Mari VanLandingham, the adult literacy coordinator for the William “Bill” McGill Public Library in Quincy, has taken on a new research project this February in honor of African American History Month.
VanLandingham is researching the history of the seven Rosenwald Schools in Gadsden County and what may have happened to them.
The Rosenwald Schools were the brainchild of Julius Rosenwald — the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company — who helped financially support the building of more than 5,300 schools for African Americans in the south during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
There were seven Rosenwald Schools built in Gadsden County, all in the 1920’s. These schools were also known as Schools of Hope.
VanLandingham has been researching these schools in the hope of determining their exact locations with the idea that if any building is still standing (or if any exact location can be confirmed) then some sort of historical landmark can be set up.
One of the Rosenwald Schools in Gadsden County, which was originally known as the Quincy School and opened in the 1928-29 school year (and is shown on the cover of this newspaper) was later renamed the Stevens School. The Stevens School was standing up until just last year when it went up in flames in a fire in March.
The first three Rosenwald Schools in Gadsden County were built for the 1923-1924 school year and were the Oak Grove School, the Salem School and the Shiloh School. There are no old photos for these schools in the Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database.
The materials for the Rosenwald Schools are the property of the Special Collections Division of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Other Gadsden County Rosenwald schools with photos in the Fisk Database include the Gretna School (built for the 1925-26 school year), the Midway School (built for the 1926-27 school year) and the Chattahoochee School (built for the 1927-28 school year).
The public is encouraged to go to the Quincy Public Library and check out/read the books that VanLandingham has found on this interesting Gadsden County history including:
• “You Need a Schoolhouse” by Stephanie Deutsch;
• “Schools of Hope” by Norman Finkelstein;
• “Dear Mr. Rosenwald” by Carole Boston Weatherford; and
• “Julius Rosenwald” by Peter M. Ascoli.
The idea for the Rosenwald Schools traced back to 1911 when Booker T. Washington, the great African-American leader, met Rosenwald, the Jewish-American philanthropist from Chicago.
Washington told Rosenwald of the desperate need to educate African-American children across the rural south, and Rosenwald followed through by building the schools.
The Rosenwald Schools, many of which still stand, exemplified the ideal educational environment — designed for efficiency, making full use of natural light to protect children’s eyesight, and providing sufficient space for learning.
Ironically, these schools, which represented the social centers of their African American communities, also helped to set standards for white schools of the times.
Though the program’s funding ended with Rosenwald’s death in 1932, many continued as public institutions.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rosenwald Schools to its list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places in 2002.
Anyone who went to these Rosenwald Schools in Gadsden County, or remembers these schools and their locations, is asked to contact VanLandingham at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 662-3329.
The Herald is planning on publishing a follow-up report to see what VanLandingham’s research into these Rosenwald Schools in Gadsden County uncovers.
By Randall Lieberman