Photo by Elaine Rackley
Margaret Rosser joined her husband, Locust Grove City Councilman James Rosser, for a tour of the old Unity Grove School. She attended the school in the second grade.
The effort by local preservationists to restore the old Unity Grove schoolhouse is going into high gear.
The school was built in the 1930s, and was one of the original Rosenwald schools, constructed to educate black children in the South. Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, then chief executive officer of Sears Roebuck and Co., and educator Booker T. Washington established a partnership that made the schools possible.
Elise Hill, a researcher of genealogy, has launched an effort to solidify the preservation efforts by finding students who attended Unity Grove in the 1930s through the 1950s. Hill played a key role in sparking interest in preserving the Henry County Rosenwald school.
Hill said well-known author James Weldon Johnson, who penned the lyrics to the what has been adopted as the national black anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” taught a summer session at the old Unity Grove school.
“One of my projects has been the Rosenwald schools,” Hill said. “I'm doing historical research on all of the Rosenwald schools in Henry County.” As part of her research, Hill is working to gather oral history from Rosenwald students, teachers, their family members or anyone else with knowledge, information, pictures, newspaper articles, and any other items.
“My ultimate goal is to form a Henry County Rosenwald Alumni group, have a reunion/gathering, and have this group also become an advocate with the preservation of this building,” said Hill.
Rosenwald schools in 15 Southern states have been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At the turn of the century, one in three African-Americans were educated at one of the Rosenwald schools, according to Jeanne Cyriaque, African-American Programs Coordinator of the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Some 5,357 Rosenwald schools were built throughout the South, including 259 in Georgia. Unity Grove is one of 51 Rosenwald schools still standing.
Hill and Cyriaque are planning to attend an upcoming Rosenwald School Conference planned for Tuskegee University in June. Anyone interested in participating in the Rosenwald schools research can contact Hill at (678) 583-8596.