Former students of the Kremlin School learned this past Saturday they are a part of a much bigger picture than just in their hometowns. In fact, across the nation former students convened in their respective former schools, all having attended the one-to-two room classrooms known as Rosenwald Schools during the nation’s segregation period of the early 1900s.
Packed with a total of 86 attendees in the former Kremlin School, now the Jerusalem Baptist Church Annex, former students learned and exchanged stories about one of the most endangered historical sites in the nation. A total of 15 states house about 5,000 Rosenwald schools, according to researcher and author Stephanie Deutsch.
Former students and those in attendance were in awe of the research shared by Deutsch about how the Rosenwald Schools came into existence. The late business owner Julius Rosenwald and educator Booker T. Washington spearheaded this effort to provide equal educational opportunities for black students. In addition to Rosenwald supplying funds to help raise these schools in the south, such elements as funds, building materials and acres were collected among blacks in their respective communities.
During her travels and researching of materials, Deutsch said these former schools now serve as museums and community centers. In other areas, communities are trying to refurbish the historical sites following integration of schools.
“It’s thrilling for me to see these small museums and communities,” said Deutsch. “You are connected to a very big and exciting story.”
This event marked the third co-sponsored by the A.T. Johnson High School Museum and Stratford Hall Plantation reflecting on black history in Westmoreland County.
“Your commitment as a community to foster that sense of history is important,” said Educational Director Jon Bachman, of the Stratford Hall Plantation.
Like previous events, those tied to the school reflected on their experiences of the school including former students Granville E. Fisher Jr. and Gloria Brooks.
Reverend Henry C. Lee provided how Jerusalem refurbished the building to create an annex in the 1990s.
Pastor Darryl Fisher, of Jerusalem Baptist Church, served as the event’s master of ceremonies. He said he will continue to share similar stories with his children, grandchildren and other youngsters.
“Most of them don’t have a clue about segregated school systems,” said Fisher, “and they are at a point where for them to truly excel and appreciate it, somebody has to tell them what’s going on.”
Director Marian Ashton, of the A.T. Johnson High School Museum, shared that it was important to share the struggles for blacks to obtain an education and what success has come from it.
“It is fitting that we chose this venue as our first for our ‘in your neighbor history’—to celebrate not by chance but by design—the struggle for an education for African Americans in the 1800s,” said Ashton. “Due to their efforts in making a better Westmoreland, their reach far exceeds the boundaries of Westmoreland. So our reflection on history is merely our intent of looking back with appreciation, pride and respect.”
Deutsch has documented her research in the book You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of the Schools for the Segregated South.