Legacy

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia| Posted: 7/7/2008

The building plans have their own architectural legacy. Fletcher Dresslar, Samuel Smith, and other state education officials who had studied with Dresslar made Rosenwald schools the nucleus of a movement to reform all southern school architecture. They created the Interstate School Building Service in 1928 with financial support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Rosenwald school plans, and other school designs based on them, can be seen throughout the ISBS school plan book, For Better Schoolhouses, published in 1929.

Even after the Rosenwald school building program ended in 1932, the Rosenwald Fund and the ISBS kept reprinting and distributing the plans. Consequently, during the Great Depression, when the federal government made funds available for school construction under the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and New Deal agencies like the Works Projects Administration, many southern communities built with the now-familiar Rosenwald designs. The Delight, Arkansas, school building still bears its WPA plaque on the front of its Rosenwald-plan structure.

Another sort of legacy is the school that still carries the Rosenwald name but on a new structure. In the late 1940s and 1950s, southern states undertook massive school building campaigns in hopes of forestalling legal challenges to public school segregation. Desegregation, integration, and new building standards inspired further new school construction that inherited the Rosenwald name. While not technically a Rosenwald school, its association with the earlier Rosenwald program and the survival of the Rosenwald name proclaims its importance to a community's identity and heritage.

Going to a Rosenwald school initially meant being in the vanguard of education for African American children. The architecture of the schools made a visual assertion of the equality of all children, and the activities at the school made it a focal point of community identity and aspirations. Yet as Rosenwald schools' modern design principles became commonplace, and public school authorities retreated back to the neglect from which the promise of grant money had lured them, Rosenwald schools temporarily lost some of their luster. In the late twentieth century, grassroots activists began new campaigns for Rosenwald schools, joining forces with preservationists, educators, and historians. While many Rosenwald schools had fallen victim to changing school practices, neglect, and the elements, many others have been cherished by their alumni and community members. Alumni have erected monuments at the sites of surviving and lost Rosenwald schools. The buildings still serve as schools, preschools, community centers, and social service offices. In some cases they have reverted back to the churches that first sponsored them. Some have new lives as private homes and apartments. Rosenwald schools remain an integral part of community life across the South.