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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More