Mark H. Gassaway was born to Louisa McPhail and Larkin Gassaway, Sr. near Belton, SC on August 10, 1852. Louisa had been taught by her father to read and determined that all five of her children should be educated. Little did she know that education would come to define her son’s life. Mark excelled as a student and graduated in 1883 from Claflin College.
Gassaway would even marry a fellow educator in 1889. His wife, Carrie had graduated from Spelman Seminary in Georgia and became a teacher in Belton. The couple both fostered a passion for educating black youth during a time when quality schooling was often unavailable to the African American community.
In 1889, a position as post master opened up in Belton and Mark Gassaway applied. He scored the highest on the examination and was offered the job. However, when he appeared for the first day of work the Postal Service realized they had hired a black man. The people of the town recognized the implications of a black man holding a federal position and he was pushed to leave town. It was at this time that Gassaway took over as principal at the Greeley Institute in Anderson. From here he would move to his most famous appointment as principal of Reed Street Grammar School #4 around 1901. From the 1880s through 1919, Mark advanced Anderson’s African American community by educating thousands of the county’s black children. He and his wife even hosted certain children at their home on Hampton Street which they used as a boarding house for out-of-town students.
Using his connections to wealthy and influential community members, he was able to help black soldiers restart their lives after returning from WWI. He also served as a delegate to the national Methodist Episcopal conference for many years. One of Gassaway’s greatest accomplishments in civic leadership was the establishment of Anderson’s branch of the NAACP, where he served as the first president in 1919. However, his work with the organization drew the attention of local white supremacists who opposed the group. Escalation led to harassment, intimidation, and death threats against Gassaway who had once been hailed for his achievements in the community. Mark felt forced to pack up and move his family to Cleveland, Ohio where he could continue his work in relative safety.
Mark and Carrie lived out their lives in Ohio where the former principal continued as a delegate to national Methodist conferences and as a Civil Rights activist. He even spoke at a NAACP rally in New York alongside the famed W.E.B. Dubois. In addition, Mr. Gassaway started a broom factory while his sons went on to become lawyers and his daughter a teacher. His passion for education and primacy as an advocate for racial equality make Mark Gassaway one of the most prominent and unique figures in our county history. He and his wife are both buried at Highland Park Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.