New Hope Church celebrates Rosenwald School centennial

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, October 29, 2019

FREDONIA — A Saturday afternoon ceremony at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church marked 100 years for the nearby New Hope Rosenwald School.

It was an afternoon of celebration with old-fashioned gospel music, a PowerPoint presentation by America’s Traveling Schoolmarm Susan Webb and alumni reflections from two women who attended classes at the school in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The day also included a pledge by New Hope Board President George Barrow to complete the ongoing effort to fully restore the school to its original 1919 appearance and to possibly add an extension the original floor plan.

“What a wonderful day and what a wonderful school we have that was 100 years ago,” Barrow told the crowd in the church sanctuary. “It has had its ups and downs over the years, and I think this special building has a bright future. It represents the dream held by Booker T. Washington that black children growing up in the rural South should have an opportunity to get an education. This is a festive occasion, and we want everyone to have a good time today.”

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Barrow said he could not let the day pass without thanking the late John Hoggs for the role he’d played in preserving the New Hope School and inspiring him to carry the torch when he fell ill.

“We want to thank everyone who has contributed to anyway to what we are doing here,” Barrow said. “There are strong hearts carrying on in Fredonia, both here at the New Hope School and at the Community Club, which is also 100 years old this year.”

“I think Susan Webb has adopted us,” Barrow said in introducing her. “She had been to Fredonia several times. We welcome her and are glad to have her here again. When I first heard her speak, I did not know that much about the Rosenwald program, but I have learned much about it since then.”

Webb, who is affiliated with the Country Schools of America, said Fredonia is fortunate to have the Community Club and the New Hope School.

“You have a gem in this school,” she said. “Don’t let it go. It’s a wonderful piece of history that needs to be maintained.”

She said the collaborative efforts of Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald resulted in the construction of 4,977 schools, 217 teacher homes and 163 shops scattered across 15 Southern states.

“There were 389 schools constructed in Alabama, 20 of them in Chambers County. The New Hope School is thought to be the only one of them still standing,” she said.

Prior to this program, black children in rural areas were taught under the most rudimentary conditions, many times in makeshift facilities without adequate supplies and teaching materials.

The New Hope School was open from 1919 until 1958. Four years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case it was closed as part of a consolidation move.

For several years after that, the building was modified into a private home. In 1968, ownership of the property was transferred from the Chambers County School District to the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

Barrow told the assemblage he visited the school in 2002 when it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

“At the time, it was boarded up, very dark on the inside and birds were living in it,” he said. “As we can all see that building is no longer boarded up, it’s no longer dark inside and the birds have had to find somewhere else to live.”

John Hoggs was the inspiration behind founding a New Hope Foundation Board to head up restoration. Barrow is now the president of the board, Lanny Davis the treasurer, Nicholas Fannings the program manager and planning director, Thermond Billingslea the construction planning director, Gene Thornton the marketing director and Susie Patten the secretary.

“Our goal was to restore it to its original look as much as possible,” Barrow said.

That meant having a library on the left, a cloakroom at center and a kitchen to the right. The entrance had to be reworked, new steps and a deck put in and a large underneath beam replaced on the back side of the building.

“There are many people to thank for donations,” Barrow said. “They include the Alabama Historic Commission, the Coosa RC&D, the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society and the West Point Methodist Church.”