School stories: Hiram Rosenwald

Not every story of a closed school ends badly, with ruins, weeds and caved-in roofs.

Some not only thrive, but have something to teach us.

Hiram Rosenwald is one of these stories.

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Hiram Rosenwald, 2013

Rosenwald schools got their name from Julius Rosenwald, a supplier who eventually became president and chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Rosenwald took an interest in African-American education, especially in the south, where schools were lacking and conditions were deplorable.

Through a partnership with Booker T. Washington, he became a board member at Tuskegee and set up the Rosenwald Fund in 1917. One of the major programs of the Fund built black schools – nearly 5,000 of them across 15 states. The New Georgia Encyclopedia gives Georgia’s share of this total as 242, built in 103 counties.

Many of the schools were small – one- and two-teacher – and were aided by community support. That was the case in Hiram, where the fund contributed $750 towards the $3,010 total cost for a local school. African-Americans, presumably Paulding County/area citizens, contributed $1,400.

Hiram Rosenwald was budgeted in 1929-30 and built as a two-teacher school. Notes from Fisk University’s Rosenwald Database said it included an elementary library valued at $120.

For the next 25 years, Hiram Rosenwald faithfully served. For part of its history, it contained high school grades, but by the 1946-47 term, it was limited to seven grades, older students going to Matthews in Dallas.

In 1952, Paulding County became one of the first systems in Georgia approved for Minimum Foundation Program school building funds, with further support coming from a local bond issue passed later that year.

Plans called for the building or improvement of nine schools in the county. Plans also called for the consolidation of all black schools into one: Matthews.

Grading began on school sites in the spring of 1954, but not all of the schools were open by the time the 1955-56 year was to begin.

“The Board regrets that all the new buildings are not ready for the opening of school,” said The New Era on August 18, 1955.

Matthews was one of the schools that had yet to open and the Paulding County Board of Education opted to send all of Hiram’s students back to the old Rosenwald school at the beginning of the term. The new Matthews was finally dedicated October 30 that year, with Dr. Lynette S. Bickers of Atlanta University delivering a special speech.

R.L. Cousins, perhaps the leading African-American involved with education in Georgia (and honoree in the naming of two high schools), was also present.

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Historical marker at Hiram.

After Matthews opened in its new building, Hiram Rosenwald was transferred to Sweet Home Baptist Church, which had purchased the property in July 1955 for $500. Sweet Home continued to keep up the building in the decades after. In 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Hiram continues to keep the building’s spirit alive. There is now a museum dedicated to its history as a school and it remains active for community events, with updates on Facebook.

Sources: The Dallas New Era – June 19, 1952, Aug. 28, 1952, March 4, 1954, Aug. 18, 1955, Nov. 24, 1955; National Register of Historic Places; Fisk University Rosenwald Database; New Georgia Encyclopedia.

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