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February 23, 2014

Alumni group hosts grand opening of restored school

BARNEY — After 12 years of fundraising, seeking grants and just plain hard work, the Morven Rosenwald Alumni Association hosted the grand opening of the restored Barney Colored Elementary School on Saturday afternoon.

The Barney school was one of thousands of Rosenwald schools that once stood throughout the country, due to a 1913 partnership between African-American community leader Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, both of whom felt educational efforts aimed at black children were underfunded.

The Barney school was built in 1933, serving students from first through sixth grade. Since it ceased operation in 1959, it slowly fell into a state of ill repair.

The Barney school was one of six original Rosenwald schools throughout Brooks County, but when the Alumni Association started its efforts to restore the Barney school, half of them had been destroyed, either by fire or by being torn down.

At the time, they didn’t know how long it would take or how much effort, but the Alumni Association took it one day — and one fundraiser — at a time.

“From 2004 to 2010, we held fundraiser after fundraiser after fundraiser,” said Gerald Golden, chairman of the Morven Rosenwald Alumni Association.

Members of the Alumni Association sold quilts, fish dinners, chicken dinners, spaghetti dinners and asked for donations.

“We’ve had a lot of help,” said Golden.

That help came from every direction: Brooks County officials, volunteers, a local lumber dealer, local financial institutions.

In 2009, the Association was planning to put the roof on the school. The cost was $4,000, which would have practically depleted the treasury and set back renovation plans.

They applied for a grant with the National Trust, but didn’t get it.

So they went right back and applied for another, winning a $40,000 grant from the National Trust and Lowe’s, allowing them to keep moving forward with their plans.

“No great work can be accomplished except little by little by little,” Golden said.

Now, with the restoration complete, Golden feels as though a great weight has been lifted from him.

But, he’s not slowing down, and neither is the Alumni Association.

“We plan to offer technology classes in this building, where people can learn how to access and use the Internet. Our main focus is being inclusive in this community. We want everyone to feel welcome.”

Much as it has been a long journey for the Alumni Association to restore the Barney school, members want to encourage young students to see their own lives as a long journey, one for which they need to be prepared.

As such, they plan to offer tutorial classes for kids who need a little help outside of school and quilting classes as well. The renovated school could also be used as a voting precinct in the future.

“What good is a historical building if you can’t use it to provide services for the community?”

Through offering these services, the Barney school, some 80 years after it was built, will go on being a school, offering the students of today a chance to learn from men and women who were once students themselves.

Men and women like Fannie McDonald, Yvonne Morgan and Jerry Gilbert. They spent most of the 1950s going to the Barney Colored Elementary School before it was shut down in 1959 and they can tell you what it was like, what Bible verses they said in the morning before class, where the pot-bellied stove was, what plays the class performed and what games they played.

“I haven’t been in this building since I left in ‘59,” said Morgan. “It’s been bringing back memories.”

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