Rosenwald school renovation effort at ECSU gets $350K grant


The historic Rosenwald Model Practice School at Elizabeth City State University is shown in this file photo from February. The building is to be renovated for use as a regional African-American museum.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The plan to renovate the Rosenwald School building and Principal’s House at Elizabeth City State University as centerpieces of a regional African-American heritage and culture center has gotten a $350,000 boost from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Melissa Stuckey, ECSU professor of history, said this week that the grant from the NEH will help accelerate creation of the Northeastern North Carolina African American Research and Cultural Heritage Center at ECSU. Stuckey is raising money for the grant’s required match. The project’s organizers also plan to raise $1.5 million to complete the renovation.

“We need to be raising the entire amount, and feel like we can do that,” Stuckey, who is the author of the NEH grant proposal, said in a statement included in a press release from the university.

Stuckey called the development of the center “a collaborative effort from various entities on campus.”

The goal of the renovation project, say organizers, is to create a resource center for researchers of African-American history as well as an interpretive site for the public, helping connect people to the rich history of black communities in the region.

When it was built with Rosenwald funding on what was then the campus of the Elizabeth City Colored Normal School in 1921, the “practice school” was the place where African-American college students learned the craft of teaching. Students enrolled at what then was known as the Normal School practiced their teaching skills on neighborhood children in the large frame building before taking jobs in the state’s then-segregated black schools.

The practice school building has been moved several times and gone on to serve a number of other functions — for a while it housed a cosmetology school before it became host to an ROTC center for student cadets enrolled at ECSU.

“There were 200 Rosenwald Schools in this region that we represent,” Stuckey said. “Our alumni of the Normal School were educated to teach in those schools.”

According to ECSU officials, the practice school building was funded through the Rosenwald Fund, the organization founded in 1919 by Sears, Roebuck and Co. Chief Executive Officer Julius Rosenwald to assist in the construction of community schools for black students in the South. Rosenwald Schools were built with grants from the Rosenwald Fund that were matched with funding from the black community where the school was built.

Three Rosenwald Schools, as the schools came to be called, were built in Pasquotank County. However, the Rosenwald School building on ECSU’s campus was the only one ever built on a college campus in North Carolina. Besides serving as a modern school for neighborhood children, the building was always operated as a training center for student teachers.

The Principal’s House is so named because it served as a residence for the university’s first chief officer, Peter W. Moore.

Project organizers are looking for artifacts from Rosenwald Schools and especially want to hear the stories of people who were educated in Rosenwald Schools in the area.

“We still have a generation of kids educated in those schools,” Stuckey said. “So yes, it’s urgent.”

The center for African American history, heritage, culture and learning will be unlike anything that currently exists in the region, according to Stuckey.

“We have an incredible opportunity to create a research center here,” Stuckey said in a statement released by the university. “We don’t have anything like that here.”

Donations are being accepted for the African-American Heritage Center and will be channeled through the ECSU Foundation.

The following is a list of former Rosenwald schools in the region as compiled by the N.C. Historic Preservation Office as of February 2017. 

According to the HPO, seven Rosenwald-funded schools and associated buildings were erected in Gates County. Of that number two remain: the former Corapeake School on N.C. Highway 32 in the Corapeake community and Reid’s Grove School on U.S. Highway 158 in the Gatesville Township.

In Chowan County, the only two of five Rosenwald-funded schools still standing are the St. John’s School on Indian Trail Road near Edenton and the Warren Grove Baptist Church & School on N.C. Highway 32 in the Valhalla community.

In Currituck County, three Rosenwald-funded schools were built. The only ones remaining are the Coinjock Rosenwald School on Caratoke Highway and the Coinjock Moyock Rosenwald School on Tulls Creek Road in Moyock.