What is the future for Salem School? Preservation moves forward

Published 1:01 am Sunday, January 28, 2024

A group of citizens working to restore the former Salem School into a community center says the project is moving forward as planned.

Members of the Salem School Preservation Committee are working to seek grants to help restore the school to its original form. 

Committee members Barbara Coleman-Brown and Veada Currin presented an update on the project to the Board of Supervisors recently.

According to Coleman-Brown, all of the state and federal requirements for stabilizing the building have been met, and the committee can now work toward grant funding. 

“We are currently looking for a grant team and looking for community support,” Coleman-Brown said. 

A letter of support

In addition to community support, Coleman-Brown asked the board for a letter of support to endorse the project. 

Vice Chairman Walt Bailey inquired about the endorsement and the project’s budget. 

According to Coleman-Brown, the committee is not seeking funds from the county to help with the project. 

“We have a budget of $250,000,” said Coleman-Brown. 

According to Coleman-Brown, the hope of the committee is to have the building be a place where the community can join together. 

“We hope this will be a place that will bring the community together,” Coleman-Brown said. “We hope it is a place where former staff and students can come together and share stories and where programs for senior citizens can be held.” 

History of Salem School 

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. 

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

It needs some work

“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 freshwater well, an entrance hall, and a cloakroom. 

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