Frozen in Time
A photographer chronicles historic schools and communities in rural Kentucky
By James H. Schwartz | From Preservation | July/August 2011
Sarah Hoskins had never heard of Rosenwald schools when she began photographing Kentucky's historic African American towns in 2000. "I was shooting black-and-white images of these communities when I saw an empty building and photographed it. That was the beginning."
She had stumbled upon a crumbling Rosenwald school, one of more than 5,000 buildings erected in the last century as part of an effort to improve the quality of public education for African Americans in the South. When Hoskins returned to Kentucky the following year and learned about the school's history from a local resident, she decided to shoot more images. "But when I got there, the building was gone. Someone told me, 'Oh, it got torn down.' I couldn't believe it."
The loss of the abandoned school building fed Hoskins' fascination with endangered schools—and endangered communities—throughout the inner Bluegrass Region, and she spent the next decade chronicling the people and places unique to Kentucky's hamlets. "I discovered places no one had ever heard of, schools you could hardly recognize, and communities that don't even exist anymore. One town I shot, Huntertown, was simply bulldozed. It's gone now," she says.
The Rev. John Carroll Travis, pastor of the First Baptist Church Maddoxtown in Lexington, Ky., says Hoskins has become "well known and received by the older members of the communities who are often very skeptical when visitors show up … She did not come to take away from us like so many do, but unknowingly she has restored a sense of pride once again in our African American heritage."
Learn more about The Homeplace, Sarah Hoskins' 11-year project to document African American hamlets in Kentucky, at sarahhoskins.com.
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