A Reflection on Heritage and the Hamilton Colored School

Posted on: January 4th, 2012 by Guest Writer 6 Comments

Written by Carol Jones Shields

As a child growing up between Virginia and North Carolina, I was often told of my Native American ancestry from my mother’s side of the family. Interestingly enough, I recently found out that I may also have similar roots on my father’s side. For the most part, the concrete evidence of my cultural heritage came from my mother’s account, my good fortune to inherit a skin-type which was very tolerate of the sun, and my almond shaped brown eyes - a trait I shared with many of my maternal cousins. Beyond these simple markers, the link to my past has been a bit of a mystery. I recognize that for some of us the limited cultural resources of our heritage present a challenge in our quest to discover our true essence and origin. From this very personal viewpoint, I have evolved into an inspired preservationist who believes our various cultural perspectives and places should all be valued pieces of our collective American story.

The Hamilton Colored School as it appeared in 2006. (Photo: The Enterprise)

Over the past few years I have been working with Roanoke River Partners, a regionally-based grassroots organization, to preserve the story and artifacts of the Hamilton Colored School in Hamilton, North Carolina. This historic school, located just off the bank of the Roanoke River, is one of the nationally celebrated Rosenwald Schools – the thousands of schools built mostly for African Americans with supplemental funding provided by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, in partnership with Booker T. Washington. I am interested in this mostly African American and Jewish heritage story as someone whose own cultural and family history has always been a bit ambiguous.

The Hamilton Colored School as it appears today, currently under construction for use as the Rosenwald River Center. (Photo: Carl Galie)

Since 2007, Roanoke River Partners has acquired grant funding to purchase this historic property, obtain architectural guidance, complete external repairs and renovation (thanks to a Lowe’s Foundation grant) for new use as the Rosenwald River Center, and to engage the community in the recovery of surviving artifacts and the oral and written history associated with this site. In addition to advocacy and grant writing, I have been the researcher and historian for this project, and have compiled a summary of our findings in a book entitled, Hamilton Rosenwald School Preservation Story: Preserving the memories, the faces and the place. My involvement in this preservation effort has provided me with a welcome opportunity to work closely with an under-served community of color to preserve their built legacy.

I feel most fortunate to have had the chance to further explore my own diversity, as well as that of others, as one of the 49 Diversity Scholars at the 2011 National Preservation Conference in Buffalo. As a result of my participation, I returned home with a full heart, re-energized and committed to the preservation of a diverse palette of regional culture and heritage. I eagerly anticipate future communications and collaborations with the National Trust and I am deeply grateful to those whose contributions helped to make this one my most culturally enriching experiences.

Carol Jones Shields is currently the researcher/historian of the Hamilton Rosenwald School and an executive board member with Roanoke River Partners. Carol was a first time Diversity Scholar at the 2011 National Preservation Conference and she will present her Rosenwald research at the 2012 National Rosenwald Schools Conference in Tuskegee, Alabama, from June 14-16. She can be reached at cjshields@touchnc.net.

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6 Responses

  1. Carol Jones Shields

    January 4, 2012

    Appreciate the opportunity to share my perspective on cultural heritage as well as the recent opportunity to participate in the National Preservation Conference in Buffalo as a Diversity Scholar. Looking forward to the upcoming National Rosenwald Conference at Tuskegee in June!

  2. Nancy Dickens

    January 4, 2012

    Carol, This was such an interesting article. Thank you for sharing and I am very proud of your accomplishments as a Diversity Scholar. You amaze me with all your enthusiasim and dedication to whatever project or interest you become involved in. I think that is wonderful. Nancy D.

  3. Tom Potter

    January 5, 2012

    Great job Carol, I really enjoyed reading your article.

  4. David Irvine

    January 5, 2012


    What a nice article describing the intersection of your own heritage with your commitment to preserving an important part of our common heritage–the Rosenwald schools. A similar effort in Warren County, NC (also in the Roanoke River basin) is underway to preserve the Warren County Training School campus, not only as a historic set of buildings but also to transform them into a center for training and education.

  5. Raymond Reddrick

    January 6, 2012

    Carol, Thanks for sharing your continous writngs on the Hamilton Rosewald Project and the history of your heritage. You are to be commended for your hard work and long hours devoted to these projects.may you continue to broaden our horizon through our culture heritage.