In 1932, Myles Horton--at the age of 27--founded Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. A student of Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary, Mr. Horton had traveled to Copenhagen to observe firsthand the Danish folk schools which became the model for the Highlander. He believed that if everyday people could come together to discuss problems and share their experiences they could solve their problems. He strongly believed in peer education, in people becoming their own experts, doing their own research, testing their ideas by taking action, analyzing their actions, and learning from their experiences.
Mr. Horton began his educational work among his neighbors in Grundy County, Tennessee, with farmers, miners, woodcutters, and mill hands--those who are bypassed by ordinary educational institutions. Highlander was committed to education for social change and to workers’ rights to organize. Mr. Horton developed labor education classes, and the school was instrumental in the CIO organizing drive in the South.
Later, Mr. Horton focused Highlander’s resources and programs on school desegregation, voter education, citizenship schools, and the civil rights movement. When the Great Society’s War on Poverty came to Appalachia, Mr. Horton had relocated Highlander there under a new name (Highlander Research and Education Center) and was already at work among the disenfranchised people in the poorest region of the country.
Highlander’s work has received national and international recognition. In 1982, Bill Moyers interviewed Mr. Horton for a PBS documentary praising Highlander’s “special kind of teaching--helping people to discover within themselves the courage and ability to confront reality and change it.” In 1982, Highlander was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its historic role in providing education on behalf of human rights in the region. In 1990, Time magazine called Highlander “one of the South’s most influential institutions of social change,” and the New York Times echoed this claim. Also in 1990, the year of Mr. Horton’s death, The Long Haul, Myles Horton’s autobiography, won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award posthumously.