Open house to be held at New Hope Rosenwald School

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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FREDONIA — The restoration of the New Hope Rosenwald School has been a continuing project for several years now. Everyone will have a chance to get a first-hand look at this at an open house that will be taking place there on Saturday, February 24th. Tours will be taking place from noon till 4 p.m. EST that day.

Recent work includes the addition of a potbellied stove, the availability of hot water and some landscaping of the grounds.

The building was constructed in 1915 from funds provided by the Julius Rosenewald School Building Fund program. The land was donated by a prominent white family, J.A. and Sue Simmons. It was named New Hope School because of its proximity to the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

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At one time there were more than 5,000 Rosenwald schools across the Deep South. Very few of them are still standing today.

The New Hope School is a one-story frame building resting on a foundation of brick piers. The exterior wall material is simple weatherboarding. The hipped roof is covered by standing seam metal. The building has a north-south orientation with the facade facing south.

The building cost $1,200 to construct with a third of the money coming from the Rosenwald Fund, a third from the state and a third from the local community. Mr. Rosenwald (1862-1932) was the son of German-Jewish immigrants who rose to being president of the Sears-Roebuck Company. His family had immigrated to the U.S. in the nineteenth century to escape the antisemitism that was rampant in Europe at the time. He sympathized with the victims of prejudice and wanted to help them through charitable acts. The Rosenwald School Fund was designed to help black children get an education in areas where little opportunity had been provided for them.

Rosenwald had a friendship with Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), president of Tuskegee Institute, and the two men worked together to provide improved educational opportunities for African American children.

Many of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had attended Rosenwald schools in their youth, among them John Lewis (1940-2020), who grew up in Troy, Alabama. The famed poet Maya Angelou (1928-2014), who was born in St. Louis, attended a Rosenwald school in her youth. She is best known for her 1969 work “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

The New Hope Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s one of a little more than 500 of these schools that still stand.