In the 1800s, most schools in Virginia were either private institutions, or sponsored by a religious organization. As a result, education was not available to most Virginian children – especially African American children. In 1869, the new Virginian constitution established the idea of universal public education.
Public education may have been universal to now include all children in the state of Virginia but it was also segregated. During Reconstruction, former slaves actively pursued education viewing education and literacy as a path to liberation and freedom. Unfortunately, the schools for African American children proved to be sub – standard to white schools. During this time of racial segregation, white school boards often took money that was meant to go to black schools, and distributed them elsewhere. Thus, leaving little to no funding for black schools
Separate and unequal: On the left: a white school in Winchester, Virginia, in 1921. On the right a school for blacks in Brunswick County, Virginia, also in the early 20th. The dismal state of African American schools led Julius Rosenwald to provide funds for new buildings throughout the rural South.
(Jackson Davis Collection, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia Library)
History of Founders
Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an American educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African-American community.
Washington was from the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery and became the leading voice of the former slaves and their descendants
Washington associated with the richest and most powerful businessmen and politicians of the era. He was seen as a spokesperson for African Americans and became a conduit for funding educational programs
Washington further encouraged white philanthropists to direct millions of their monies into projects all across the South that Washington thought best reflected his self-help philosophy.
Julius Rosenwald (August 12, 1862 – January 6, 1932) was born to a Jewish immigrant family from Germany. Julius was born and raised just a few blocks from Abraham Lincoln’s residency in Springfield, Illinois during Lincoln’s presidency. Julius Rosenwald was a US manufacturer, business executive, and philanthropist. He is best known as a part-owner and President of Sears, Roebuck and Co, and for the Rosenwald Fund, which donated millions to support the education of African Americans.
During the late 1800s to early 1900s, there were many social struggles in the US being addressed by the Progressive Movement. Rosenwald, too, was concerned with America’s social situation, and he believed the struggle of African Americans was the most serious. He was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1992. He was inducted into the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) on June 1, 2016. By using both private and available public funds, the Rosenwald Fund (founded 1917) looked to improve the education and lives of African Americans in the South, by aiding all levels of education from grade school to university.
In 1912 Rosenwald was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of Tuskegee Institute, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Rosenwald endowed Tuskegee so that Washington could spend less time fundraising and more managing the school.
Later in 1912 Rosenwald provided funds for a pilot program to build six new small schools in rural Alabama. They were designed, constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914 and overseen by Tuskegee; the model proved successful. Rosenwald established the Rosenwald Fund. The school building program was one of its largest programs
Using architectural model plans developed by professors at Tuskegee Institute, the Rosenwald Fund spent over $4 million to help build 4,977 schools, 217 teachers' homes, and 163 shop buildings in 883 counties in 15 states, from Maryland to Texas.
The Rosenwald Fund made matching grants, requiring community support, cooperation from the white school boards, and fundraising. Black communities raised more than $4.7 million to aid the construction; essentially they taxed themselves twice to do so. These schools became informally known as Rosenwald Schools
By 1932, the facilities could accommodate one third of all African-American children in Southern U.S. schools. In 1912, Julius Rosenwald was introduced to Booker T. Washington, who promoted better educational opportunities for African Americans. Washington asked Rosenwald to serve on the Board of Directors of the Tuskegee Institute in 1912.
Rosenwald served on the Board for the remainder of his life (1932), Washington encouraged Julius to address the poor state of African American education in the US. He first did so by providing money, in 1913, to build 6 small schools in rural Alabama which were overseen by the Tuskegee Institute. The schools were opened in 1914. Several shortcomings in black education in the South were quickly identified by the Rosenwald Fund: a lack of adequately paid and trained teachers; there were no High Schools for black students; schools for rural blacks were only open 4 months a year;
Rustburg Elementary School (1922-1923)
(later known as Campbell County Training School and Rustburg Elementary School)
Seven years after its construction the school almost doubled in size.
The expanded complex known as the “Hill” included 5 buildings, 4 of which are historic. The oldest school building at the center of the site (H-Plan; one-story, frame building); the other buildings were industrial (dating to c. 1925) and a three-room school built directly in front of the original building in 1930-31.
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The architectural features of the Rosenwald Schools greatly improved the quality of schools for African Americans in the South. By 1932, the Rosenwald Fund had produced 4,977 new schools, 217 teacher homes, 163 shop buildings at a total cost of $28,408, 520. Today, that would be approximately $280,500,000. In Virginia, 371 schools were constructed. All counties in Virginia, (except the 4 counties in the Appalachian region), had at least one Rosenwald School.
Many Rosenwald Schools remained open until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) banned racially segregated public schools. Prior to them closing, Rosenwald Schools served generations of teachers, students, parents, and the communities in general.
The schools provided adequate lighting, ventilation, separate outhouses, coatroom, and quality blackboards and desks. There were separate designs for schools that faced east or west, and those that faced north or south. The plans also specified that the windows be placed so that the light came only from the students’ left.
Rosenwald School Today
In 2002, The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Rosenwald Schools on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
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