Group works to preserve historical school

Published 8:30 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A group of citizens has been working to restore the former Salem School into a community center.

Located in Red Oak, the former school constructed in 1924 is part of what is known as the Rosenwald Schools.

Julius Rosenwald, an early partner in Sears, Roebuck, & Co., established a fund in 1917 to improve the “well-being of mankind,” particularly the black race.

According to the Museum of Charlotte County, 363 black schools in Virginia were constructed or improved with Rosenwald funding, seven of which were in Charlotte County.

Currently, the Salem School Preservation Committee is working to seek grants to help restore the school to its original form.

“A Historic Preservation Architect gave us an estimated figure of $400, $600,000 to renovate Salem School in his findings.” said committee member Veada Currin. “We will work on the project in phases as the money comes available and are seeking grant funding as well as private donations.”

Sonja Ingram with Preservation Virginia said the school building is not in too bad of shape considering its age.

“It does need some roof and foundation work,” Ingram said. “They will also need to upgrade the kitchen and bathrooms at some point. The work they have done so far involves a lot of clean-ups and taking out some interior parts.”

Out of the seven Rosenwald schools built in Charlotte County, Salem School is recorded as being the most significant, three-teacher type constructed and the most expensive, with a large donation coming from the Rosenwald Foundation.

Salem School is the only known Rosenwald School to still be standing in the county.

According to Currin, in 1921, $4,500 was raised for a new Salem School.

“The average value of black schools in Virginia at this time was $1,329, so the $4,500 for Salem School represented a substantial investment,” Currin said.

The school consisted of three classrooms, a cafeteria with a fresh water well, an entrance hall, and a cloakroom.

The two rear classrooms were divided by folding doors that were opened to provide an ample meeting space for weekly devotional services, May Day celebrations, and graduation, as well as other community events.

The school was in operation until 1959 when the new consolidated Bacon District School was built.

According to Currin, alumni of Salem School include the first black mayor of Danville, many teachers, bankers, ministers, nurses, lawyers, and other professionals.