Rosenwald School spotlight: Pleasant Plains School

Posted on July 16th, 2014 by

In May, we spotlighted the Rosenwald Schools of Pender County, North Carolina on this blog. Today we turn our attention to the northeast corner of the state: the Pleasant Plains School of Hertford County. Marvin T. Jones recently recounted the history of the school for us:

Pleasant Plains Church was founded in 1851 by free people of color who were mixed-race. In order to establish the church, A local White Baptist church oversaw the church and the pastor had to be white. During the Civil War, at least 40 men from the Pleasant Plains community joined the United States Colored Troops. After the war, the church founded its school in 1866. Four schools later came out of Pleasant Plains Baptist Church and the school: the Cotton School, the Walden School, the Union School and what became the 12-year Calvin Scott Brown School, the first high school in the region for people of color. I attended Brown for 9 years and transferred to a previously all-white high school.

Around WWI, the Rosenwald Fund encouraged Pleasant Plains Church to build a successor schoolhouse, the Rosenwald school that I am now working to preserve. In 1950, the county closed the school and sold it to the church for $1. Since then it has served as a community center, and it is now dormant.

The church, Pleasant Plains Baptist, where I am a member, has accepted my proposal to preserve the schoolhouse. The first steps are just now being made. On June 27th an NC State Historic Preservation officer will visit the site and advise us. Part of my proposal is to put the building back in use by the church and community.

The Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School in the 1980s
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marvin T. Jones

As with all Rosenwald Schools, the African American community in Pleasant Plains partially funded the construction of the school (40% of constructions costs in this case, according to the Rosenwald Database at Fisk University). But community involvement didn’t end at the funding of the school. Here’s an account of daily life at the school that really showcases the way the community stepped up to support it.

It was a true family school in which teachers and parents cooperated in various aspects of the school experience. According to former student Calvin Weaver, a family living across the road from the school provided wood for the pot-bellied stove in each classroom and made the fire early in the morning before teachers and students arrived. In summertime the mothers gathered together to can string beans, corn, lima beans, and tomatoes for their children’s lunches. On cold winter mornings they took turns sending jars of food to school. After organizing the day’s lessons, the teacher opened the jars, poured the contents into a large pot, and set the pot on top of the stove to warm. Because the room was cold, the contents took a long time to heat. By lunchtime, however, the pot was warm and everyone enjoyed the delicious soup made from vegetables their own mothers had canned.

From Black Heritage Sites: The South, by Nancy C. Curtis, 1996.

The Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School, circa 1940
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marvin T. Jones

A portrait of Julius Rosenwald, which was a feature of many Rosenwald Schools, still hangs in the Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School:

Julius Rosenwald’s portrait in the Pleasant Plains School
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marvin T. Jones

Interestingly, this portrait seems to be identical to the one Lester Mae Hill retrieved for us at the Cairo Rosenwald School in Tennessee when we visited earlier this year:

Lester Mae Hill with the Cairo School’s portrait of Mr. Rosenwald
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

The Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School can be found near the junction of US-13 and Pleasant Plain Road in Hertford County, North Carolina (between the towns of Winton and Ahoskie). Many thanks to Marvin Jones for sharing these pictures and this information about his school.

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