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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid