Rosenwald School Spotlight: Hempstead, Texas

Posted on January 23rd, 2014 by

The Rosenwald Fund supported the construction of over 500 schools in Texas, placing the state in the upper echelon of those that participated in the school-building program. Only North Carolina and Mississippi built more schools with Rosenwald funding. Given the significant impact these schools have had on the history of Texas communities and on generations of students, it is unfortunate that this history is not better known and that, today, there are only 10-15 Rosenwald Schools still standing in the state. Click the map below to be taken to a Google Map of known Rosenwald Schools in Texas.

Although Texas Rosenwald Schools that have been remodeled (such as the Pleasant Hill Rosenwald School in Linden) offer a plethora of fascinating stories, even among those schools that have been lost to time there are stories worth telling. One such example is the Hempstead School in Waller County, also known as the Sam Schwarz School. Built in 1928 at a cost of $20,200 with room for eight teachers, this was one of the largest Rosenwald Schools in the state. During school consolidation and desegregation, the original Sam Schwarz School was razed along with many of the historical materials it contained. The destruction of the Sam Schwarz School may have suppressed some of the bad memories of school segregation, but its loss affected the community deeply and its history can be used as a way to teach a new generation about the painful legacy of segregation.

Like other Rosenwald Schools, the Sam Schwarz School was built under a combination of funding from the Rosenwald Fund and local residents. The school’s namesake comes from a prominent Jewish family in Hempstead that was instrumental in its construction. Born in Prussia in the mid-1800s, the Schwarz brothers moved one by one to Hempstead, where they became local leaders in a burgeoning Jewish community. Sam Schwarz, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, kept the largest general store in the city and his brother Chayim was the rabbi for Hempstead’s only Jewish congregation (which bore his name). Together, the men built the city’s first synagogue.

Before the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program, Hempstead’s school for African Americans was substandard and built in a low-lying area known as the “frog pond.” In the 1920s, Hempstead, like many communities, moved to leverage one of the Rosenwald Fund’s “challenge grants” to fundraise for a new, modern school. In addition to his other roles in the community, Sam Schwarz was a charter member of the local school board. Although Schwarz passed away in 1918, his daughters donated some family land located on higher ground in the city as the site for the new Rosenwald School. In honor of Schwarz’s legacy as a community leader and philanthropist, the school was named for him. In fact, even after the original Rosenwald School was replaced in the 1950s, the new building still bore Schwarz’s name, a testament to his enduring legacy of education and community uplift.

The Hempstead Rosenwald School (The Sam Schwarz School)
Photo courtesy of Fisk University’s Rosenwald School Database

The intersection between the Rosenwald Fund and the Schwarz family of Texas goes beyond their combined efforts in Hempstead. Like Sam Schwarz, Julius Rosenwald’s lineage can be traced back to Prussia. Also like the Schwarz family, Julius Rosenwald’s father Samuel settled west of the Appalachians, in Springfield, Illinois, where he too helped establish the city’s first synagogue. The Rosenwald Schools will portray the experience of Rosenwald’s father, Samuel, as an immigrant from small town in Prussia who made a new life in the American Midwest. By looking for opportunity in the wide-open spaces of Texas, the Schwarz family shares with the Rosenwalds this lesser known version of the Jewish immigrant experience in America.

Samuel Rosenwald
Image courtesy of Fred Fields

Because Texas is home to so many Rosenwald Schools as well as a Rosenwald-funded African American YMCA and a historical Sears distribution plant, the state will certainly have a prominent place in our film.

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