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Rosenwald school renovation effort at ECSU gets $350K grant


The historic Rosenwald Model Practice School at Elizabeth City State University is shown in this file photo from February. The building is to be renovated for use as a regional African-American museum.


By Reggie Ponder
The Daily Advance

Saturday, August 11, 2018

ELIZABETH CITY — A plan to renovate a Rosenwald school building and principal’s house at Elizabeth City State University as centerpieces of a regional African-American heritage and culture center has gotten a $350,000 boost from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Melissa Stuckey, ECSU professor of history, said this week that the grant from the NEH will help accelerate creation of the Northeastern North Carolina African American Research and Cultural Heritage Center at ECSU. Stuckey is raising money for the grant’s required match. The project’s organizers also plan to raise $1.5 million to complete the renovation.

“We need to be raising the entire amount, and feel like we can do that,” Stuckey, who is the author of the NEH grant proposal, said in a statement included in a news release from the university.

Stuckey called the development of the center “a collaborative effort from various entities on campus.”

Rosenwald Schools were built throughout eastern North Carolina and across the state. The goal of the Elizabeth City project, according to organizers, is to create a resource center for researchers of African-American history as well as an interpretive site for the public, helping connect people to the rich history of black communities in the region.

When it was built with Rosenwald funding on what was then the campus of the Elizabeth City Colored Normal School in 1921, the “practice school” was the place where African-American college students learned the craft of teaching. Students enrolled at what then was known as the Normal School practiced their teaching skills on neighborhood children in the large frame building before taking jobs in the state’s then-segregated black schools.

The practice school building has been moved several times and gone on to serve a number of other functions — for a while it housed a cosmetology school before it became host to an ROTC center for student cadets enrolled at ECSU.

“There were 200 Rosenwald Schools in this region that we represent,” Stuckey said. “Our alumni of the Normal School were educated to teach in those schools.”

According to ECSU officials, the practice school building was funded through the Rosenwald Fund, the organization founded in 1919 by Sears, Roebuck and Co. Chief Executive Officer Julius Rosenwald to assist in the construction of community schools for black students in the South.

Rosenwald Schools were built with grants from the Rosenwald Fund that were matched with funding from the black community where the school was built.

Three Rosenwald Schools, as the schools came to be called, were built in Pasquotank County. However, the Rosenwald School building on ECSU’s campus was the only one ever built on a college campus in North Carolina. Besides serving as a modern school for neighborhood children, the building was always operated as a training center for student teachers.

The Principal’s House is so named because it served as a residence for the university’s first chief officer, Peter W. Moore.

Project organizers are looking for artifacts from Rosenwald Schools and especially want to hear the stories of people who were educated in Rosenwald Schools in the area.

“We still have a generation of kids educated in those schools,” Stuckey said. “So yes, it’s urgent.”

The center for African American history, heritage, culture and learning will be unlike anything that exists in the region, according to Stuckey.

“We have an incredible opportunity to create a research center here,” Stuckey said in a statement released by the university. “We don’t have anything like that here.”

Donations are being accepted for the African-American Heritage Center and will be channeled through the ECSU Foundation.


Following is a list of former Rosenwald schools and associated buildings in the Greenville area as compiled by the N.C. Historic Preservation Office as of February 2017. 

■ Beaufort: Six schools were built with three remaining in Leechville, Pantego and Blounts Creek

■ Bertie: 19 were built at least two remaining in Windsor and Woodville

■ Craven: Seven were built but none were listed as standing

■ Edgecombe: 26 were built with most destroyed or in disrepair

■ Greene: Five were built with one in Snow Hill remaining

■ Lenoir: Four were built but all were destroyed.

■ Martin: Seven schools were built there with three remaining in Hamilton and Williamston

■ Pitt: The office has no listings for schools in Pitt County

■ Wilson: 14 were built with none listed as remaining