New Legislation Established February 28, 2023, as Rosenwald School Day in SC
COLUMBIA, S.C.—Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC), the WeGOJA Foundation, the African American Heritage Commission, Rosenwald community groups, and other state and local partners have formed a working group to initiate the protection of Rosenwald School sites across the state. To raise awareness surrounding this project, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed H.3968, recognizing February 28, 2023, as Rosenwald School Day in South Carolina.
Rosenwald Schools were among the most influential forces for Southern African Americans in the first half of the 20th century, with over 5,000 schools built for students across the Southeast through grants funded by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. The schools provided education, improved social mobility, and vastly increased college attendance for rural African Americans, setting the stage for the civil rights movement.
There were nearly 500 Rosenwald schools built in South Carolina in the early 1900s (1917-1932), but due to development, sprawl, and neglect, only 40 remain standing in various states of repair. Without action, those that remain could soon fall victim to the same issues. Protecting these schools and the land they occupy broadens the impact of conservation efforts by protecting cultural and historical landmarks that have been overlooked and under-invested in by traditional land protection efforts. All land tells a story, and the story of Rosenwald Schools is one that deserves to be told and protected.
“The establishment of Rosenwald School Day highlights the efforts of individuals across South Carolina to honor the legacy these schools played in education and community investment in rural communities, and we commend the House for taking this step,” said John Tynan, Executive Director of CVSC. “Conservation is more than just protecting land–it is about preserving the stories that highlight the relationship between people and places. That’s why we’re excited to work with WeGOJA, the African American Heritage Commission, Rosenwald community groups, and others on these efforts to protect these sites and stories for future generations.”
“The WeGOJA Foundation is proud to participate in the state’s celebration of Rosenwald Schools and to play a role in proposed efforts to preserve and promote these sites,” said Dr. Larry Watson, Board Chairman for the WeGOJA Foundation (WeGOJA.org.) “Rosenwald Schools contributed significantly to educating African American children in rural South Carolina, and are timeless reminders of the investment these communities made in their children’s futures.”
Recognizing this day, however, is only the beginning of what we need to do to protect these schools and lands. CVSC and our partners look forward to working with lawmakers to fund and support the process for establishing a state park network of Rosenwald Schools to further protect these places and landmarks. Protecting these schools and the land they occupy strengthens both conservation and cultural preservation efforts. The story of Rosenwald Schools is critical to telling the story of South Carolina, and this working group strives to capture and share it to broaden awareness of our state’s significant history.
Former teacher, Charlotte Holt, of the New Hope Rosenwald School said, “This is an important story that should be told to future generations. Rosenwald history is South Carolina history, and the schools have shaped and influenced so much of the South Carolina we know and love today.”