Until 1923, the only school in the largely black farm settlement of Pine Grove was the one hand-built by parents, a drafty wooden structure in the churchyard. Anyone who could read and write could serve as teacher. With no desks and paper scarce, teachers used painted wood for a blackboard, and an open fireplace provided flashes of warmth to the lucky students who sat close.
This changed after a Chicago philanthropist named Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck, took up the cause of long-neglected education for blacks at the urging of Booker T. Washington, the proponent of black self-help. By the late 1920s, one in three rural black pupils in 15 states were attending a new school built with seed money, architectural advice and supplies from the Rosenwald Fund.
“It was a big step up, going to a school that was painted and had a potbellied stove,” said Rubie Schumpert, 92, one of nine siblings who attended the Rosenwald school in Pine Grove — and one of three sisters who went on to college and careers as teachers.
If the desks and textbooks were hand-me-downs from white schools, at least there were real blackboards and rough paper for writing. If there was still no electricity, columns of windows maximized the natural light.
Today, this hard-used wooden building, which narrowly escaped demolition, is one of several dozen Rosenwald schools being restored as landmarks — newly appreciated relics of important chapters in philanthropy and black education. The schools were a turning point, sparking improved, if still unequal, education for much of the South, historians say....
The Hickory Colored School in Mayfield, Ky. The building is being restored and was moved to the Graves County High School campus.
Hat tip to Al Cross at the Rural Blog.