Arts & Culture

See the Rosenwald Schools on the Road This Summer

Along back roads and on the outskirts of Southern cities, these schools stand as time capsules

A black and white photo of a school

Photo: Andrew Feiler

Pleasant Plains School - Hertford County, North Carolina 1920-1950, 2018, on display at “A Better Life for Their Children” at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond.

The most authentic tales of the South are often found in its structures. Some shout walloping tales of grandeur, while others issue a somber whisper, caught between eras of human interest and initiative. Although many people have likely heard of historic Rosenwald schools, only about five hundred of these buildings remain of the nearly five thousand constructed during a time when the educational landscapes of America were constantly shifting.

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“Rosenwald schools tell the story of African-American perseverance in the worst times of the Jim Crow South,” says Carroll Van West, a National Trust for Historic Preservation board member and former Tennessee state historian. “They were community beacons for achievement and identity, and the precious few that survive today remain community landmarks, ready to share their stories.”

Through a collaboration between the famed educator Booker T. Washington and Sears Roebuck founder Julius Rosenwald, these intentionally designed buildings outline a narrative of purpose, resilience, and community spirit. Deemed one of the most ambitious American school programs ever, the network of rural  structures offered a Progressive Era answer to educating Black Americans across the Deep South. By 1928, one third of the South’s rural African American school children and teachers were served by Rosenwald schools, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Over the last century, harsh conditions and changing policies led to the deterioration of many school buildings, now lost forever. But grassroots efforts and grants have allowed a surprising number of Rosenwald schools to endure as community centers and museums. It’s worth the extra country mile to maneuver your way to one of these schools to see history standing:

Noble Hill Rosenwald School

2361 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, Cassville, Georgia

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Now the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, this edifice includes a resource library and cultural artifacts involving the education of Black children in the Bartow County area from 1923 to 1955.

Siloam Rosenwald School

3500 Shamrock Drive, Charlotte

photo: Joshua Komer

One of Mecklenburg County’s oldest remaining African-American schoolhouses, the Siloam School was moved to the Charlotte Museum of History grounds in 2023 for restoration. Officially opening June 15, the building will be devoted to history education and programming.

Elmore County Training School

202 Lancaster Street, Wetumpka, Alabama

photo: courtesy of Elmore County Training School

Open several days a week, this former Rosenwald school is now the Elmore County Black History Museum.

After the community was featured on the premiere season of HGTV’s Home Town Takeover, the longtime local quilting group that meets regularly in the museum has experienced great success. If visiting, find the museum in the historic district, within walking distance to downtown.  

Russell School

2001 Saint Marys Road, Hillsborough, North Carolina

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The only surviving Rosenwald school in Durham County, this historic landmark was in operation from 1926 to 1945.

“A Better Life for Their Children” Rosenwald Exhibition

Virginia Museum of History & Culture, 428 North Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond

photo: Andrew Feiler
Lincoln School – Bledsoe County, Tennessee 1926-1965, 2018.

Through the spring of 2025, this exhibition will explore the history and legacy of the Rosenwald school initiative and utilizes the contemporary photography of Andrew Feiler.