Spirit of Rowan 2022: Rosenwald Schools educated Black children in the early 20th century

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

There is some disagreement between sources on how many Rosenwald schools were built in Rowan County, but the best answer appears to be five.

The schools were among more than 5,000 projects built with some funding from the Rosenwald Fund, which was part of a partnership between Sears president Julius Rosenwald and educator Booker T. Washington. 

Their purpose was to provide education for Black children in the South in the early 20th century, where segregated public education completely lacked equality or necessary funding.

Some lists on file with the state list only three of the schools in Rowan County, in Cleveland, North Spencer and Rockwell, but Fisk University’s database of schools lists five and includes funding breakdowns for how much was contributed locally and by the fund for each school.

Tom Hanchett, a Charlotte-based historian who has written extensively about Rosenwald schools, told the Post that Fisk’s list is likely more complete. Hanchett said neither list had reason to inflate or deflate the number of entries and it is likely the database in Nashville received more information about schools after the initial list was created in Raleigh.

The school’s in the Fisk database include a four-teacher school in Bear Poplar built 1930-1931, a four-teacher school built 1929-1930, a two-teacher school in North Spencer with no date in the database, a one-teacher school in Rockwell with no date in the database and a 16-teacher school in Salisbury built 1931-1932.

One of the schools, R.A. Clement, is being restored by a local association dedicated to its preservation and is a designated national historic site. The school’s report to be placed on the national registry cites five schools in the county as well. The main building of the school is in its last stages of restoration.

Angelo Franceschina, a contractor with an interest in restoring Rosenwald schools, has been working with the association on the project since the early 2000s.

Association member Leonard Hall attended the school. He remembers being there in first grade, moving between the buildings, basketball games and graduation exercises.

“This is part of the community,” Hall said.

Local educator Catrelia Hunter also attended the school and has fond memories of attending there. She said it was a supportive environment and noted many alumni went on to become notable educators as well.

The original J.C. Price High School building is still standing in Salisbury as well. It was originally housed in Monroe Street School, which is being restored by Livingstone College with the help of grant funding.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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