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In the small Town of St. George, South Carolina, on a quiet, narrow backstreet stands a time-weathered structure abandoned for over sixty years. Left with a free hand, Mother nature graced the property with live oaks and tall pines. One scarcely notices the forgotten building shrouded with kudzu, thorny bamboo vine and aggressive undergrowth.
This structure, built in 1925, was a six-teacher Rosenwald School erected through the efforts of renowned educator Booker T. Washington and the philanthropic President of Sears & Roebuck, Julius Rosenwald.
In one of the most arduous philanthropic efforts of the time, Dr. Washington and Mr. Rosenwald began their program to construct schools for African-American children, resulting in the construction of 5400 schools in many states in the south and southwest. Thousands of children attended these schools between 1912 and the late 1950's when integration at last came to our nation.
As President of the Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama, Dr. Washington challenged his students in the Building and Shop Program to create architectural plans for the schools according to his specifications. The schools were to be erected in any community willing to donate one-half the cost of the building, and the Rosenwald Fund would provide the rest. The two-teacher, four-teacher and six-teacher schools are recognized today by the banks of windows on the north and south sides of each building. Dr. Washington demanded adequate lighting, ventilation, pure water and sanitation facilities. In addition to the school buildings, shops for trades and housing for teachers, "teacherages", were also constructed.
With the arrival of integration into our culture, these schools were largely abandoned. Only 700 are identified today.
In 2014 the St. George Rosewald School on Ann Street was given in trust to the Town of St. George. There began the immense task of rescuing, restoring, preserving and utilizing the school for the good of the community.
This will not be just another museum, but will convey to visitors the role these schools played in our nation. It will be a vibrant center in the community offering a museum featuring Dr. Washington, Rosenwald and the history of African-American education. It will also be a venue for cultural programs, interactive history lessons, social functions, mentoring programs, self-help programs and a park and playground.
The Rosenwald School Project invites one and all to follow the story, chapter by chapter. One day in the very near future all can visit this amazing 'Phoenix risen from the ashes' of another time in our nation's history.
This project is a picture book of determination, dedication, cooperation, vision, creativity, volunteerism and hard work.
Co-Founder of the Rosenwald Schools in the United States.