Last chance to apply to the National Trust’s Rosenwald Centennial preservation grant program

The deadline for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Rosenwald School Centennial Fund, a grant program designed to help community groups pay for the physical restoration of Rosenwald Schools, is rapidly approaching. First round applications are due April 15th. Projects will be awarded grants up to $20,000, provided they can raise matching funds through other sources. The Righteous Persons Foundation has given its generous support to this grant program.

If your project fits the grant guidelines, it’s not too late to apply. Click here for more information. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website has complete grant eligibility and application details.

Rosenwald-influenced school in historic South Carolina Gullah community

On Daufuskie Island, one of a chain of sea islands along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, sits a one-room schoolhouse called the Jane Hamilton School. From the outside, it looks very much like a Rosenwald School, but it was actually fully funded by the immediate community and constructed by local tradesman as well as WPA workers. The Rosenwald Fund provided funding to over 5,000 schools across the south, but this historical building is an example of the many additional schools that were built not with Rosenwald Fund money but with Rosenwald School plans. Beyond providing architectural plans, the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program served as a demonstration to all people that communities suffering under segregation could come together to improve local education facilities even if assistance from state and federal government was withheld.

Community School Plan No. 1A, as seen on a plaque in front of the Jane Hamilton School
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, April, 2013

The school was built on Daufuskie Island (near Savannah, Georgia) for the Gullah children of the island community. The Gullah people are the descendants of slaves from West and Central Africa whose language and culture incorporates influences from the African nations their ancestors lived in centuries ago. For many years, even into the twentieth century, this was a place that was somewhat cut off from the mainland (even today there is no road connection) and this isolation served to preserve the vibrant Gullah folk culture and language, especially after an influx of freed slaves moved to this region in the wake of the Civil War. Today, the Gullah culture is dispersing geographically to an extent (the Gullah population on sea islands like Daufuskie has declined) but there are local and national movements to preserve cultural landmarks like the Jane Hamilton School. A 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, by Julie Dash, that tells an inter-generational story in a Gullah community around the turn of the twentieth century, introduced many people to the Gullah culture.

The Jane Hamilton School, Daufuskie Island, SC
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, April, 2013

One aspect of the Rosenwald Schools that is often recalled by alumni is the large windows and the buildings’ orientation towards the sun (to maximize natural light). This style is clearly evident in the Jane Hamilton School: one side of the building is full of large windows (see the photo below) while the other side (see the above photo) utilized small “breeze windows,” placed high up to allow airflow to the classroom while blocking out the view of the street so children would not be distracted by passersby.

Interior of the Jane Hamilton School
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, April, 2013

Today, the Jane Hamilton School serves as the Gullah Learning Center, a community center where elections are held, with historical exhibits about the school and the Gullah community and a library. The building (which dates from 1940, 8 years after Julius Rosenwald’s death) is a great example of historical preservation as well as a demonstration of the extended influence of the Rosenwald Fund even beyond the 5,000+ schools it directly funded.

By Michael Rose

Rosenwald School Spotlight: The Bigelow Rosenwald School, Arkansas

Abandoned Arkansas, a photography website, has published a gallery of images of a neglected Arkansas Rosenwald school. Members of the community are attempting to restore the school, which also served as a community center after the end of its life as a school building in 1964. It’s fascinating to see these images of the deteriorating building – hopefully they will inspire people to bring the school back to its former glory.

The Bigelow Rosenwald School, Perry County, Arkansas, 2012
Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson, flickr

Click here for a historical image of the school from Fisk University’s Rosenwald School database.

By Michael Rose

Two Rosenwald milestones are remembered in news articles

Yesterday, Haaretz published an article remembering Julius Rosenwald on the anniversary of his 1932 death. David B. Green writes:

On January 6, 1932, the businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald died, at the age of 69.

Rosenwald is equally noteworthy for his leadership of the mail-order emporium Sears, Roebuck & Co, helping its sales grow from $750,000 to $50 million between the years 1895 and 1907 alone, and for the wide range of social issues his charitable foundation dealt with, in particular in the field of education among African Americans.

Click here to read more… (you may have to register, but it’s free and easy)

Today, an Associated Press article ran remembering 2012 as the centennial of the beginning of Rosenwald’s school-building program. You can find the article on several news websites, including

MAGNOLIA, Ark. (AP) — In the early 1900s, a Jewish man in Chicago, Ill., with no apparent connection to the South, began building schools for blacks in the rural South. Julius Rosenwald would become one of the most significant figures in Southern black education — and would eventually leave his mark in a small community right here in southwest Arkansas.

Click here to read more…

Rosenwald Schools work in progress screens at University of North Carolina

On October 25th, Aviva Kempner presented the work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools to an audience at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus. Joseph Jordan, director of the Stone Center, introduced Aviva and Angelo Franceschina. Angelo, who has worked to restore Rosenwald schools, participated in the Q&A with Aviva.

Aviva Kempner with Angelo Franceschina, Joseph Jordan

Before she left the next day, Aviva visited an art gallery on North Carolina Central University’s campus in Durham. An exhibit at the university’s art museum, the subject of a blog post a couple weeks ago, contains a large number of artworks by Rosenwald fellow Charles White, including the haunting print below that Aviva snapped a picture of.  The artworks on display at NCCU were loaned by the art collector Arthur Primas, better known as the manager of Tyler Perry.

“J’Accuse #6” on display at NCCU’s temporary exhibit: “Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten, the Art of Charles White”
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner