11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Rosenwald Schools

Year Listed: 2002
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Threat: Deterioration, Lack of Funding, Neglect

Significance

In 1912, Booker T. Washington, the country’s preeminent African American educator, teamed up with Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., on an innovative program to improve education for blacks in the South.

Over the next 20 years, officials at Tuskegee University and Rosenwald’s private foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, collaborated to provide architectural plans and matching funds to help build more than 5300 schools, teacher’s homes and vocational shops in 15 Southern and Southwestern states.

Rosenwald contributed more than $4.3 million, and African Americans themselves contributed more than $4.7 million to construct the schools that helped elevate the socioeconomic status of blacks across the regions.

Initially envisioned as a rural school building program, a majority of the schools were constructed in the countryside or in smaller communities. As newer schools were built to replace the old ones, or integration took place, Rosenwald Schools were often abandoned, demolished, or simply turned over to communities in which they were located. Based on incomplete survey figures, there may be as few as 15 percent of Rosenwald Schools surviving today.

Since 2002 the National Trust has helped raise awareness, funding, and community support for the preservation of the schools through our Rosenwald Schools Initiative.

In 2012, Rosenwald Schools were designated as National Treasures, one of the Trust’s growing portfolio of irreplaceable places that epitomize the American story -- but they face distinct threats. Our goal is to help save 100 Rosenwald Schools as vital hubs of community activity and revitalization and inspire others to protect dozens more.