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Texas Lakes Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Rosenwald Schools


View of high school and historical marker
Sweet Home Vocational and Agricultural High School

EDUCATION IS A HUMAN RIGHT, NOT A PRIVILEGE

In 1917, the Rosenwald Fund, established by Sears, Roebuck and Company CEO Julius Rosenwald, provided matching finances to communities who built public schools for African American students. Rosenwald, himself a highschool dropout, understood the value of education and was inspired by Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to support a building program.

Rosenwald schools began forming in Texas in 1920 and by 1932, the year the fund ended, Rosenwald’s program had help fund more than 5,000 schools across the South, including 527 of them in Texas. Meant to serve as community centers, the school buildings employed aspects of progressive school design with special attention given to lighting and ventilation and providing a number of rooms for academic instruction, industrial classroom, kitchen, library, and cloakrooms suited for the number of teachers employed.

One of America's Most Endangered Historic Places

Placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2002 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, communities in Texas are identifying and preserving their Rosenwald legacies. Calvert’s W.D. Spigner Elementary was the largest Rosenwald School built in Texas and is still in use as a school today. Sweet Home Vocational & Agricultural High School outside of Seguin serves the Baptist Church and community as a nutrition center and church hall. West Columbia’s school is part of the city’s museum complex and the Pleasant Hill school near Linden in Cass County is owned by the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

African Americans living in a 19th and early 20th century Texas were denied access to education for decades but opportunities finally began to emerge after emancipation. The Freedman’s Bureau, organized by the federal government, founded several schools in the state that offered classes to African Americans but Texas’ segregated public education system continued to underfunded African American scholastic activities, limiting student access to books, libraries, educational resources, and buildings. The Rosenwald program didn’t necessarily resolve segregation issues in education for African American students in Texas, but the establishment of the Rosenwald Schools signaled a transformative beginning for the country that would one day lead to a Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs. Board of Education, that would alter African American access to education forever.

 

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Read more about Rosenwald Schools in the Handbook of Texas Online.