Written by Jeanne Cyriaque
As I walked across the stage to receive an Honor Award for the Initiative to Save Rosenwald Schools, I reflected on what an incredible journey it has been to save these endangered African American community landmarks.
My interest in preserving Georgia’s Rosenwald Schools started in 2001, when I began to meet advocates, alumni, and preservationists across the South who shared a common bond in preserving these historic schools. My interest increased when I attended a conference in Alabama and saw an excellent exhibit on their schools. Wanting to find out what happened to Georgia’s Rosenwald Schools, I journeyed to Fisk University to search their database, photos and files, and when I located the Georgia list, I knew that finding the surviving schools in Georgia would be no small undertaking. I began to focus my field research on locating living persons in communities who could help me to find the buildings and associated stories.
A major break occurred when the National Trust listed Rosenwald Schools on its annual listing of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Shortly after this list came out, I became a founding member of the Rosenwald Initiative. The Southern Office of the Trust had a knack for finding people like me in every state who wanted to preserve these schools, and gradually we collectively formed a movement that resulted in numerous rehabilitation initiatives.
With help from the National Trust, the Rosenwald Initiative formed partnerships at many levels, culminating in a initiative with Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, who funded bricks and mortar projects. Dr. Mary Hoffschwelle and Peter Ascoli, members of the initiative, wrote new books about Rosenwald Schools and the philanthropist, while grassroots advocates returned the buildings to new uses in their communities. We held a Rosenwald School conference at Fisk University and obtained funding from Cracker Barrel to support the digitization of the photo images that are now linked to our website, www.rosenwaldschools.com. Alice Rosenwald established a grant program with the National Trust to aid planning related projects. We established a contact person in each state to field inquiries about the schools.
Several states, including Georgia, prepared historic contexts and submitted multiple property nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. I continue to search for Georgia’s Rosenwald Schools, and have located 50 surviving buildings. My work with Georgia’s surviving Rosenwald Schools was featured in People 2 People, an Atlanta ABC affiliate. The video features the Noble Hill School in Cassville that is always my inspiration for both its story and achievement as an adaptively used Rosenwald School. The Noble Hill School was featured in a National Trust publication, Preserving Rosenwald Schools. The Griffin Vocational School/Fairmont High School is the newest surviving building that is featured in the video.
Initiative to Save Rosenwald Schools, Southern United States
Award Type: Honor Award
Jeanne Cyriaque coordinates African American programs in the Historic Preservation Division (Georgia State Historic Preservation Office) at the Dept. of Natural Resources. She represents Georgia on the Board of Advisors for the National Trust.
Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation celebrates the best of preservation by presenting National Preservation Awards to individuals and organizations whose contributions demonstrate excellence in historic preservation. This is the latest in a series of posts highlighting 2010′s winners. Do you know of a deserving individual, organization, agency, or project? We are now accepting nominations for the 2011 National Preservation Awards. Learn more »