The Julius Rosenwald Fund
In the 1910s, Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., became aware of the sad state of education among African Americans in the rural South. His response was establishment of a fund that provided architectural plans and matching grants that helped build more than 5,300 schools from Maryland to Texas between the late 1910s and 1932.
Alumni of Panther Branch School,
Wake County, July 2000
The Rosenwald Schools Community Project
Since 2000, the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) has been assisting the North Carolina Rosenwald Schools Community Project's (RSCP) efforts to preserve the heritage of Rosenwald schools. Both groups are focusing on the preservation of extant historic places and the larger public education aspects of those buildings, including their key role in the cultural and social history of the state and nation, by highlighting the historical experiences of the students, teachers, administrators, and communities that supported them. Rosenwald schools are a special interest of the HPO staff because they are tremendously important yet quickly disappearing from the landscape. The RSCP, under the leadership of Nyoni Collins, also is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Rosenwald Schools that are no longer standing.
Volunteers working with the RSCP have provided the HPO with information on scores of Rosenwald schools, extant and no longer standing. Follow this link to a summary of survey file materials received from volunteer surveyors of rosenwald schools.
Rosenwald Schools and the National Register
Over the years, the HPO has guided preparation of National Register nominations for twenty-five Rosenwald schools across the state, and thirty-nine have been identified as potentially eligible for listing in the Register. More than 800 were built in North Carolina, more than in any other state, and it is likely that scores remain, awaiting identification, recognition, and preservation. As the buildings are identified, it is hoped that the people associated with those places will be identified and that the larger heritage that is the concern of the RSCP can be preserved as well. Unfortunately, the HPO has not had the financial resources to undertake a comprehensive survey of the state's Rosenwald schools.
Ware Creek School, Beaufort County
Additional Identification and Research Activities
In April 2002, the HPO collaborated with the RSCP in a series of presentations about Rosenwald schools to Department of Cultural Resources staff. In one of the presentations, Claudia Brown, supervisor of the HPO's Survey and Planning Branch, talked about the difficulties encountered in gathering information on the remaining schools and asked Department of Cultural Resources staff to let the HPO know about Rosenwald schools with which they may be familiar. When several members of the audience expressed their interest in searching for Rosenwald schools, a meeting of potential volunteers was organized. As the RSCP spread word of the project, more volunteers offered to help. By mid-August, twenty-two people had signed on to document Rosenwald Schools—those that survive as well as those that have been lost—in thirty-two of the state's one hundred counties (see attached list). At the end of 2002, ten more volunteers had signed on and the number of surveyed counties had climbed to forty. Materials prepared by the HPO and the RSCP are guiding the volunteer surveyors in their quest.
Russell School, Durham County
At the same time that volunteers were beginning to survey Rosenwald schools, the HPO had the good fortune of having a volunteer summer intern, Kate Phillips, a rising junior at Appalachian State University. Ms. Phillips undertook the task of perusing the HPO's architectural survey files to identify Rosenwald schools that have already been surveyed. In her examination of files for the seventy-five central and eastern counties, she identified thirty-eight schools either firmly documented as or believed to be Rosenwald schools, in addition to those already listed in the National Register or deemed potentially eligible for listing. This information, shared with the volunteer surveyors as a list entitled "Surveyed Rosenwald Schools," was the beginning of the HPO's Rosenwald schools computerized database. As of January 31, 2003, seven volunteers had submitted material on dozens of Rosenwald schools. As we add this material to HPO files, we will expand the list of surveyed Rosenwald schools.
National Recognition of Rosenwald Schools
The need for a comprehensive survey of Rosenwald schools is underscored by their placement on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2002 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 1988, this list, announced annually, has raised awareness and rallied resources to save endangered sites in every region of the country. When the 2002 list was announced, the National Trust noted that the first step in saving the remaining Rosenwald schools is a systematic survey, coupled with creation of local activist networks dedicated to implementing adaptive uses of the buildings. In 2001, the National Trust Southern Office established the Rosenwald School Initiative to develop a network of private individuals and organizations interested in preserving the remaining schools. The RSCP is an active partner in the initiative and the HPO has enjoyed a productive collaborative relationship with the National Trust for many years. It is expected that the results of the volunteer survey project co- sponsored by the RSCP and the HPO will help the three organizations achieve their preservation goals through a public-private partnership.
Claudia R. Brown
February 10, 2003
LinksAfrican American Education Collection, North Carolina State Archives
Rosenwald Fund, article in NCPedia, North Carolina State Library, with links to additional resources.
Rosenwald Schools: Beacons for Black Education in the American South, a Web site posted by Dr. Tom Hanchett, Director of the Museum of the New South, Charlotte N.C. The site includes a history of Rosenwald Schools, a reading list, school plans, and links to other sources.
Community School Plans, Bulletin No. 3, Julius Rosenwald Fund
Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database. A source for information about Rosenwald Schools all across the south, whether standing or lost, most with documentary photographs
The Rosenwald Schools Initiatve, posted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Rosenwald Schools in Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Wayne, and Wilson Counties, NC, 2007 report by Marvin A. Brown
Rosenwald Schools in North Carolina in the National Register of Historic Places
Rosenwald Schools in North Carolina on the National Register Study List
List of Surveyed Rosenwald Schools (PDF)
Summary of Survey File Materials Received From Volunteer Surveyors of Rosenwald Schools
N.C. State Historic Preservation Office Home Page
Office of Archives and History Home Page