Myles Horton Papers, 1851-1990


Myles Falls Horton, the founder-director of the Highlander Folk School and a noted adult educator, was born on July 9, 1905 in Savannah, Tennessee, the son of Perry and Elsie Falls Horton. After an upbringing that stressed religion, education, and concern for the less fortunate, Horton entered Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1924. During the summer of 1927 he directed a Presbyterian Bible school, and the experience prompted him to think about establishing his own adult education program. After his graduation in 1928 Horton worked as the student secretary for the state YMCA. In 1929 he entered Union Theological Seminary where his thinking was greatly influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr. In the fall of 1930 he began classes at University of Chicago Graduate School of Sociology to study with Robert E. Park.

In 1931 an acquaintance suggested to Horton that he should visit Denmark to study the residential folk schools that had been established there as a result of the work of Nikolai Grundtvig. After his return to the United States in 1932 Horton and Don West established the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, to train economically-disadvantaged residents of the area for leadership roles. From that point until his retirement in 1970, Horton's personal biography and his influence on a generation of labor organizers and civil rights activists was virtually synonymous with the history of the Highlander. (A brief overview of this history is included in the descriptive register to the Highlander records held by the Historical Society, as well as in numerous books and articles, some of which are included in the Horton Papers.)

After his retirement as director in 1970, Horton continued to be actively involved with Highlander, but he also devoted himself to the interests of adult education generally. During the 1970s and 1980s he traveled extensively to study education and the economic and political parallels between Appalachia and the undeveloped nations of the Third World.

Horton married Zilphia May Johnson; she died on April 11, 1956. A second marriage to Aimee Isgrig ended in divorce. Myles Horton died as a result of a brain tumor in January 19, 1990.