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An Orangeburg County historic Rosenwald School site is one of the first seven of 33 such sites to be restored thanks to $2 million in grants from the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Thursday.

The seven completed projects include the Great Branch Community’s Rosenwald School teacherage on Highway 4 near the Pine Hill community.

Rosa Kennerly of the Great Branch Restoration Project Committee said construction wrapped up last week.

“It’s wonderful!” Kennerly said. “Our goal was to the complete the restoration of the teacherage in three years, and July 20 marked three years. We made our goal!”

The construction work included new walls, roof, foundation pilings, windows, electrical wiring and plumbing and installation of heating and air.

Landscaping must still be done at the site, Kennerly said.

The facility will be utilized as a Welcome Center, and it will feature an artifacts room, a meeting room, an office and a kitchen, she said. The community hopes to hold senior citizens’ programs there and also establish a computer center with Internet access.

A grand opening for the restored Great Branch Teacherage is tentatively planned for September, Kennerly said.

Rosenwald Schools originally provided an education for African American students during racial segregation. The restored schools, and the Great Branch teachers’ home, will now serve as vital community centers in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation initially donated $1 million dollars for 17 Rosenwald Schools in 2008 to improve building safety, stabilize foundations and roofs, accommodate individuals with disabilities and preserve the landmarks for future generations. An additional $1 million was announced in January 2009 to restore 16 more schools.

Since 1912, Rosenwald Schools have served the heart of African American communities, providing a venue for educational and social outreach. A partnership between Julius Rosenwald and civil rights pioneer Booker T. Washington from 1912 to 1932 provided $4.7 million in community grants to build more than 5,300 schools, vocational shops and teachers’ homes. Individuals in the African American communities worked to raise funds to match Rosenwald and Washington’s initial contributions, creating a source of pride within the community.

After the Supreme Court banned racially segregated public schools in 1954, many Rosenwald Schools closed, and the once vibrant community centers fell victim to damage and disrepair.

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The Great Branch Rosenwald School was built in 1922 and burned by arsonists in the 1950s. The teacherage remained intact but fell into disrepair over the years.

In addition to funding from Lowe’s, $25,000 in seed money to preserve and restore the teacher’s home was secured from the state through Sen. Brad Hutto and Rep. Jerry Govan. Also instrumental in securing $50,000 in funding through Orangeburg County’s penny sales tax were County Councilmen Heyward Livingston and Clyde Livingston.

“America’s story isn’t told only at famous landmarks like Independence Hall and the Alamo,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The Rosenwald schools represent an important chapter of that story, too, and we are enormously grateful to Lowe’s for helping us ensure that these special places continue to play an active role in the life of their communities.”

Only 10 to 12 percent of Rosenwald Schools still stand today, and many of the remaining schools are uninhabitable and in danger of collapse.

“The preservation efforts of the National Trust have enabled Rosenwald Schools to once again become vibrant, thriving community centers,” said Larry Stone, chairman of the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation. “By supporting rehabilitation of these significant landmarks, Lowe’s is helping protect and enhance places that make a difference in communities while preserving a piece of history for future generations.”

Rosenwald Schools were named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2002.

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