August 1, 2019
For immediate release:
Preservation Virginia Completes Architectural Survey of Historic African American Rosenwald Schools
The project included locating more than 380 Rosenwald-funded structures built in Virginia
RICHMOND – Preservation Virginia, a private, non-profit historic preservation organization, has completed a two-year architectural survey of historic African American schools built in Virginia that received funding from the Rosenwald rural school building program. The survey was undertaken in partnership with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and funded by a National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.
The Rosenwald rural school building 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 to match the Rosenwald Fund’s contributions in order to have the schools built.
Approximately 5,500 Rosenwald Schools were built in the United States as far north as Maryland and as far west as Oklahoma. Most schools fell out of use after the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
The purpose of Preservation Virginia’s survey was to find out where—and in what condition—Virginia’s Rosenwald Schools are today, identify opportunities for commemoration and nominate three schools for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Every historic African American school, whether officially funded by the Rosenwald rural school building program or not, represents a unique and special history of the community that built it,” said Lisa Bergstrom, preservation programs manager for Preservation Virginia. “We hope this work will encourage others to continue researching, commemoration and preserving these special places.”
Preservation Virginia’s advocacy team spent more than a year traveling across Virginia using online research, historic maps and input from 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. The location and architectural information about each school was recorded and mapped using an ESRI ArcGIS-based geo-location survey tool developed for the purpose by Preservation Virginia.
“Preservation Virginia’s survey of the Rosenwald Schools across Virginia is a powerful educational tool which gives the public a better understanding of the importance of these schools and a richer sense of pride to communities in the process of restoring their Rosenwald School,” said Taren Owens, board president of the Shady Grove School in Gum Spring. “Shady Grove is a one-room, one-teacher school which for more than 35 years provided education for Louisa’s black community. The survey gives the school context and importance in the larger history of black education across the state.”
“As an alum, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have a role in the preservation of the very same Rosenwald School that I attended in my childhood,” said Nan Butler Roberts of the Scrabble School in Rappahannock. “These schools matter. They tell a story. It’s integral to the African American experience in the rural South. The documentation process is the key to salvaging and preserving this slice of not only African American history, but American history.”
“This survey is evidence of the continued dedication of Preservation Virginia and its partners to preserve the rich history of African Americans in the Commonwealth. These schools tell the stories of community, triumph and perseverance,” said Tevya Griffin of the Cape Charles School. “Their identification and preservation is a treasure for future generations.”
The survey found that out of the 382 Rosenwald Schools and auxiliary buildings built in Virginia, 126 are still standing and 256 have been demolished. Out of the 382 schools and auxiliary buildings, 366 were school buildings, four were teacher cottages and twelve were industrial education “shops” located at county training schools.
Other findings from the survey and supporting research include the following:
- Counties with the heaviest population of Rosenwald Schools between 1917 and 1932 were Mecklenburg, Campbell, Pittsylvania, Halifax, Greensville, Charlotte and Brunswick.
- Modern-day uses of Rosenwald Schools include houses, churches, community centers, recreational centers, museums, offices, hunt clubs and storage.
- The most common plan for Rosenwald Schools in Virginia were two teacher schools with 51% of all the schools built being with that design.
- African American communities contributed to the cost of construction, along with the locality and sometimes the white community, to receive the Rosenwald portion of the overall funding package for each school.
- In many locations, Rosenwald school buildings can be found near the churches and at the center of the historic communities that funded their construction.
The Rosenwald Schools that have been listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places during the course of the project are: Washington School, Rappahannock County; Campbell County Training School, Campbell County; and the St. John School, Albemarle County.
The complete list of key survey findings and an interactive map of each school surveyed can be found at www.preservationvirginia.org/rosenwald.
About Preservation Virginia
Preservation Virginia’s mission is to make Virginia’s communities and historic places of memory stronger, more vital and economically sustainable through preservation, education and advocacy.
Lisa Bergstrom, preservation programs manager
204 West Franklin Street
Richmond, VA 23220