Rosenwald Schools spotlight: Pender County, North Carolina

Posted on May 13th, 2014 by

Residents of Pender County, along with filmmaker Claudia Stack (http://www.underthekudzu.org/) and the Historic Wilmington Foundation are on the move recently, commemorating and sharing the history of the Rosenwald Schools in their part of North Carolina, a rural county north of Wilmington. North Carolina was the state that built the most schools with the Rosenwald Fund’s assistance and Ms. Stack has said that Pender County has perhaps the most extant Rosenwald Schools in the state.

In April, Ms. Stack joined Glen Harris at Poplar Grove Plantation in Scotts Hill, North Carolina to talk about the impact of the Rosenwald School movement in the South. Tickets are on sale now for a May 31st bus tour organized by Ms. Stack, the Canetuck Community Center and the Historic Wilmington Foundation.

Here’s Ms. Stack talking about the Rosenwald school building program, North Carolina’s Rosenwald Schools and her film, Under the Kudzu:

This is the second annual celebration and tour of the area’s Rosenwald Schools. In March of last year, Stephanie Deutsch (author of You Need a Schoolhouse and a consultant on our upcoming film, The Rosenwald Schools) joined a panel discussion at University of North Carolina Wilmington about the area’s Rosenwald legacy and also visited the Canetuck Community Senior Center, a lovely restored Rosenwald School in Pender County.

Wilmington’s StarNews also wrote a recent article about a community center in the Pender County town of Willard that has served the area since the 1980s. It’s in a building that was not funded by the Rosenwald Fund school-building program, but followed the plans for schools provided by the Rosenwald Fund. There are a surprising number of historic schools out there that aren’t “Rosenwald Schools” but used the Rosenwald plans. We blogged last year about one in South Carolina, the beautifully restored Jane Hamilton School on Daufuskie Island. The Willard Outreach community center will be part of the bus tour on May 31st.

The area has another connection to the Rosenwald story as well. Robert Robinson Taylor, founding architect of Tuskegee University, grew up in Wilmington in an integrated community made up largely of recently freed slaves. Taylor of course went on to design many of the original buildings on Tuskegee’s Alabama campus, head the school’s heralded architecture department and contribute to the architectural plans for the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program across the South, but his years in Wilmington were formative for him. According to R.R. Taylor’s granddaughters Barbara Bowman and Lauranita Dugas, who we interviewed for The Rosenwald Schools, Taylor’s father Henry was not freed until the Civil War, but had been a semi-independent contractual builder in Wilmington even before he achieved his freedom. The integrated community in Wilmington provided an excellent upbringing for Henry Taylor’s four children, three of which attended Howard University in Washington D.C. Robert Taylor, who befriended a schoolteacher and architect from Boston, went to MIT instead, got a degree in architecture and worked at a firm in Cleveland before he was recruited by Booker T. Washington to design Tuskegee’s campus.


Robert Robinson Taylor in his later years, back in Wilmington
Photo credit: Collection of Lauranita Dugas

We’ve written more thoroughly on this blog about Robert Rochon Taylor, Robert Robinson Taylor’s son, and his partnership with Julius Rosenwald in Chicago. Robert Taylor the younger helped design and then managed Julius Rosenwald’s pioneering apartment building for African Americans on Chicago’s South Side, and dedicated his life providing high quality affordable housing for Chicagoans. He wrote a series of articles in the 1930s in the Chicago Defender that laid out his and Rosenwald’s belief in the promise of private capital to redevelop deteriorated, overcrowded urban neighborhoods like the area known as the “Black Belt” in mid-century Chicago.

The history of Pender County and Wilmington, North Carolina is rich and has some interesting connections to the work of Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund. Kudos to Claudia Stack, Historic Wilmington and the Rosenwald School alumni and former teachers of North Carolina for organizing these events and keeping the memory alive.