Historian discusses Virginia’s Rosenwald schools

| December 5, 2012

Lynn Rainville, director of the Tusculum Institute and research professor of humanities at Sweet Briar College, has many scholarly irons in the fire. One of them is a collaboration with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to research and document the Rosenwald Schools of Virginia and the history of segregated schools in the state.

The subject recently caught the attention of Coy Barefoot, host of “Charlottesville Right Now,” a radio talk show on WINA AM 1070 covering local issues. Rainville discussed her research and the work she is doing to document historic African-American schools in Virginia. You can listen to the podcast on the show’s website.

An anthropologist and historian, Rainville’s recent research usually focuses on 19th-century African-American history in Central Virginia. She has long collaborated with local communities and historical societies and in 2009 began working on the Rosenwald project.

According to a website Rainville maintains for the project, Rosenwald schools were built between 1917 and 1932 throughout the South to serve African-American children. They were jointly funded by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and by members of the communities where they were built.

The website focuses on the 382 schools and support buildings found in Virginia. Ranging from rural one-teacher schools to larger industrial education schools in cities, the distinctively designed Rosenwald schoolhouses appear in all but four of Virginia’s 95 counties. The site provides access to research on the schools and their preservation, as well as the people who studied and taught in them, including oral histories.

Much of the website’s research comes from the Department of Historic Resources, which also partners with the Tusculum Institute. The DHR is dedicated to fostering, encouraging and supporting stewardship of Virginia’s significant historic architectural, archaeological and cultural resources.

St. John’s in Albemarle County is an example of a Rosenwald school for African-American children. The Rosenwald Fund provided several sets of architectural plans, which varied to meet the needs of the communities served. Built to specific standards, they share similarities in appearance regardless of size. Photo by Lynn Rainville.



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