Information Sought on Rosenwald Schools
Thea Marshall has an unfinished story she hopes listeners can help complete.
Somewhere, here on the Northern Neck, are twenty-two buildings or maybe just their bones, that are waiting to be discovered. They're an important part of the history of the Northern Neck, and architect and author Steve Reese is hot on their trail.
Reese, who grew up in Chicago and now lives in Irvington, was asked to join the team of state-wide researchers to locate and document schools constructed in the early part of the twentieth century under the Rosenwald school program.
Why? Well, Steve Reese tells us, quote, the Rosenwald school building program has been called the most influential philanthropic force that came to the aid of African-Americans at that time and, of course, that time was a time of segregation, a time of few educational opportunities for African-Americans.
Who was Julius Rosenwald and why did he care? Well, he was the son of German-Jewish immigrants and became the superhero of one of America's great success stories. Coming to America in the late nineteenth century, along with the millions of other immigrants to find the freedom to be anything they chose to be, and becoming, quote, a builder of Sears, Roebuck and Company and a benefactor of mankind.
He was a man who met with some of the great social progressives of his era, from Jane Adams to Booker T. Washington, and Dr. Washington was, of course, one of the greatest proponents of African-American education, and he became a good friend and inspiration to Rosenwald. The result of their friendship, the Rosenwald School Initiative; it began in 1912 and grew to become the most significant effort to improve the quality of public education for African-Americans in the early twentieth-century South.
By 1928, one in every five rural schools for black students in the South was a Rosenwald school. By the end of the project in the 1930s, the Rosenwald Fund had provided for the construction of more than 5300 buildings in fifteen states, including schools and shops and teachers' homes, all built by and for African-Americans.
Why did he care? Rosenwald wrote, quote, the horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race on account of the centuries of persecution which they've suffered and still suffer, unquote.
Twenty-two of the Rosenwald schools were build on the Northern Neck, and Steve Reese wants to find them. Steve says he'll document those found and the sites of demolished ones will be traced through archival records, and as important, he hopes to talk to folks who may have attended a Rosenwald school or knows somebody who knew somebody who did. Any memory is welcome because, as Steve Reese says, locating and documenting these schools will provide another link in the rich history of the Northern Neck.
So, if you have information you can share, you can contact me through this radio station and I'll pass it along to Steve Reese.
This is Thea Marshall.