Threatened: African American Schoolhouse in Georgia

 

Bethlehem
Although the schoolhouse is now on the National Register of Historic Places, the church doesn't have the money to stabilize the school.

Credit: James R. Lockhart

A deteriorating one-room schoolhouse in Georgia, where generations of African American students were educated, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The December listing could make the c. 1900 Bethlehem Baptist Church Colored School, in rural Harris County, eligible for much-needed restoration funds.

"It's almost falling down. It's in bad shape," says Jeanne Cyriaque, African American programs coordinator at the state's Historic Preservation Division. "There are not too many of these around. These schools [established by African American churches] very often preceded the Rosenwald schools."

About 40 one-room schoolhouses survive in Georgia, according to a survey by the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "[Bethlehem Baptist] was used for so many years, unbelievably, up until 1951," says Denise Messick, the division's National Register historian.

Interior
Four wood benches remain in the Bethlehem Baptist Church Colored School, located in Harris County, Ga., 90 miles southwest of Atlanta.

Credit: James R. Lockhart

Church members Willie and Gloria Brown researched the schoolhouse's history and sponsored the National Register nomination. "We need to get in there before that weather continues to beat it down," says Gloria Brown. "It's something really to behold."

Four wooden desks still stand inside, near the two painted black walls that served as chalkboards.

Bethlehem Baptist Church would like to shore up the school and preserve it as a museum of sorts, Brown says. "People take education for granted, but education hasn't always been available and accessible to all people," she says. "I'm praying that we can fix it back up … so that people can be able to go back and look at things that they take for granted now, how people made it back in that time."

 

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