Principal John Marable

John Marable was an innovative principal who instituted sports teams and a marching band, and led the transition from the Sixth Avenue School to the larger, better equipped Ninth Avenue School

John Marable became principal of Sixth Avenue School in 1946, and during his thirteen year tenure many dramatic changes in education occurred both nationally and locally. It was during this time that the new Ninth Avenue School was dedicated in 1951. On the national scene the landmark Supreme Court Civil Rights decision, Brown vs. the Board of Education, legally abolished in 1954 the long-held statute of “separate but equal.” In Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 the public school system had to be forcefully integrated, marking the beginning of a long, hard-fought struggle for desegregation of Southern school systems. Locally, there was the dawning awareness that desegregation would be coming to Henderson County. Through this turbulent time Mr. Marable worked diligently to see that a well-rounded, quality education was made available for all the students of his school.

Mr. Marable came to Ninth Avenue in the Fall of 1940, after graduating from Shaw University with a degree in English and French. He taught these subjects at Ninth Avenue until 1943, at which time WWII interrupted his brief teaching career. He was drafted into the Armed Forces and stationed at Kearney Air Force Base in Kearney, Nebraska. When the war ended and he was released from the military, he made his way back to Hendersonville in 1946 to resume his teaching. It was in that year that Mr. Spencer Durante resigned as principal of the Sixth Avenue School to pursue other educational interests. Mr. Durante came to Sixth Avenue in 1939 after the death of Professor Robinson and is remembered as an able teacher and administrator. Mr. Durante and Mr. Marable had been roommates in college and it was Mr. Durante who had encouraged Mr. Marable to come to Hendersonville. When Mr. Durante resigned, Mr. John Marable was the natural choice to succeed him. Although the pay was low and the responsibilities many, Mr. Marable set himself to the task, teaching both high school French and English as well as assuming the duties of principal for grades one through twelve. It is remarkable to note that he was able to do this without the aid of an assistant or a secretary. (During the 1950’s he was ably assisted by Mr. E. K. Mims who became Assistant Principal for the elementary school.) With financial aid from the newly created G. I. Bill, Mr. Marable added to his professional credentials in 1949 by graduating with honors from the University of Pennsylvania with a Masters degree in Education. He had wanted to attend one of the universities in North Carolina like Duke University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but sadly they had denied him admission because of his color.

Principal Marable was determined to present as many opportunities to his students as possible. An example of this was in the area of athletics. Prior to 1947 there was no organized football team at Ninth Avenue. The young men in the school were eager to compete but there had been no one to lead them. Recognizing this need, Mr. Marable gathered the interested boys around him on a late August afternoon and told them that if they wanted to form a football team, he would coach them. But there was one stipulation: they would need to prove their interest by helping to raise the money for their uniforms. Six weeks later on a cool October evening in Hendersonville at Deitz Stadium, after only two and a half weeks of actual practice, the Ninth Avenue Tigers took the field in brand new uniforms. Though they lost their first game by just one touchdown, it was the beginning of a new period of pride for the union school. Around the sports program, especially football, many traditional events occurred. There was an annual Homecoming event highlighted by a parade through downtown Hendersonville. In the parade the Homecoming Queen and her court rode in open convertibles, the school band marched, and carefully constructed floats passed in front of the onlookers along Main Street. The support for the football Tigers was strong but hardships remained. There was no bus to transport the team to away games, but this obstacle was met by supportive parents and teachers who offered their own cars as transportation for the team. This was the kind of attitude that Mr. Marable brought to all the events of the school: together we can make it happen.

The Tigers’ schedule included other Black teams from South Carolina and Western North Carolina who participated in the all-Black Piedmont Athletic Conference. Teams from places such as Franklin; Canton; Asheville; Union, S.C.; Greenvill, S.C.; and Spartanburg, S.C. competed against each other. The Tigers gained a reputation for good, quality football and in 1953 they won the Conference Championship. Two teams became the Tigers main rivals during those years: the much larger school Stephens Lee High School from Asheville, and Sims High School from Union, S.C. By the mid-50’s the football rivalry with the team from Sims became of such interest that the radio station WHKP in Hendersonville broadcast the game live. But no matter whom they played, the Tigers had a large fan following, and crowds were always enthusiastic at Deitz Field. They shared the field with the White Hendersonville High School Bearcats, playing a Wednesday evening game when the Bearcats had a home game on Friday, or on Friday nights when the Bearcats were away. The Hendersonville High School football team never played the Ninth Avenue team, although there was always speculative interest in a possible game between the two teams. Mr. Marable continued to coach the football team until he left to become a principal in Bladen County, North Carolina, in 1959. But Mr. Marable didn’t limit his athletic leadership skills just to football, coaching both basketball and baseball as well.

In his role as principal, Mr. Marable was accountable to the Hendersonville School Board and its superintendent, Mr. A. D. Kornegay. Mr. Marable recounts that there were good relations with the superintendent and that even though nationally the fifties were turbulent times in education, comparatively there was a cooperative climate among Henderson County school officials. It was during Kornegay’s time as superintendent, for example, that the new Ninth Avenue School was built. When Mr. Marable reflects on his time as principal at Ninth Avenue, it’s the teachers and students he remembers most. His days were filled with teaching classes in English and French, managing the
hectic lunch room schedule, making sure that the buses were operating smoothly, and then assuming his coaching responsibilities. This kind of devotion that Mr. Marable displayed for the Ninth Avenue School would long be remembered by former students and teachers alike as a very positive influence in their lives.

From A Brief History of the Black Presence in Henderson County by Gary Franklin Green