SOMERVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – One woman in Morgan County is working to preserve a piece of American history on a rural road in Somerville.
If you take a turn on Terry Lynn Circle in Somerville, you’ll stumble across a building that’s slowly falling apart.
That building is an original Rosenwald school, born out of a partnership between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald.
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one-third of the South’s rural Black school children and teachers were served by these schools by 1928.
“You had no interaction with white students – none. They had a really nice school, we had just a little two-room school stuck back off in the field,” Walter Rooks, a Lacey Springs Elementary student, told News 19.
“We would get a whipping with a switch if you did wrong,” St. John Elementary School student, Curtis Burton Sr., told News 19. “You had to have your shoes shined, a Bible verse every day, and you had to have a handkerchief in your pocket – the handkerchief was for if you were out with a girl and she sat on the bench, she’d have something to sit on.”
They even had to walk to school.
“If you were on time, you could catch the bus and ride with your schoolteacher to school. She also rode the bus. She encouraged you to be on time because if you were late, you’d have to stand in the corner on one foot for a while,” St. John Elementary School student Marvelene Faulk told News 19.
Back then, many of these schools were not documented as Rosenwald Schools and were hidden in fear of lynching. The building on Terry Lynn Circle, known as St. John Elementary to some, is just one of hundreds in Alabama.
“It’s in really bad shape, but you can still see. There were a lot of steps going up – I didn’t count them, but there were about eight or 10 steps going up to the school,” replied Faulk.
“Me and my daughter hang around down there sometimes,” added Burton Sr.
Burton’s daughter, Lynette Burton Brown, says her father is the only living trustee of the schoolhouse. She told News 19 that she’s fighting to preserve this piece of history.
“If we could just find a celebrity or athlete that wouldn’t mind and has ties to Alabama that would do this for their grandfather or great-grandfather because more than likely, they did attend a Rosenwald School,” Kidz Table Inc. Founder Lynette Burton Brown told News 19.
A GoFundMe has been set up, but they need more money.
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“We’re asking for federal dollars right now because we need real money,” replied Burton Brown.
If you walk around the building and into the woods, Burton Brown says you’ll see where the bathrooms were located for the students. She also says there are structures still standing to this day, and is working to figure out what they were.
“This is a hidden treasure. This is a story that needs to be told,” said Burton Brown.
As Burton Brown and her father work to restore this piece of history, she hopes it’ll serve as a museum for schoolchildren, elders, and alum to visit and learn about the historical significance.
Over 400 Rosenwald Schools were built in the state, and Burton Brown believes there are many who remember attending one. She’s encouraging anyone who studied at one of the schools to reach out to her so she can add it to her database.
“‘You can’t prove that it is a Rosenwald School, you can’t prove that.’ Well, there were many schools, there were over 400 schools in Alabama – 5,000 throughout the South. No, they were not documented but I have my documentation. You will have to come to that museum and see all the proof that I have,” added Burton Brown.
Burton Brown says they’re planning to host the “Julius Washington for Education Walk” this spring. The walk will be around two miles, the same distance students had to walk to the school back then, and walkers will be rewarded with peach cobbler at the end!
To contact Lynette Burton Brown, you can reach out to her through her nonprofit Kidz Table Inc. The email is email@example.com and the contact number is (256) 318-2106.
You can send donations to a family business found at 141 Broad Street in Somerville. Burton Brown asks you to make it out to Kidz Table Inc.