Opinion — The funding of African American schools

Published 12:26 pm Saturday, July 30, 2022

Since the 1800s, African Americans have actively worked to secure a quality education for their children. Black churches were the backbone of educating black children and many of them were responsible for providing a quality education at their houses of worship Monday through Friday. Sundays were for praising The Lord.

In Charlotte County, you can see evidence of this. Salem School, which still stands in Red Oak, is a prime example. Even though other Black schools are no longer standing, their contributions to the education of Black Americans is no less significant. Two individuals who were instrumental in helping to fund African American schools are Anna T. Jeanes and Julius Rosenwald.

Anna T. Jeanes was a Quaker philanthropist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who established an endowment fund later named the Jeanes Fund to help develop rural black schools in the South. In 1907, she donated $1 million to Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Institute to benefit poor communities. Her only requirement was that there be an integrated foundation board to be chosen by Washington and Hollis Frissell, president of Hampton University. President William Howard Taft and Andrew Carnegie were also board members.

With this money, Black teachers called “Jeanes teachers” were educated and hired to travel to southern states providing quality education for African American students as well as improve school buildings.

In 1937, the group became a part of the Southern Education Foundation. Anna T. Jeanes wanted to help improve the education of African American children in the South as it was vital that the mission be about helping communities in need not about giving herself more notoriety.

In addition, Julius Rosenwald, a Chicago, Illinois businessman desired not to be the center of attention when he decided to donate funds to enhance African American schools in the rural south. The schools that were established were known as Rosenwald Schools (remember Salem School?) and he didn’t want them named for himself because they belonged to the communities they served.

Julius Rosenwald worked with Booker T. Washington to use part of the money donated to Tuskegee in honor of Washington’s 50th birthday to construct six small schools in rural Alabama as a pilot program. Many African American communities were already raising funds to build schools for their children.

Rosenwald, who was a member of the Tuskegee Institute Board in 1914, agreed to contribute funds to rural southern schools as long as the Black communities and local governments contributed funds and labor. During a 20-year period, more than $4 million was spent building 5,357 schools, 217 teacher homes and 163 shop buildings in 15 southern states.

In 1917, the Rosenwald Fund was established to be used for that purpose and by 1948 all of the funds had been spent, which was the goal of Julius Rosenwald. You can ride down the southern roads and see remnants of Rosenwald Schools or markers that detail where the schools once stood.

Most of these buildings were one- or two-room schoolhouses surrounded by fields and woods — a proud accomplishment for African American communities.

Jeanes and Rosenwald epitomized selflessness in their endowments to African American schools in the rural south and their willingness to work with African American communities who were actively involved in the pursuit and success to advance their children’s education. The funding of African American schools was an all hands-on deck collaboration.

Judy Moore lives in Wylliesburg, can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com and is a tour guide at The Central High Museum.