Rosenwald Fund Papers Added to Digital Collection

We have just finished adding the Division of Negro Education: Correspondence of the Supervisor, Rosenwald Fund papers to our African American Education Collection. By 1932, when the construction grants ended 5,357 new school building had been built in 883 counties throughout the Southern states.

In the early 20th century the few African American Schools that could be found in the South were in serious disrepair. In 1912 Booker T. Washington, principal of the Tuskegee School approached Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears Roebuck & Company, to help with the financing of African American rural schools. The idea of a matching grant was the outcome of their collaboration. If the community could come up a contribution and the school board would agree to operate the facility, Rosenwald would contribute a cash amount, usually consisting of 1/5 the total cost of the project.

In 1919 Rosenwald placed the school building project under the Philanthropic foundation that he had founded in 1917, the Julius Rosenwald Foundation. He hired Samuel L. Smith an African America school agent from Tennessee to become the director of the fund in a newly established office in Nashville. By 1920 new requirements were in place to maintain standards for the site size, length of the school term, and interior furnishing requirements of the buildings. The grants were based on the number of teachers the school would have and would range between $500 and $2,100. African Americans still had to contribute cash and donations of labor and materials, and the fund emphasized that schools should receive contributions from “white friends,” but the largest source of funding was from county tax revenues. County school boards were required to give public support, take ownership of the new school, and commit to maintaining the school as part of their public school system.

School plans titled Community School Plans were prepared by Fletcher B. Dressler, professor of school hygiene and architecture at Nashville’s George Peabody College for Teachers, and Samuel L. Smith.

Image of Community School Plans

Community School Plans

Dressler and Smith were extremely particular in their specifications in these publications.  They specified things like the size of windows to be used and the color schemes for the outside and inside of the buildings. The interior furnishings also were specified, the classrooms were to have three walls of Blackboards and modern desks.

North Carolina, under the leadership of Nathan Carter Newbold, the states director of African American Education, had the highest number of these schools with 813 out of the 5,357 Rosenwald buildings built in the Southern States. This collection contains mainly the correspondence relating to the planning and construction of those buildings.

For more in-depth information on the Rosenwald Fund.

State Library

National Trust for Historic Preservation

For more information on what North Carolina is doing in the efforts to preserve these historically significant buildings please visit the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, A Survey of North Carolina’s Rosenwald Schools, A Public-Private Partnership for Historic Preservation.


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