Tennessee Preservation Trust

Rosenwald Schools:

Rosenwald Schools represent an important chapter in the history of the United States. According to the National Trust for Historic preservation, the buildings represent the “most important partnership to advance African American education in the early 20th century.” What began in 1912 as a partnership between an ex-slave, Booker T. Washington, and Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Company, led to the construction of more than 5,300 schools in 15 states for rural African-American children. More than 663,615 students were instructed over the course of the programs 20 years. Today, only about 10 percent of the buildings constructed remain standing, and many are in serious disrepair. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rosenwald schools to its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2002.

Across Tennessee, at least 375 schools were built between 1912 and 1932. Much attention has been given to Tennessee’s Rosenwald Schools in the past five years as we strive to protect the schools still standing. In 2008, the Tennessee Preservation Trust rehabilitated the Cairo Rosenwald School and in 2010, we rehabilitated the Durham’s Chapel Rosenwald School. More is to be done and we are excited the Tennessee Historical Commission awarded a grant in 2012 to the Tennessee Division of Archaeology to fund a survey of Rosenwald Schools located throughout the state. By finding the schools still standing and assessing their condition, we hope to assist communities in reopening the doors of the many iconic buildings which have been shuttered. As we did with Cairo and Durham’s Chapel, we hope to help re-open these schools so they can be vibrant centers to the communities once again.

For more information on the history of Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the The Rosenwald Rural School Building Program, click here.

The design of the Rosenwald Schools were innovative in their own right. Taking into account concerns for lighting, ventilation, heating, sanitation, instructional needs, and aesthetics, progressive architects applied new ideas to shape orderly and healthy learning environments. For more about the Rosenwald Floor Plans, visit The National Trust Rosenwald section.

Search the Fisk University database for a Rosenwald School.

Interested in preserving a Rosenwald School? The National Trust published “Preserving Rosenwald Schools”, a booklet which includes case studies and step-by-step hints for rehabilitating your school. Download the booklet here: