SOUTH MILLS — Since 1996, the Rosenwald Community Center has been a place where Camden County residents gather with guests for family reunions, wedding receptions, senior citizen birthday parties and assorted public meetings.
Residents are especially comfortable at the site given its historical significance to South Mills. This land once held a school created to serve black children during segregation. Years later, the unoccupied structure fell into disrepair. In 1996, the community center was constructed on the site, luring people to celebrations and meetings where everyone was welcome.
On June 8, a roadside marker will be unveiled to commemorate McBride Colored School, which was built in 1926. The ceremony begins at 1 p.m. and is expected to include former students, a former teacher, residents who have worked diligently to maintain the history of the school and supporting Camden County commissioners. It is located near the intersection of N.C. Highway 343 North and Bunker Hill Road.
The school resulted from a remarkable venture launched by philanthropist and educator Julius Rosenwald.
Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company more than a century ago, is credited with collaborating with communities across the south to construct over 5,300 buildings, most were schools to educate black youths. The North Carolina Museum of History reports North Carolina constructed 813 Rosenwald buildings, more than any other state. Booker T. Washington, an educator and civil rights leader, informed Rosenwald of the dire educational opportunities for rural black children. Rosenwald, the son of a German-Jewish immigrant, earned a reputation for his philanthropic projects. Early in the 1900s, he set out to construct suitable schools for black children. McBride Colored School functioned in Camden for decades and housed its last students in the 60’s.
LeVon Scott, who retired from a job in Virginia law enforcement after a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, settled down in Camden County and was amazed to learn from neighbors, Jacob Mitchell and his daughter Chiquita Mitchell, the story of McBride Colored School and the Rosenwald school program. The Mitchells have worked with many residents over the years to support the community center and to preserve the history of the school. Thanks to an anonymous donor, residents and the Camden County Commission, funds were recently secured to cover the cost of the roadside marker scheduled to be unveiled June 8.
“We look forward to welcoming people from near and far to attend the ceremony and celebrate the unveiling of this marker,” Scott said. “This marker acknowledges the importance of that school in the rural south. Schools like these were the cornerstone of African American students getting a decent education. At that time, black children were not getting a full education, not getting an accredited teacher in the classroom.”
Scott said he is in awe of Washington and Rosenwald’s achievement, their spark to the flame of public education with the construction of Rosenwald buildings.
“I thought this school needed to be recognized,” Scott said. “NC 343 is getting busier as more people drive this route to connect to other roads and drive to the Outer Banks. This marker is a way to preserve North Carolina history for other generations to know proud people tried to persevere and do best they could in with the conditions they were given. We appreciate the help and contributions of everyone involved.”
For more information on North Carolina Rosenwald Schools visit the website of the North Carolina Museum of History: https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/rosenwald-schools-north-carolina.