In the 1920’s and 1930’s thousands of schools were built in very rural areas of the South for African American communities through a program that Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears at the time, and Booker T. Washington developed. The Rosenwald Fund was developed as a community assistance program to help bring education to the poorest parts of the country. Only fifteen of the original five hundred and fifty-seven schools in Mississippi aided by the Rosenwald Fund are known to still stand. Of these, about half are either greatly altered or in a deteriorated state. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Rosenwald Initiative, created to document the history of the Rosenwald Fund and aid in preservation efforts across the South, has resulted in renewed interest in these important community landmarks. In Pass Christian, the Randolph School (1928), the only remaining Rosenwald on the Coast, sustained serious damage from Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. Understanding the significance of the building, the City of Pass Christian decided to repair the old school. Through the Hurricane Relief Grant Program for Historic Preservation, the school is being restored and is set to open in 2011 as a community center. Prentiss Institute’s Rosenwald building (1926) – the center of this “Tuskegee Model” institution in Jefferson Davis County—was awarded $190,000 through the Community Heritage Preservation Grant program in 2006 for a full rehabilitation. The building was vacant and in an advanced stage of deterioration, but now will be an active community center again. Other smaller schools, like the Ginntown School (1920) in Walthall County, have been “re-discovered” by their alumni and will be brought back to life again as vital cores of their rural neighborhoods. The Bay Springs School north of Hattiesburg, which sustained roof and foundation damage in Hurricane Katrina is about to undergo a major repair and renovation. There has been progress at many Rosenwald schools; however, the balance still remains endangered so those that survive are even more precious as landmarks of dedication and education in their communities.
2017 Update – In Progress
On June 10, 2014, the Mississippi Heritage Trust presented Heritage Awards to four Rosenwald schools- the Randolph school in Pass Christian, Bay Springs School in Kelly Settlement, Prentiss Normal Institute and the Walthall County Training School.
With 18 surviving Rosenwald Schools in the state, these buildings serve as a tool to teach about community and partnership in the face of adversity.