A 93-year-old school for black children at the height of segregation has become South Carolina’s newest building on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Rosenwald School in the town of St. George was added to the registry earlier this month, according to Mayor Anne Johnston. She announced the news at a dedication ceremony on Thursday.
“It is a very important part of the history of this nation,” she said. “It is a national treasure. And it’s an honor for South Carolina to have one of these.”
St. George is a town of roughly 2,000 people located 50 miles northwest of Charleston.
Rosenwald schools were private schools for black students in the “Jim Crow Era” who could not get access to the same facilities as their white counterparts. They are named after former Sears & Roebuck President Julius Rosenwald, who partnered with civil rights leader Booker T. Washington to help fund the construction for thousands of rural schools. The local African-American communities usually raised the rest.
The St. George school operated from 1925 until the early stages of integration in 1954. The six-room structure is much larger than the typical one- or two-room Rosenwald school, largely due to the area’s large black population.
Johnston said the school had largely been forgotten by all but the town’s oldest residents. Town leaders were not even certain the old schoolhouse was even a Rosenwald until they examined photos at Fisk University database in Tennessee.
The Historic Register designation makes the building eligible for tax incentives or grants, but does not offer any specific protections for the building beyond what its owners decide.
Johnston said the building was in extreme disrepair when the town negotiated to buy it from the previous owner. St. George has since spent $1.2 million in grants and other funding to restore much of its exterior and replace its rotting floors. However, State Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, and State Rep. Patsy Knight, D-St. George, secured an additional $2 million for the next stage of repairs and renovations.
“If we don’t preserve it, it’s gone,” Johnston said. “I mean, people might read about it in the history books, but they won’t really understand where we were and where we are today.”
Johnston said the town is partnering with the Columbia-based children’s museum EdVenture to eventually open a small museum inside the school.