Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

December 8, 2013

A lesson in preserving history

-- — A weekend ceremony dedicating a historical marker to a one-time school site has been a long time coming.

For the past several years, a dedicated group of former students has worked hard to restore the old Barney Colored Elementary School and ensure that its legacy is not forgotten.

From 1931-1959, the Barney Colored Elementary School served as an educational hub for Brooks County’s young black students. The building represents what was once a ubiquitous part of Southern life: The Rosenwald school.

By the early 20th century, in Alabama, a man named Julius Rosenwald became interested in the plight of African-American education in the South. A former men’s clothing merchant who had become a vice president with Sears & Roebuck, Rosenwald sat on the board of the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). Circa 1913, Rosenwald began donating money to Booker T. Washington; the funds were earmarked for improving African-American schools in Alabama.

A few years later, the Rosenwald Fund had been established and, by 1917, it was dedicated to helping African-American populations in states enforcing racial segregation.

Essentially, the fund’s credo stated that if a group provided the land and labor, Rosenwald provided the design and materials for a school building. This was in the days when a person could purchase a house plan and the necessary construction materials from the Sears & Roebuck catalog. The Rosenwald schools were similarly available.

The Barney Colored Elementary School was one of six Rosenwald schools built in Brooks County. For the past several years, the Morven-Rosenwald Alumni Association has worked to renovate the school building as a community center and memorialize its educational mission in the decades prior to school integration.

Knowing the past can lead to better understanding in the future.

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