PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — During the early 20th century, Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald partnered with communities across the South to build, what was considered at the time, state-of-the-art schools for African-American children living in rural and impoverished areas.
Many of those schools were constructed in rural areas across North Carolina and a number of these historic schools in Pender County have survived.
After years of being fascinated by these old wood-frame buildings that African Americans built generations ago, Filmmaker Claudia Stack conducted extensive research on the topic and produced a film to help document this important part of history.
“Rosenwald Schools were schools that African American communities built in partnership with the Julius Rosenwald Fund,” Stack said. “Booker T. Washington came up with the idea, and got philanthropist Julius Rosenwald to donate money and he would match the amount of money that communities raised.”
The African-American people who lived in these communities were paying their taxes to the federal government and having to raise money again in order to build schools in which their children could meet to receive an education in the segregated South.
Dr. Richard T. Newkirk is a long-time Ivanhoe resident and knows how important these schools were to the black community.
“The schools were actually the central place for what went on in the community,” Newkirk said.
Since many of the Rosenwald schools were built using sub-standards building materials, there was a notion that the educational quality of the schools was also sub-standard.
On the contrary, Newkirk said the teachers mostly lived within the community and knew the children and their parents very well. The teachers also expected a high level of accountability from the students.
“We were told ‘You’re black, you’re going to be black all your life, you may have to know twice as much to get the same job for half the pay. We’re not here to hear you complain,'” and Newkirk added, “There was a focus on, here’s the opportunity [its up to you] to take advantage of it.”
So why have so many Rosenwald schools survived all these years in Pender County?
“Pender County has been a little more economically oppressed say than New Hanover County so a lot of those wood structures survived due to the dedication of alumni groups or some churches and individuals who purchased them and preserved those buildings,” Stack said. “Even though Pender County did not build the most Rosenwald schools, they may still have the most schools still standing in the state.”
In 2016, Stack and Lyndon Kyle Holt produced a documentary entitled “Under the Kudzu” which was shown at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference about Rosenwald Schools at Tuskegee. The 55-minute documentary traces the history of two Pender County Rosenwald Schools.
In the Pender County community of Currie, you’ll find the Canetuck Community Center. It is a restored two-room Rosenwald School in which Betty Thompson helped obtain the National Register of Historic places status.
On Saturday, there will be a plaque unveiling at the center which is located at 6098 Canetuck Road in Currie. The event will be from noon until 3 p.m. Attendees are urged to register in advance by going to www.stackstories.com.