students met with Tiger alumni Friday, asking questions about their experiences in their formerly segregated school.
One student asked if the Ninth Avenue School had sports teams, and who they played against. Alumnus Ronnie Pepper said when he was at the school, it had a football and basketball team, but their competition was limited.
“They couldn’t play any of the white schools,” he said. “Think about that – the schools they played were all black schools,” meaning the Ninth Avenue teams would have to travel significant distances just to participate in athletic events.
And it wasn’t just the athletes who had long drives. Since Ninth Avenue School was the segregated 1st-12th-grade school in a tri-county area, students traveled from Tranyslvania and Polk counties just to be able to attend school, Pepper said. He said there were plenty of other schools that were closer to where he and his classmates lived, but they had to attend Ninth Avenue.
“Walking by, we could pass by Hendersonville High, but we couldn’t go there,” Pepper said.
Instead, they got the hand-me-down books from the other white schools. “I remember opening up a book and there’d be 10, 15 names in it,” Pepper said.
Then one day in either 2nd or 3rd grade, Pepper said he cracked open his own crisp, new textbook and took a good whiff of the new paper smell. “Nobody else’s name was in it but mine,” he said. “Ooh, that was something.”