I’m reading Mary Hoffschwelle’s The Rosenwald Schools of the American South, an inspiring story of a remarkable program. Mary (Dr. Hoffschwelle) is a friend who happens to be married to Van West – one of my oldest friends from childhood and a professional colleague. In this 2006 book, she captures the story of the Rosenwald School building project which eventually resulted in the construction of more than 5,000 school buildings for African Americans across the Southern states in the first half of the 20th century.
Through its Rosenwald Initiative, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has worked with community groups to try and save the approximately 1,000 remaining Rosenwald schools. It is very important work. I spoke at a Rosenwald Schools conference at Fisk University several years ago and was inspired by the many stories of the former students. I recommend a tour through the initiative’s web site to learn more about these remarkable community centers and what’s being done to preserve them. I recommend Mary’s book as well.
I came across the following in Mary’s introduction and thought I would share it as just a great summation of why historic buildings – and their preservation – matters:
No program administrator or state bureaucrat had the power to turn (Booker T.) Washington and (Julius) Rosenwald’s idea into a blanket of over five thousand school facilities spread over fifteen states. That power came from the hundreds of local leaders and thousands of average people in the South’s African American communities….These black men, women, and children turned self-help prescriptions and idealized building plans into real places and invested them with meaning. (emphasis mine)
More to come…