MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — Two pieces of history stand about 100 yards away from each other on a rural road in Somerville.
Found on Terry Lynn Circle is a 200-year-old church and an original Rosenwald School.
“This church has survived storms, tornadoes, I mean, it’s survived so much,” longtime St. John Missionary Baptist Church member Lynette Burton said. “I think the late 80s, it was just a frame. It didn’t have a kitchen, not even a toilet.”
Thanks to donors and community funding, the church was remodeled in the 90s. It even survived vandalism back in October 2021.
Now, four months later, Burton says they are trying to move forward from the incident.
While the church is remaining strong, just a hundred yards away, another piece of history stands tall. That building is one of the original Rosenwald Schools.
“Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute, formed a friendship and they actually did a pilot and built six schools in Alabama. There were hundreds of thousands of African American children that didn’t have access to education,” Burton said.
Rosenwald Schools became a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one-third of the South’s rural black school children and teachers were served by Rosenwald Schools by 1928.
“It’s still standing. It’s in the middle of nowhere,” Burton told News 19.
The building in the middle of nowhere is filled with history and stories. After some digging, Burton found out there is only one living trustee of the schoolhouse, her father Curtis J. Burton.
“My dad and his brother, they walked two miles round trip to come to this school,” Burton explained. She gets to hear stories from her dad’s childhood and retell them.
Now, they’re both on a mission to preserve the building that created those stories for so many.
Burton said, “When the children vandalized the church, we raised thousands and thousands of dollars. I know dad and me, we had $17,443.17 just touch our hands and then we had the GoFundMe.”
That fundraising tool raised over $13,000.
“The insurance paid the church out, and plus we turned in the $17,000 to the officials so the church had all they needed but here we are with money. And I’m like, ‘Dad, let’s restore the schoolhouse!'” Burton explained. “What I want to do is have a museum.”
Burton said this about more than just the Somerville area.
“This is not just Morgan County,” she added. “This is bigger than Morgan County. This is Alabama. This is American history.”
Burton says her vision is big and hopes to one day invite schoolchildren, elders, and alum to visit the museum and learn about the historical significance.
The next step, Burton says, in preserving this piece of history is raising funds for the restoration. She is currently in contact with architects to overview the building.
With around 400 Rosenwald Schools built in the state, she believes there are many people who remember attending one. She is encouraging anyone who studied at one of the schools to contact her, so she can start a database. She hopes to share the experience and the stories inside the museum.
To contact Lynette Burton, 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 P.O. Box 333, Somerville, AL. She also has a family business found at 141 Broad Street in Somerville where you can drop off checks. She asks you make it out to Kidz Table Inc.
There is also a GoFundMe created that you can find called “Alabama Rosenwald School Restoration.” They have a goal set at $750,000.