Initiative to Save Rosenwald Schools

*United States

Award Type: Honor Award

In the early 20th century, public schools for African Americans were underfunded, inadequate or nonexistent. That all changed when Booker T. Washington, a freed slave and prominent educator, approached Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the son of Jewish immigrants, with an ambitious plan to change the status quo. 

Beginning in 1912, Rosenwald funded a program to provide matching grants for school construction across the South. By the time it ended in 1932, the program had awarded $4.3 million in grants. These funds, coupled with $4.7 million raised by African-American communities, built over 5,000 schools in 15 states.  By 1928, one in every five rural schools for African-American students in the South was a Rosenwald school.

With the coming of desegregation in the 1950s, most Rosenwald schools were closed. Many were demolished, and those that remained were largely forgotten, leading the National Trust to place Rosenwald Schools on its 2002 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. 

In less than a decade, thanks to the work of pioneering grassroots activists and the National Trust’s Rosenwald Schools Initiative, Rosenwald schools have begun to be identified, preserved and celebrated. Key to the success of the Initiative is the outstanding support provided by the Rosenwald family and the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation. Lowe’s grants are helping local leaders preserve 41 Rosenwald schools and return them to active roles at the center of the community.

“Almost a century after Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald opened windows of opportunity for African-American children, the combined efforts of community leaders, the Rosenwald family and generous support from Lowe’s are enabling a new generation to rediscover its heritage – and keep an inspiring vision alive,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.