The Salem School And Orphanage: White Missionaries, Black School

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Phoebe Ann Pollitt PhD, Associate Professor (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
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Abstract: The academic focus on multiculturalism in the late 20th century gives the impression that society was homogeneous until very recently. In particular, and despite the efforts of numerous scholars, the myth persists that the Appalachian region is a static and uniform society made up of poor white mountaineers. But the social and cultural make-up of the region is much more complicated than some are willing to admit, and its history is replete with examples of multicultural encounters and incidences of cooperation. One of the most ecumenical and complex of those was undertaken by the 19th-century religious and social reformers who established the Salem School and Orphanage in Elk Park, North Carolina. In this relatively isolated mountain community, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Mennonite missionaries identified and attempted to address the needs of an African­ American community. The Salem School and Orphanage was an anomaly in the mountain reform movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mission work on behalf of blacks in Appalachia was rare because of entrenched racism, because of the relatively low percentage of African Americans in the region, but more importantly because of a general perception that the greater need was to uplift poverty-stricken mountain whites. James Klotter has argued that the poverty among white mountaineers "allowed some reformers to turn with clear conscience away from blacks" to aid an Appalachia that was characterized by its "whiteness." Klotter's thesis does not account for the Salem School and Orphanage. Its story is all but forgotten and provides a counterpoint to those dominant white-oriented missionary trends. The story of the Salem School can be best understood in the context of the broader missionary educational reform movements of the late 19th century and the unique contribution of the Mennonite Brethren Church.

Additional Information

OSTWALT, CONRAD, and PHOEBE POLLITT. “The Salem School and Orphanage: White Missionaries, Black School.” Appalachian Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, 1993, pp. 264–275. JSTOR. Publisher version of record available at:
Language: English
Date: 1993
Public schools, Mennonite, Black communities, African Americans, Orphanages, Christian missionaries, History instruction, Child rearing, Appalachian region

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