In 1912, Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald met for the first time. These men – an educator and a philanthropist, respectively – conceptualized a building program that would provide state-of-the-art schools for African Americans. The program started as an experiment when Washington asked Rosenwald to build a few rural schoolhouses near Tuskegee Institute (presently University) in Alabama so that teachers who were graduating could practice their trade in decent buildings. The program was immediately successful, and by the time of Washington’s death in 1915, Tuskegee architects had developed plans for schoolhouses and managed the early years of the program. In 1920, the Julius Rosenwald Fund was established in Nashville, Tennessee, to develop modern school buildings for the program that was by then constructing 400-500 schools each year in 15 Southern states. By the close of the program, over 5,300 schools were built through community partnerships. One in every five rural schools for African Americans in the South were Rosenwald Schools, and one-third of the black population attended school in these buildings.
“Fewer than 15 percent of the 5,300 original Rosenwald Schools remain, but they are fortunate to have some very dedicated champions: hundreds of local preservationists throughout the rural South who have stepped up to ensure that the schools – and the important stories they tell – live on for the next generation,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
For these reasons, the National Trust is sponsoring a nationwide conference dedicated to preservationists, alumni, scholars, and communities that are stewards for the surviving buildings and the stories they represent. The 100 Years of Pride, Progress & Preservation conference is scheduled for June 14-16, 2012 at Tuskegee University. It will have educational sessions, poster presentations, documentaries, and educational tours. Fundraising information, programming strategies, and workshops will be included. These sessions will be held at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center on the Tuskegee campus. Additionally, conference attendees will have opportunities to tour the Tuskegee campus and visit nationally-significant historic sites including The Oaks (home of Booker T. Washington) and the training home of the Tuskegee Airmen – Moton Field, site of the opening reception.
A conference bookstore will feature book signings each day featuring authors Peter M. Ascoli, Stephanie Deutsch, Mary Hoffschwelle, Betty Reed, and more. A school reunion will be held on Friday night, and noted poet Nikki Giovanni is the featured speaker at the closing plenary.
By Jeanne Cyriaque, African American Programs Coordinator, Georgia Historic Preservation Division