|PHOTO | ANDREW FEILER|
|Elroy and Sophia Williams hold a photo of Sophia’s grandparents, former slaves who acquired and donated land for a Rosenwald school.|
An exhibit at the Charlotte Museum of History will highlight the impact of the Rosenwald Schools on Black Americans in the Jim Crow South.
“A Better Life for Their Children,” which debuts Jan. 13 with a VIP premiere, followed by its public debut two days later, features the partnership between Booker T. Washington, president of the historically Black Tuskegee Institute (now University) and Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish businessman whose philanthropy launched schools for black children in the South.
Andrew Feiler’s photography exhibit premiered at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta in May. Charlotte is the second stop.
“‘A better life for their children’ gives us the opportunity to explore the history of education in Charlotte and the South,” said Fannie Flono, administrator of the history museum and president of the Save Siloam Schools Project. of the museum. “This story has never been more relevant, as our city and county work to improve equality and opportunity. The story of Rosenwald Schools can help us understand how we got here and how we are going from there. ‘before.
The exhibit highlights the initiative and collaboration between Washington and Rosenwald, Chairman of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Over 4,900 schools in Rosenwald were built in the early 20th century, but only about 500 survive, most of them in poor condition. North Carolina communities have built 813 Rosenwald schools – more than any other state – including more than 20 in Mecklenburg County. Only seven of these buildings are still standing.
“We often view America’s challenges as intractable, especially those related to race,” said Feiler, who lives in Savannah, Georgia, and has traveled more than 25,000 miles across the South to interview from Rosenwald School alumni, teachers, curators and community leaders. “Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald crossed the lines of race, religion and region, and they changed this nation. Their accomplishment still speaks to us today, showing that individual actions matter.
From 1912 to 1937, the Rosenwald Foundation built 4,978 schools in 15 states, resulting in a dramatic improvement in educational achievement for blacks. Former US Representative John Lewis, an alumnus of the Rosenwald School, wrote the foreword to Feiler’s book.
Feiler’s photographs and interviews became “A Better Life for Their Children,” a book of photographs and essays published earlier this year, along with the exhibit.
The history museum presents the exhibit as part of its effort to restore Siloam School, a Rosenwald-era school built in the Mallard Creek area in the 1920s. The school’s design was built using a Rosenwald plan, but there is no record that the school received funds from the foundation. Historians believe it is likely that the local black farming community raised money for the school and donated time and labor to build it.
The Save Siloam School Project raised $660,000 toward a $1 million goal to complete the restoration.