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Graduates Fight To Keep Legacy Of Historic Rosenwald Schools Alive

Between 1912 and 1932, over 5,000 schools were founded by Julius Rosenwald, then president of Sears Roebuck, in partnership with Booker T. Washington.

The Rosenwald Schools, built across the Southern United States in order to educate Black people despite segregation and Jim Crow laws. These days, preserving the legacy of Rosenwald School buildings such as Lee-Buckner, in Tennessee, is the battle that alumni and advocates face.

According to CNN, more than 5,000 schools were founded between the years of 1912 and 1932, their namesake being Sears Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald started the educational nonprofit initiative in partnership with Booker T. Washington, aiding in the academic foundation for Black children across the South.

Although less than 10% of these schools are still around today, Lee-Buckner, in Spring Hill, Tennessee, is set to be relocated to a historical site in Franklin, roughly 13 miles north of its original area. Its transition to the Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens will make it part of a $35 million capital campaign by the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, with plans set to open in 2025 for tour groups and visitors.

“I don’t think you can truly be authentic without telling the whole story,” stated Bari Beasley, president and CEO of the foundation. “And to be able to talk about it and have difficult conversations helps us all understand the world around us and how to make the world a better place.”

Graduates of the school, who include late Congressman John Lewis and poet Maya Angelou, are integral parts of maintaining its legacy in Black history and culture. The buildings are a physical reminder of the fight for one’s education in the midst of strife — one that’s being fought today, as many states face and battle the removal of Black history lessons.

“These schools became beacons of hope,” expressed Rachael Finch, a historian at the foundation. “One thing that African Americans craved and sought after the Civil War was access to education because access to education meant knowledge and power … to be able to propel oneself into place of prominence through owning a business, having a home, owning land.”

Now, with its newest placement in the historic site, Lee-Buckner will forever be enshrined as a place that ensured the education of Black students for generations.

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