The Rosenwald Schools of the American South

Article excerpt

The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. By Mary S. Hoff schwelle. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. Pp. xx, 401. Foreword by John David Smith, acknowledgments, author's note, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95.)

The Dunbar Magnet Middle School in Little Rock began as a Rosenwald School-one of 407 schools, shops, and homes for teachers built in Arkansas between 1913 and 1932 with the assistance of the Rosenwald program and one of over 5,000 built through the South during those years. Julius Rosenwald was a northern philanthropist who wanted to aid southern black children. He sought a program that would fit into the web of philanthropic projects that northerners had undertaken in the South by the second decade of the twentieth century. Most efforts involving black education emphasized industrial training, particularly home economics and agriculture that improved African Americans' abilities to perform the functions ordained for them within the Jim Crow system. While Rosenwald was searching, Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama was trying to get support for a demonstration program that built decent school buildings for African-American children in half a dozen Alabama communities. When Rosenwald and Tuskegee joined forces, the Rosenwald schools program began.

Hofschwelle describes the political backdrop in the South, from Reconstruction to the onset of Jim Crow, and she explains how school districts took black tax money to finance white schools, leaving blacks with little but a longstanding commitment to education, which led them to sacrifice to ensure that at least a modicum was available to their children.

Hofschwelle views the topic from three perspectives-those of the program administrators, the state administrators, and participating communities. She discusses standardized structures in a section that is well supported by floor plans, sketches of the various types of buildings, and photos of representative schools through the South. Rosenwald required communities and states to share in the costs of construction and operations of the schools and land titles to be deeded to the state.

In writing about program administrators, the author shows how the private Rosenwald effort changed the nature of public schools in the South. …