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Rosenwald School Initiative and Statewide Historic African American School Survey

Rosenwald Schools: The Pathway to an Education for African Americans in the South   

Between 1917 and 1932 and in the midst of racial segregation and chronic under-funding of African-American schools, more than 360 Rosenwald schools were built in rural areas across Virginia. After seeing the desperate need, Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute developed a rural school building program and enlisted the help of Sears-Roebuck president Julius T. Rosenwald to provide funding to local communities across the South. African-American communities and localities in which they lived raised money to match the Rosenwald Fund’s contributions and build schools. Local governments were essentially incentivized to apply for the funding in order to create educational opportunities for African American students that better lived up to the “separate but equal” rule of law.

The schools served a community unifier role, bringing together localities to fundraise and build their new school buildings. They were economic and educational engines, providing opportunities for generations of African American children. They were architecturally significant, with plans drawn up by architects and engineers at the Tuskegee Institute that incorporated the most progressive educational design attributes of the time as well as a cohesive style.

After the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, most schools fell out of use and many were lost. Even worse for some, their legacy was forgotten. With our newly-launched statewide Historic African American (Rosenwald) School Survey, we need your help to rediscover these schools and rebuild their legacies.


Help Find Virginia's Historic Rosenwald Schools 

We recently launched phase one of an architectural survey of Rosenwald schools, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), to document the condition of approximately 192 schools in the Commonwealth’s Piedmont region. We developed a mobile survey tool for this initiative and are asking community members, students, Rosenwald alumni and volunteers to share their intimate, local knowledge of the schools in their area with a wider audience in order to help preserve this important history. 

Through the web browser-enabled survey tool, users can record preliminary survey information about a school, tag its exact location, and upload images in real time. The survey can be accessed on mobile devices or computers in any web browser. Ultimately, this information will be verified and used to advocate for both the commemoration and the adaptive re-use of Rosenwald-funded school buildings so that they can once again be vibrant community resources.

Open the Rosenwald School Survey Tool

Contact Justin Sarafin, director of preservation initiatives and engagement, at jsarafin@preservationvirginia.org for help with using the Rosenwald School Survey tool. 

Funds from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and National Park Service, through a grant from DHR, are supporting this project. 


Preservation Virginia's Multi-Year Rosenwald School Initiative 

In 2013, we listed Rosenwald schools on our Most Endangered Historic Places list. Since then, we have worked with community groups and individual Rosenwald school owners providing preservation advice and guidance to help restore Rosenwald schools that are still standing and find ways to commemorate those that have been lost. Click the link below for a comprehensive look at our work across the Commonwealth thus far. 

Rosenwald School Initiative Story Map