By 1928, a third of black school children in the rural south were taught in Rosenwald Schools. Those were small two-room schools built to educate African-Americans. There were more than 300 in Virginia alone.
One of those very schools, and the community that supported it, will be honored in Lynchburg this weekend.
Cynthia Gaines’ cousin grew up in Lynchburg in the 1930’s and went to the Megginson Rosenwald School.
“It was a two-room elementary school. They had two teachers. On one side it was first through third,” says Gaines. “And then on the other side I believe it was 4 through 7.”
Gaines has worked to uncover the history of this school for the past year, and this weekend her work will be rewarded when the school is granted a historical marker.
In recent years, Virginia has made a concerted effort to honor the history of these schools. Julius Rosenwald was a wealthy philanthropist. He worked with Booker T. Washington to fund, build and staff the schools.
But it was each individual community that kept them running, says Gaines. Like in Lynchburg, where a local man donated two acres of land. And Gaines’ own grandfather drove the bus.
“Campbell County was not going to provide transportation for these children,” she says.
Justin Sarafin is with Preservation Virginia. He’s been working to document and memorialize Virginia’s Rosenwald Schools.
“One of these schools on the landscape is to me, more powerful, and the perfect sort of counterpoint to - say- a contentious, Confederate, wanna-be Confederate monument if you will,” says Sarafin.
By the end of the year, Preservation Virginia hopes to have data on how many of the schools still stand. A launching off point, Sarafin says, in advocating for their preservation.