News / USA

Hidden History Saves African-American Schoolhouse

Slated for demolition, abandoned Georgia school gets reprieve

Rosenwald one-room schools had a standard floor plan, featuring high ceilings to keep the building cool, large windows to let in the light, and chalk boards along one wall of the classroom. Historians are unsure whether the Harrington School (above) was a
Rosenwald one-room schools had a standard floor plan, featuring high ceilings to keep the building cool, large windows to let in the light, and chalk boards along one wall of the classroom. Historians are unsure whether the Harrington School (above) was a

Multimedia

Audio
Philip Graitcer

When the tiny African-American community on Georgia’s St. Simons Island set out to save its one-room schoolhouse, it didn't realize the building was linked to an historic effort to combat racial discrimination in the early 20th century.



The Harrington School doesn’t look like much. The abandoned building is surrounded by a rusty metal fence. The roof has holes in it, some wooden siding has fallen off, and it badly needs a coat of paint.

The school looked so dilapidated that, two years ago, community leaders and even the local historical society had given up hope it could be saved.

Fond memories

“They said that the building just wasn’t worth saving and you could just look at it and tell it was going to fall any minute, so let’s just tear it down,” says Amy Roberts, who has lived on St. Simons Island all her life and has fond memories of the school.

She attended first grade there in 1953, and remembers lessons in and out of the classroom.

Amy Roberts launched a campaign to save the Harrington school, which now sits empty.
Amy Roberts launched a campaign to save the Harrington school, which now sits empty.

“How many children can say that they went to school and it was out in the yard and they saw a caterpillar do the cocoon thing, and then you waited so many days and then you saw a butterfly.”

Proud history

Harrington was built in 1925 as a one-room schoolhouse for St. Simons’ African-American community, since segregation laws of the time banned black students from attending school with white children.

Hundreds of the island’s black children went to elementary school at Harrington until 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled classrooms had to be integrated. Students were transferred to the island’s other, formerly whites-only, elementary school.

Harrington continued to be used for social activities and a day care center, but by 1970, it was abandoned. The vacant building soon became an eyesore, and developers began to eye the property.

Preserved heritage

Concerned that the school might be torn down, Roberts started the African-American Heritage Coalition to preserve the island’s heritage.

“If it’s not done, if it’s not saved, then eventually you would not know that we existed here on St. Simons," she says. "Everything of African-American heritage has been torn down.”

In 2009, despite years of effort by the coalition, Harrington was slated for demolition.

But weeks before demolition, Patty Deveau, a historian who lives St. Simons, took a closer look at the building. She realized the old schoolhouse was part of a bigger piece of history: a massive 1920s philanthropic movement called the Rosenwald Fund.

Surprise discovery

Its purpose, explains Georgia historian Jeanne Cyriaque, was to promote small community schools as a way for African-Americans to get an education.

"At the very core of that movement was the involvement of the community, sympathetic whites, and philanthropy, merging together to do what today we’d call partnerships,” she says.

Julius Rosenwald, the man behind that partnership, headed the retail giant Sears, Roebuck and Co. In 1915, he donated start-up money to encourage African-American communities to build their own schools.

By the late 1920s, the fund had contributed to more than 5,000 educational buildings in 15 states across the South and one in three rural black children was attending a Rosenwald school.

There’s no record of whether the Harrington School actually was a Rosenwald school, but Cyriaque says its design and community location make it a model of what the fund was trying to do.

Preservation architects evaluated the building and found it to be in sound structural shape.
Preservation architects evaluated the building and found it to be in sound structural shape.

“This particular school kind of embodies to me what was going on with the communities at that time, because in many African-American communities, it was African-American families that gave land for these schools to be built.”

Besides land, African-American communities donated labor and materials, and the county government contributed teachers and money.

Since it was part of both the island’s African-American heritage and the Rosenwald legacy, supporters believed it was now doubly important to save the Harrington School.

Restoration plans

The local historical society commissioned preservation architects to evaluate the building. Roberts was surprised by their findings.

“They went through it and they talked about how sound it was; and how, you know, they’d never seen anything like this," she says. "I mean, it was, like, in great shape.”

After that, plans to demolish the building were scrapped. And now, architects are developing restoration plans and the community is making suggestions about how the building will be used. Roberts dreams about what the new Harrington School will be like someday.

“It’s gonna be a lot of things. It could be a building that may be a place where school kids can come and visit and find out what life was like in a one-room schoolhouse. It would also let folk know that there were three African communities on St. Simons and talk about those three communities, talk about the Georgia Sea Island Singers and when they got started and where they got started, which was right in the Harrington community. Talk about the family that was the family of carpenters that built most of the houses on St. Simons."

And maybe there will be a caterpillar or two in the front yard for a science lesson.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs