The progress has been steady on the St. George Rosenwald Schoo—the pole barn once surrounding the building now slowly being removed and the old building undergoing a much-anticipated rejuvenation one day at a time.
There were updates on the project’s progress and a celebration of the Rosenwald School’s legacy at the nail-driving ceremony Wednesday at the site.
Local and state officials, like South Carolina Senator John Matthews, former state Rep. Patsy Knight and Mayor Anne Johnston, along with alumni of the school, including final valedictorian Corine Kinlow, were in attendance.
“This school, along with other Rosenwald schools, became a light in a world of darkness,” said Anne Johnston, St. George mayor.
The Rosenwald School was built in 1925 and had its first class of students a year later. The St. George Rosenwald School was one of several hundred which were funded by Julius Rosenwald, part-owner of the Sears, Roebuck, and Company, as a part of his Rosenwald Fund.
As a part of the fund, Rosenwald donated $1,500 to the City of St. George to establish the school; the city’s African-American community gave $2,500, and the City of St. George provided the rest of the money.
The school remained open for 28 years before closing in 1954, and afterward, along with the surrounding community, became a major hub of African-American business in the Lowcountry.
According to Ralph James, President of Rosenwald School Board, the area was home to the first African-American owned grocery store locally, along with other businesses.
Johnston said that the school in St. George is one of only 700 Rosenwald schools still standing in the United States and that it was named one of 11 endangered treasures in the country. Johnston also told the crowd gathered that the school that the facility was recently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Johnston thanked all of the people who aided in the project to restore the school. She said that the school will make St. George a stop for tourists who come to the Lowcountry. Johnston said that her hope is that the school’s preservation can help all of the people of St. George and Lowcountry.
“This will benefit not just one group, but the entire state,” she said.
Knight told the crowd gathered at the event that it fills her with pride to see the building being repaired. Knight said that many of these schools have been lost to history through deterioration and demolition. Knight added that it is important to preserve buildings like these in order to keep the history.
“If we don’t preserve our history, we won’t have it tomorrow,” Knight said.
Sen. John Matthews said that Rosenwald schools hold a special place to him, because he himself was educated in a Rosenwald school and his mother was a teacher at one as well. Matthews has worked on other Rosenwald school projects including one in Orangeburg. Matthews said that there was already $2.2 million in the project already. He said that he hopes to raise another $500,000 for the project.
Matthews said that he hopes the Rosenwald School will bring people to St. George and along with it commerce. He said that if people come to the town they will invest in it by buying things from local vendors and stores.
“This can be a jewel in this community,” Matthews said.
Project foreman Maynard Wren, of Treat and Woodman Company, said that the main goal of the repairs is to maintain as much of the old structure as possible. He said that any of the wood that had to be removed from the structure was going to try to be reused.
“We are doing our best to do preservation,” Wren said.
Wren also said that nearly 70% of the workforce in the project are from St. George. The equipment was locally bought as well.
Ralph James said that the hope of the Rosenwald School Board is to build up the entire area and hopefully build a park.
The Rosenwald School Historical marker will be dedicated on Saturday June 29th in St. George.