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Renewed Energy to Preserve Rosenwald Schools

Rosenwald schools were built to educate black students in the rural South, and there's renewed energy around preserving those historic structures.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation hosted a first-ever National Rosenwald Schools Conference in Alabama late last week as part of a new, broader effort launched earlier this year to save 100 Rosenwald Schools by 2015.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Rosenwald schools. About 5,300 were built between the early 1910s and the early 1930s, but only 800 remain. Many have been torn down or neglected, while others haven't been identified as Rosenwald schools. Many are in poor condition, and restoration money is hard to find.

The National Trust listed the schools among its most endangered historic places a decade ago, and it's been working since then to preserve them. The goal of the conference was to give Rosenwald school alumni and preservationists an opportunity to connect with one another and learn what they could do to keep those structures in tact, said Rebecca Morgan, the associate director of public affairs for the National Trust.

"We want to raise awareness for this quickly vanishing segment of America's story," she said.

Rosenwald schools are among the sites identified as a"National Treasure" by the National Trust, and the goal of saving 100 became official earlier this year. The National Trust formed a partnership with Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation on this issue in 2008, and since then, it has contributed $2.5 million to restore 41 Rosenwald schools in 11 states.

CNN had a good article this weekend that delves into the history of these schools. The story cited research from the Federal Reserve of Chicago that the Rosenwald schools led to "significant educational gains for rural Southern blacks ... with great effects on cognitive test scores, literacy, and years of schooling. As the black-white education gap narrowed between the World Wars, educated African-Americans were more likely to move to areas with stronger labor markets—mostly cities in the North—which helped to shape the Great Migration and the 20th century economy."

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