There is a little known fact regarding the education of Williamsburg County children. The efforts of one man provided an education for hundreds of black children and he did it by realizing his goals. Booker T. Washington was an educator and freed slave who, in 1912, collaborated with Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the son of Jewish immigrants and the owner of Sears & Roebuck to educate African Americans. Washington's vision would come to fruition with the establishment of 5,000 Rosenwald Schools in 15 states. In South Carolina, there were 481 schools with 10 located in Williamsburg County.
Rosenwald Schools are registered on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 most endangered Historic Places. They were built between 1920 - 1930: unfortunately, none of the local schools survived. But that's not stopping a group who has been working on preserving the memory and documenting the historical significance of these important educational facilities.
The Rosenwald Project, which was spearheaded by the Black History Committee of the Williamsburg County Tourism Board, under the auspices of the Williamsburg HomeTown Chamber. Through their research, a list has been compiled and information is being gathered to determine the exact locations.
The first step toward awareness was taken on September 25, where a ceremony was conducted at Tomlinson High School, the site of a Rosenwald school and where a marker was erected during the ceremony. Attending the ceremony were Senator John Yancey McGill, Representative Ronnie A. Sabb, Kenny Barnes representing Congressman James E. Clyburn, former Tomlinson graduates, students, and others.
During her presentation, Williamsburg County Tourism Board Chair Cassandra Williams Rush reached out to the community for assistance in information gathering, artifacts, and the names of teachers, students and principals. "The history of African Americans is a rich history and needs to be preserved," said Rush. "This is definitely true in the case of researching and documenting history. All of your 'trash' has a significance when it some to historians and persons who understand and appreciate anything of or by African Americans."
Assistance through funds allocated through the General Assembly to the Tourism Board provided the marker as well as markers for the other schools once the sites are determined. "These schools not only served as a house for education, they served as a hub for the community," said Sabb who played basketball at the gymnasium alongside McGill. "And those teachers that taught at the schools had great impact beyond the school walls. One of the challenges that they found themselves making was not only to educate the students as they got there but to make certain students got home safely and to make certain they had community meetings in order that they might get an appreciation for what was going on in the community, then ask themselves what is their role in making the community a better place."
In the meantime, the Tomlinson Alumni Committee is in the process of building a facility at the site of the ceremony that will house a fine arts and resource center for the community.
For more information about Rosenwald Schools, contact Cassandra Williams Rush at (803) 397-1859.