Voices of Rosenwald: Bishop Frederick C. James Dreams Big for Howard Junior High

Posted on: February 21st, 2013 by Julia Rocchi

Bishop Frederick C. James (screenshot). Credit: Tracy Hayes
Bishop Frederick C. James

How's this for a vision? "The rehabilitation [of] Howard Junior High school and its transformation from a ruin into a modern learning center for the community."

That's what Bishop Frederick C. James wants to achieve with the Rosenwald School in rural Prosperity, SC, where he attended Howard Junior High School from the first through tenth grades. As we shared with Mabel Dickey's podcast earlier this month, the Rosenwald School Building Program began in 1912 and was called the "most influential philanthropic force that came to the aid of Negroes at that time." It eventually provided seed grants for the construction of more than 5,300 buildings in 15 states, including schools, shops, and teachers' houses which were built by and for African-Americans.

The African-Methodist Episcopal Bishop (now retired) calls those the “greatest days of his life” and credits Howard Junior High with giving him his start in everything he ever attained. He counts among his friends many of the well-known civil rights activists of the 1960s and 70s along with other world leaders, including a former United States president.

Now, as Chairman of the Board for the Howard Junior High School Center project, he's leading the fight to restore this historic, humble building and make it a pillar of the community once more. In this Voices of Rosenwald Schools podcast, hear Bishop James speak firsthand about his formative years at the school -- and maybe even recite a poem or two.

Howard Junior High School. Credit: jimmywayne, flickr
Howard Junior High School

What’s your dream for the Howard Junior High building?

[My dream is] to fulfill its stated mission: “to activate and utilize the historic school as a community center for Rosenwald School appreciation with updated focus upon youth development, African American art and Culture, tutorial education, teacher and student achievement, and other forms of community uplift, accommodation, and service.”

What’s the biggest personal lesson you’ve learned through your work with the Rosenwald School?

I’ve met wonderful folks in preservation; it’s been a very special asset to my life to know and be aware of people in this business. It has kept my hopes alive, and my expectation is to finish this job in my lifetime.

If somebody came to you and said, “I want to save a Rosenwald School,” what’s the first thing you’d say to them?

I would say by all means organize and make contact with the very best possible people that you can. Don’t let anything deter you from your dream and your goal. Get as many people as you can who have that same dream. We need more people who have the ability, contacts, and commitment to the mission.

I’ve been busy [since retirement] because of two things I’m unable to do: say no to something that’s on my heart, and give up!

Listen to the full podcast:

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Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Interviews, Local Preservationists, National Treasures