Rosenwald School Architectural Survey

In 2013, we listed Rosenwald Schools in Virginia on our Most Endangered Historic Places list. Since then, we have worked with Rosenwald-funded and other historic African American schools with community groups and individual school owners providing advice and guidance to help preserve the Rosenwald schools that are still standing and find ways to commemorate those that have been lost.

We recently completed a two-year architectural survey of Virginia’s Rosenwald schools in partnership with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).

Our Goals

  • Find out where—and in what condition—Virginia’s Rosenwald schools are in today. Our advocacy team spent more than a year traveling across Virginia using online research, historic maps, and input from alumni and community members to find the exact location of the more than 380 Rosenwald-funded schools and auxiliary buildings built in Virginia between 1917 and 1932. Some schools are still standing and have been repurposed into homes, community centers, hunt clubs, churches or used for storage while others have been demolished.
  • Identify opportunities for documentation through the use of state and local historical marker programs—and commemoration via the nomination of three schools for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Every historic African American school, whether officially funded by the Rosenwald building program or not, represents a unique and special history of the community that built it. ​We hope this work will encourage others to continue documenting, commemorating and preserving these special places.

Continue on to learn key findings from the survey.

Funding for this project was provided by a National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant (in partnership with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources) and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.  

Below is a map of each school we surveyed. Click on an icon and read a few details about the architectural condition of each school. Although we worked for two years on research that included many community members, some schools could not be found and are noted on the map in the proper county, but not in the actual place. If you find that a school is not in the proper location based on your local knowledge, please contact Lisa Bergstrom at lbergstrom@preservationvirginia.org. Please note that our survey work was done at the reconnaissance level and is meant to be a starting point for further work.

“We had some good teachers who were instrumental to our learning. They made sure everyone lived up to their full potential. One advantage to multiple classes in one room was that if you were smart enough learning your first grade lesson, you could listen to the second grade lesson or even the third grade lesson. If you took advantage of it, it could help you advance.”

— Horace Darden, Courtland School

Key Survey Findings

  • Per Fisk University’s archives, 382 Rosenwald funded schools and auxiliary buildings were built in Virginia between 1917 and 1932
  • 366 of these buildings were schools
  • 4 were teacher cottages
  • 12 were additional classroom space called “shops” at county training schools
  • 33% stand (126)
  • 67% are demolished (256)
  • 51% were two teacher schools
  • 20% were one teacher schools
  • 13% were three teacher schools
  • The largest school was a 10 teacher school, the Virginia Randolph School in Henrico County
  • Rosenwald schools were located in 86 of Virginia’s 95 counties and 4 independent cities
  • The 5,000th Rosenwald school built in the country was the Greenbrier School built in Hampton

All information has been verified and placed in DHR’s Virginia Cultural Resource Information System (VCRIS). The system is DHR’s online cultural resource inventory of individual properties, sites and historic districts. 

History of Rosenwald Schools

What was the Rosenwald rural school building program? 

The program, created by Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, was an effort to improve the quality of public education for African Americans in the rural South during segregation. Washington enlisted the help of Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of Sears Roebuck, to provide funding to local African American communities through the Rosenwald Fund. As part of the program, these communities were tasked with raising money in addition to the Rosenwald Fund’s contributions in order to have the schools built.

Most schools fell out of use after the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Some were incorporated into the design of a new school or repurposed.

How many schools were built in total? 

Approximately 5,500 Rosenwald schools were built in the United States as far north as Maryland and as far west as Oklahoma. In Virginia, a total of 382 Rosenwald Schools/auxiliary buildings were built between 1917 and 1932.

“In 1928, our community raised $1,000, approximately $14,000 today, to provide us with a school. It took them four years to fundraise most of the money. They still had to borrow an additional $500 from the school board, which they repaid in 1934. It took them a long time to repay that note, but they were constantly fundraising. Even $1 donations were chronicled in the local paper, because every dollar brought us closer to our school building.”

— Maxine Nowland, Courtland School