Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 113 / Number 2
Rosenwald Schools in the Northern Neck
- Phyllis McClure, pp. 114–45
Between 1912 and 1932, 368 public schools for rural African Americans were built in Virginia in a three-way partnership of local black citizens, southern white reformers and a northern white philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald, who had made his fortune as president of the Sears Roebuck and Co. At the suggestion of renowned black educator Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald partnered with black communities across the South to leverage their funds and public resources to construct school facilities. Progressive whites supported schools for black children in hopes of promoting agricultural productivity and keeping black labor from migrating to northern cities in search of economic opportunities. As they had since Emancipation, African Americans scrimped and saved to provide educational opportunities for their children and future generations. Some blacks resented the imposition of vocational training that would keep them second-class citizens serving white farmers and households, and they fought instead for academic subjects that would lead to first-class citizenship. These old school buildings with their distinctive batteries of tall windows—some now abandoned and boarded up, others renovated and painted—stand as visible reminders of another era in the life of African Americans in rural Virginia. This article features some of the twenty-two Rosenwald schools in the five counties of the Northern Neck and the people who remember them as teachers and students.