The Rosenwald School in the Landscape

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

One of the reasons that the Rosenwald program required a minimum two-acre site was to create a new landscape with the school as its focal point, ideally surrounded by the shop and teachers' home as well as a playground, practice garden, well, and privies. Practice garden and farm plots were supposed to support the industrial training offered at Rosenwald schools, but these sites also modeled proper landscaping for rural homes. Tuskegee's Negro Rural School publication recommended flowering plants, fences, and lawns as well as an agricultural demonstration plot. Community School Plans likewise included advice on walkways, lawns, shrubs, and trees. Several years after the Rosenwald building program ended, the landscapes that it had created still concerned the officials of the Julius Rosenwald Fund. S. L. Smith published two bulletins in 1936 that, like the Rosenwald Fund's earlier publications, addressed the needs of African American schools but could also apply to all rural schools: Improvement and Beautification of Rural Schools and Suggestions for Landscaping Rural Schools. Thus, documenting and preserving a Rosenwald school may not be limited to a single structure, but include a range of site features that make up the Rosenwald school landscape.

Just as important as the Rosenwald Fund's planned buildings and landscapes is the way that Rosenwald schools fit into existing African American landscapes. Sometimes the Rosenwald buildings were "open-country" schools in an agricultural setting of fields, fences, hedges, and woods close to the places where parents worked. In many more instances, the Rosenwald school sat adjacent to or near a church. That congregation and its minister may have spearheaded the local building campaign, or donated the land. Rosenwald schools located in towns and cities are part of larger African American built environments that may include churches, cemeteries, lodge buildings, and funeral homes, as well as residential structures. Furthermore, a Rosenwald school may be located on the site of an earlier African American school that dates as far back as the 1860s. These schools represent a tradition of African American education since the Reconstruction era as much as they exemplify the innovations of Progressive school design. The preservation of a Rosenwald building is not complete without a full consideration of its context in the landscapes of African American life in the early twentieth-century South. Next»