The first time Sylvia White ever heard of Black History Month was in Mrs. Wilda Brown's fourth-grade classroom at the Rosenwald-Jackman School in Columbia, Ky., during the early 1950s. Yet she and her teacher each were helping write a significant chapter in black history that day simply by their presence in the Adair County black school.
The Rosenwald School program was begun in 1912 by Booker T. Washington, the president of Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, and his friend and benefactor, Julius Rosenwald, a chairman of Sears Roebuck & Co.
The aim was to improve the quality of education for black children in the segregated South.
Initially, Washington guided the building of six schools for black children in rural Alabama, using money donated to Tuskegee by Rosenwald. The pilot program was so successful that Rosenwald and other philanthropists increased funding. By 1928, about one of every five black schools in the rural South was a Rosenwald School.
Adair County's Rosenwald-Jackman School, co-named in honor of ex-slave and Civil War soldier Parker Hiram Jackman, was among 155 Rosenwald Schools in Kentucky and 4,977 in 15 states from Texas to Florida to Maryland. "It was the center of the community," White recalled.
"Anything social went on there at the school. It was like four rooms, divided, and was probably the only building besides the church available to black people."
Brown began teaching at the Rosenwald-Jackman School in Columbia during the 1940s. When the school burned in 1953, she continued teaching for about two years in makeshift schools in churches and homes in the community. Adair County schools were integrated in 1956, and soon the old Rosenwald Schools became relics of yesteryear.
Brown retired from teaching in Louisville, where she still lives, but returned to Columbia last summer for the dedication of a marker at the site of the former school, which still holds for her many warm memories. "Some of the parents would fix my lunch and send it to me," said Brown.
"And you had respect from children in these small towns, because the parents would come and say, 'My child is here to learn something. I want you to teach them.' "
White remembers numerous inequities between Rosenwald-Jackman and local white schools of the day, but her best memories are of good teachers and school plays which involved many children. Home economics teachers and high school girls often designed and sewed the costumes, using crepe paper. "I remember being Little Red Riding Hood in one play … and a lightning bug in one play," said White. "Somehow we had those little-bitty flashlights tied around our waists and hanging in the back. We thought there was just nothing like it."
Another teacher, Mrs. Edna Crowe, spent six years in her first teaching job as a home economics teacher at the Rosenwald-Jackman School in Columbia. She retired from teaching in Louisville in 1986.
Last summer, local historian Yvonne Kolbenschlag, with help from the Center for Rural Development, obtained a grant to place a marker at the site of the former Rosenwald-Jackman School. She was joined by White and other former students Terry Bradshaw and Donna Frazier in organizing a ceremony honoring Brown and Crowe at the marker's dedication. Adair County once had five Rosenwald Schools, but today only one building is still standing, a former one-room school in the community of Flatwoods a few miles south of Columbia. The building is now owned by the congregation of Santa Fee Baptist Church, which uses it for social gatherings.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
At the start of the twentieth century, schools for white pupils in Kentucky were poor and less than half of the children received a formal education.
The quality of the schools for black pupils were worse. Materials for blacks were essentially leftovers from white classrooms. There were no serious attempts to fund the schools equitably and the 1904 Day Law made it illegal to educate whites and blacks together in Kentucky.
But, black schools were a vital part of the African-American community life. And since the teachers in black schools had often found their choice of occupation limited by segregation, some of the best and brightest went into education, a highly honored profession among blacks.
The state’s 714 black public high school students and 93 graduates in 1900 led the segregated South. In fact by 1907, a higher percentage of black youths in Kentucky attended school daily than did whites.
But things were changing.
State Superintendent John Grant Crabbe commenced the Whilrwind Campaigns joining forces with the Kentucky Federation of Women's Clubs to visit every community in the state; a "bombardment against Illiteracy and ignorance."
The public response prompted the legislature to pass The Sullivan Bill (sometimes called the County School District Law or the County Administration Law) the most sweeping legisaltion to date. A high school in every county; More money to Kentucky colleges; Enhanced teacher preparations; The creation of EKU, WKU and the renamed K State; Compulsory attendance; and a new set of School laws were the result.
After Crabbe’s reforms Kentucky schools stood 4th in the South.
But then, as happens in Kentucky, the lack of continued support allowed Kentucky to fall to 11th by 1920.
Around this time Julius Rosenwald began a program of school construction aimed at increasing opportunities for blackz in the south. Rosenwald rose to President of the Sears & Roebuck Company following a business innovation that brought city goods to the country - the Sears Catalogue.)
He grew up around the corner from Abraham Lincoln, in Springfield Illinois. Friends with Booker T. Washington, Henry Goldman, Henry Morgenthau and Frank Lloyd Wright, Rosenwald's philanthropic efforts resulted in 4,977 public schools, 163 shop schools and 217 teacher’s homes built in 883 counties in 15 southern states, The effort generated over $28 million for schools built by the African American communities from 1906-1932. The Rosenwald schools educated more than 500,000 students.
This from the Courier-Journal: Photo in C-J courtesy of George Kolbenschlag.
Rosenwald schools improved education for blacks in South