Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The National Rosenwald Schools Conference and the Surprise Afterwards

Representing my employer, the Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives Research Center, I had the honor and pleasure of attending and presenting at the National Rosenwald Schools Conference that was held on the beautiful campus of Tuskegee University on June 14 – 16, 2012.  This was the first-ever national Rosenwald Schools conference held, and it was well-attended by nearly 400 scholars, educators, preservationists, librarians, historians, and archivists from around the nation.  The conference was sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.

Brief Overview

In 1912, Booker T. Washington and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald conferred on the education of African-American students in the South, particularly at Tuskegee Institute.  That monumental meeting marked the beginning of a partnership that not only led to six small schools being constructed in rural Alabama, but it served as the catalyst for the implementation of the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1917.  That fund provided financial assistance for the construction of over 5,000 new schools, 217 teachers' homes, and 163 shop buildings that served over 600,000 African-American students in fifteen states.  By 1928, one in every five rural schools for African-American students in the South was a Rosenwald school.  For more information, see www.rosenwaldschools.com.

The Oaks – the home of Booker T. Washington on Tuskegee’s campus

The Conference

Beginning on Thursday, June 14, 2012, the conference included a number of education and plenary sessions, as well as tours, documentary films, poster presentations, and hands-on workshops to aid preservationists, archivists, and historians with their Rosenwald School projects. After arriving on Friday morning, I had the pleasure of attending the education session, Rosenwald Schools: Research and Records, which was led by Tuskegee’s head archivist, Mr. Dana Chandler.  This session included an awesome tour of the Tuskegee Archives, a wonderful repository for many great collections and artifacts related to the institution.  This informative session tackled the issues of archival preservation of records and photographs, and the group was allowed to view some historical treasures, including George Washington Carver’s notebooks and his Bible. 

 George Washington Carver’s original Bible
Yes, my flash was turned off. Photographing was permitted.

 Inside the Tuskegee Archives

On Friday evening, I also attended the documentary discussion session, The Rosenwald Schools Film Project.  The audience watched a preview of a documentary that is currently being produced.  This documentary will reflect on the stories surrounding a number of Rosenwald schools and the life of Julius Rosenwald.  After the viewing, the audience was given the opportunity to discuss with the panel the history of the Rosenwald schools, its impact on the nation and African-American history, the challenges that were faced by the schools, as well as by the Jewish Rosenwald Family.  The panel included several descendants of Julius Rosenwald – a grandson, a granddaughter-in-law, and a great-granddaughter. 

On Saturday morning, I was one of three presenters for the education session, Uncluttering Your Historical Records, with Elvin Lang, a former manager for the Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management, and Dr. Howard Robinson II, archives manager at Alabama State University.  Implemented and coordinated by Frazine Taylor, retired archivist, author, and genealogist from the Alabama Dept. of Archives & History, the session's objective was to outline inexpensive and timesaving steps to sort, preserve, and organize historical records, as well as address issues related to the preservation of old school buildings.  My twenty-minute PowerPoint presentation discussed resources and tips to properly archive records, and I provided examples of archival materials that are used to process old and fragile records, books, and old photographs.  After our presentations, we enjoyed an active Q&A session in which many addressed their archival preservation concerns and were subsequently given preservation and archival advice. 

Following our education session and other concurrent sessions that morning, a closing plenary was held at the Tuskegee Chapel; world-renowned poet, writer, educator, and activist Nikki Giovanni was the guest speaker.  Her powerful message to the audience had nearly everyone on their feet.  She awesomely sprinkled her message with several power poems that spoke poignantly to the plight of African Americans in this country.  The closing session also included a PowerPoint presentation about the new Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) that's being built in Washington, D.C.  This presentation was given by Jacquelyn Days Serwer, NMAAHC’s chief curator.  The new museum will open in 2015.  I am excited! 

 Nikki Giovanni Speaking!

 The George Washington Carver Museum

The Surprise

After I returned from the conference, a sudden thought (an ancestor’s nudge) led me to see if the Ealy School of Leake County, Mississippi may have been a Rosenwald school.  This school was located in the community of my father and paternal grandmother’s birth, Lena, Mississippi, and it was named after my paternal grandmother’s family – the Ealys.  I’ve known about the existence of this school for quite awhile.  However, during the conference, it never occurred to me that it might be a Rosenwald school.   Well, as I was relaxing on my couch, resting from my trip back from Tuskegee, Alabama, I googled “Rosenwald Schools Mississippi” and came upon a link to the Rosenwald Schools database that’s maintained by Fisk University. See http://rosenwald.fisk.edu/.  Low and behold, Ealy School was in the database!  It was indeed a Rosenwald school!

But wait, there’s more.  My maternal great-grandmother, Mary Danner Davis (1867-1932), and two of her sisters, Frances and Laura Danner, were school teachers in Tate County, Mississippi.  One of the schools where they taught was named Springfield School, located east of Senatobia, Mississippi.  I discovered that Springfield School was also a Rosenwald school!  Not only that, Fisk has pictures of both schools.  Stay tuned as I attempt to find out more about Springfield and Ealy Schools from their records.  I want to uncover how much my family contributed to the construction of Ealy School that prompted the Lena community to name it after them. 

 Ealy School, Leake County, Mississippi

 Springfield School, Tate County, Mississippi

Source of pictures: Fisk University Archives, Rosenwald Schools Records, Nashville, Tennessee


  1. Thanks for this excellent blog Mel. I wish I could have attended. My Rosenwald School is located in Harrison County Texas.

    1. Thanks Vicky and True! Many are not aware of the Rosenwald Schools, so I'm glad to share this vital history

  2. My Rosenwald school is located in Bullock County, Midway, Alabama it's now a Historical Landmark! This goes deeper into the history of the school. Elizabeth Merritt. It's called Merritt School. My Parents and many family went there, started in 1919.

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  5. He did a very excellent presentation and the Rosenwald Conference was informative and very educational. I really enjoyed my self.
    Great Job Melvin.
    ~Lovie Warren.

  6. WOW! Thank you very much for sharing these links. My parents went to Rosenwald Schools in Jefferson County, Arkansas. They would often speak about their schools. I never thought I would get to see a picture of the schools since they are torn down now. The vintage pictures and historical informaiton is just GREAT. So glad to have your website to help us trace our vanishing family history.

  7. I stumbled across your blog in my research on a Rosenwald School here in Walker County, AL. I am trying to get it listed in the Alabama Historical Commission Register but I am going through the tedious (and fun) part of trying to prove it IS in fact a Rosenwald.

    It was moved from its former location in Walker County to the Alabama Mining Museum campus in Dora, AL--only about 3 or 4 miles from where it was. It is listed in rosenwald.fisk.edu/index, but there is no picture. I have plenty of current photos that I have taken, but only one from before it was relocated, and I have looked high and low.

    I had never heard of Rosenwald Schools until I began my present job, and one of my projects is to help draw attention to the area's history and culture. If you are ever in Walker County, please check out the Wyatt School at the Alabama Mining Museum.

    And your blog post is a good read--so glad I came across it!


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