Rosenwald Schools were a product of the Julius Rosenwald Building Fund, Booker T. Washington’s vision for youth education, and a community’s self-determination.
During the early 20th century, African Americans managed to obtain education for their children by pooling their own resources with philanthropic ones. As part of his vision to address the lack of educational opportunities for African American children, Booker T. Washington, the first president of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), garnered the financial support of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck, and Company.
In 1912, Rosenwald donated $25,000 to Tuskegee after visiting the campus and seeing Washington’s vision for education in action. Washington proposed a portion of the funds be used to build schools in African American communities. Guided strongly by his belief in economic and educational self-reliance, Washington stipulated that communities should also contribute to developing the schools. African American communities eagerly supported the project and committed themselves to constructing the schoolhouses, donating raw materials, and raising additional funds.
I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave, though I remember on several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door with one of my young mistresses to carry her books. The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study made a deep impression on me, and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise.
Booker T. Washington, "Up From Slavery", 1901
Booker T. Washington’s “Plan for Erection of Rural Schoolhouses” began as a proposal to build six schools in Alabama near Tuskegee Institute. Washington hired Tuskegee teacher Clinton Calloway to work with African American communities in the region to generate support for building new schools. Calloway found that these communities believed the prospect of building new schools was a benefit to the entire community.
After Washington’s death in 1915, Rosenwald provided more funding to hire additional “agents” to assist Calloway in establishing schools and to expand interest across the South. Between 1917 and 1932, five thousand three hundred Rosenwald Schools were built in 15 southern states.
Building the Hope School was a cooperative effort among African American residents of Pomaria, South Carolina, the Rosenwald Fund, and state education officials. The project began in March of 1925. The family of James Haskell Hope, then state superintendent of education, sold two acres of their estate to the local school district for $5 to build a Rosenwald School. The Fund provided the architectural plans and start-up funds. Driven to secure education for their children, the community implemented the plans, hired schoolteachers, enrolled the students, and raised $2,200, including $600 from African American residents. A Rosenwald grant of $700 was added.
Hope School Desk, ca. 1925