Rosenwald leaves mark on Chester Co. education
By Jerry Woods
The Julius Rosenwald Fund School Building Program made an incredible mark on the history of African American education.
The fund, named for the business leader and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), helped to change the educational landscape of several African American communities.
Through the fund’s support, over 5,000 schools were constructed in 15 states. The school building fund supported the construction of 373 schools in Tennessee.
According to documents provided to the Fisk University Library Special Collections, at least two Rosenwald schools were constructed in Chester County. One of these schools was Gibson Rosenwald. These documents further reveal the following concerning the Gibson Rosenwald School.
The school was built on 2.5 acres of land with two teachers. It was built under the 1927-1928 budget with at total cost of $3,400. The application number was 35-G and located on Talley Town Road.
The total cost of the building was supported by these contributions: African Americans, $600; Whites, $300; Public $2,000; and Rosenwald fund, $500.
As indicated in the list of contributors receiving fund support come with certain requirements. Among the requirements were that African American citizens would provide the land for the building as well as financial support. In the case of the Gibson-Rosenwald School, Volume 1 of Chester County History and Families indicates that Mr. and Mrs. Hermon Gibson donated the land required for the school, thus the school became Gibson-Rosenwald School.
The practice of naming schools in this manner was fairly common, however, it is believed that Rosenwald did not require his name to be attached to any of the schools.
H.A. Bullock (1970) described the overall impact of the Julius Rosenwald Fund School Building Program as follows; “The work of the Rosenwald Fund permeated the educational experience of the Negro more deeply than that of any other fund.”
Perhaps the educational experiences referred to in Bullock’s quote can best be described by students who attended Gibson-Rosenwald.
Paul Barnes, now living in Georgia, attended Gibson-Rosenwald from first through eighth grade. Barnes shares these comments about his experiences at Gibson-Rosenwald. “I started school at age five and completed all grades before going to the ninth grade at the Chester County Training School.”
He further said this of the school’s interior description. “Gibson-Rosenwald had two rooms for grades one through eight. Grades one through four were in one room and grades five through eight were in the other. One teacher was assigned to each room with the teacher assigned to grades five through eight, also serving as principal.
Tennessee School Register, provided by the Chester County Board of Education indicate that a Record of a Year’s Work, in the 1950-1951 school year included the following projects: The Cancer Drive; National Red Cross; and selling tuberculosis seals.
There was also a greater contribution to the hot lunch program and the Ladies Club purchased an electric stove and refrigerator. This information was submitted by teacher-principal, Alice Cawthon, for Paul Barnes for all eight of his years at Gibson-Rosenwald.
Barnes speaks of Cawthon and the other teachers in this manner. “The teachers were truly outstanding and made every effort to make sure we received a quality education. Mrs. Cawthon gave me a chance to do many special assignments in math and science with studying some of the great poets from the past.”
Barnes proudly concludes, “She (Cawthon) prepared me so well that I graduated first in my class in high school and undergraduate classes and earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Southern California.
Perhaps a testament to the influence of Cawthon and Gibson-Rosenwald, Barnes reached signal achievements by any standards. He retired as Regional Commission for the Southeast Region of the Social Security Administration after 43 years of service.
The Gibson-Rosenwald School, like many other African American schools closed with the beginning of school intregation. The closure left memories for scores of students who had the educational experience of attending the two-room Rosenwald school, located on Talley Store Road in southeastern Chester County.