Malvern Rosenwald School

11
City/Town: Malvern
Location Class: School
Year Built: 1929
Year Abandoned: 2003
Status: AbandonedEndangeredNational Register of Historic Places
Photographer: James Kirkendall

Background

Contrary to common belief, the education of many southern black Americans took place on southern plantations while many were slaves. Some masters allowed a few of their slaves to become skilled workers or artisans by permitting them to be apprentices or employees of craftsmen outside the plantation. In fact, it was quite profitable for the plantation to have a number of skilled slaves in order to avoid having to hire expensive mechanics, craftsmen, machinists, seamstresses, etc. Education was also taking place among the children, often without the master’s knowledge. Many of the children of the masters thought it quite amusing to play “school” and teach the slave children how to read and do math. To the children it was a game, but in actuality it was part of the beginning of the black education movement in the South after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. In fact, many slaves were able to use their talents and skills to gain their manumission, or to do enough work outside the plantation to buy their way out of slavery.

After the Emancipation Proclamation and the flight of the blacks to northern cities, many religious organizations and education-oriented groups realized the need for education among the black refugees. Plantation life had left many blacks unable to cope with life in the city or with finding jobs. Benevolent societies sprang up in cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia in 1862-1863. Together with church organizations, they provided food, clothing, religious leaders, money, and teachers for the newcomers. Church organizations were the leaders in the freedman’s school system in its beginning stages. At the forefront of the religious groups was the American Missionary Association, organized in 1849 to operate Christian missions and educational institutions at home and abroad. Other religious groups included The Baptist Church, North (or Home Mission Society), the Freedman’s Aid Society, and the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church; a great deal of the money and supplies these groups provided were dispensed through the Union Army. In March 1862, the New England Freedman’s Society, along with General Edward L. Pierce and numerous other educators, initiated the Port Royal Experiment. The Experiment involved developing the economy, directing blacks to economic independence, and organizing schools.

In 1863 the Freedman’s Inquiry Commission suggested the creation of a government agency to deal specifically with the care of the freedmen. In 1865 Congress passed an act creating the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, otherwise known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Bureau was useful because it committed the United States to the task of caring for the freedmen, and because it made that care a part of the official structure by which the South was being controlled. Even though the Freedmen’s Bureau was able to remedy many of the flaws of the relief programs for the freedmen, it was the strongly motivated individuals of the religious groups and benevolent organizations that were mainly responsible for the education of the blacks. These individuals were for the most part devout Christians and well-trained teachers from New England.

One of the zealous individuals that became one of the most significant figures in southern black education was Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald was quite successful as a businessman, but his philanthropic work has always overshadowed his financial success. He entered the clothing business in New York in 1878. In 1895 he invested $35,000 in the stock of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, and in less than thirty years it grew into $150,000,000. He became president of the mail-order firm in 1910 and then chairman in 1925. During the years Rosenwald was most active as a philanthropist, Sears and Roebuck expanded into the retail chain-store business, and he was actually absent from the company from 1916 to 1919. As early as 1910, Rosenwald was a trustee of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and made gifts on behalf of the rural school movement to the Institute, primarily through close contact with Booker T. Washington. His funds made possible the erection of sixteen YMCA buildings and one YMCA building for blacks. This stimulated gifts from others for similar projects in many cities in both the North and South, including the financial support for a large black housing project in Chicago. Rosenwald was active in a number of Jewish organizations and granted substantial financial support to the National Urban League. Also, he was appointed a member of the Council on National Defense and served as chairman of its committee on supplies.

In 1917 Rosenwald established the Julius Rosenwald Fund. This fund was destined to attract more money to the benefit of black education than any other philanthropic undertaking to this date. The fund’s broad purpose was for the betterment of mankind irrespective of race, but it was aimed more specifically at creating more equitable opportunities for black Americans. Unlike many charity organizations, the Rosenwald Fund was to only help a school if the community, blacks and whites alike, had raised some of the money themselves; however, the black community usually provided the labor. Rosenwald and the directors of his trust first directed their attention toward building rural schools, later toward high schools and colleges, and finally toward the providing of grants and fellowships to enable outstanding blacks and whites to advance their careers. Not only did the Rosenwald Fund help to build rural schools, it was also responsible for a number of buildings and libraries on college campuses. The directors of the trust were also involved to a certain extent in the direction of the curriculum at all levels of education. Their emphasis was on the educational needs of country children. They maintained that some vocational skills were necessary, as were the ability to do some math, to read and write clearly, to have some understanding of biological processes and farming, and to understand the fundamentals of sanitation and health.

State records indicate that when the fund ceased activity in 1948, it had aided in the building of 389 school buildings (schools, shops, and teachers’ homes) in 45 counties in Arkansas. The total amount contributed by the fund was $1,952,441. The state or counties owned and maintained all of the schools, and the land was usually donated by a white landowner. In Arkansas, R. C. Childress of Little Rock was the Rosenwald Building Agent. Childress was the first degree graduate of Philander Smith College and was the second black person to work for the state Education Department. He dedicated his life to education and, consequently, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff named Childress Hall for him, and the high schools in Wynne and Nashville were named for him.

School History

The Malvern Rosenwald School building was built in 1929. A total of $32,150 was allocated to Arkansas for the 1928-1929 budget year, which allowed the completion of 29 schools, three teachers’ homes, seven vocational shops, and three school additions comprising five classrooms. Of the 29 schools completed during that period, the Malvern Rosenwald School was one of two eight-room schools built. (The other eight-room school, Scipio Jones High School in North Little Rock, has since been demolished.)

The cost to construct the Malvern Rosenwald School was $18,450, and it was one of the most expensive schools constructed during the 1928-1929 budget cycle. Of the $18,450 cost of construction, $200 came from black contributions, $16,150 came from public funding, and the Rosenwald Fund gave a grant of $2,100.

The plan of the Malvern Rosenwald School did not use a standard plan offered by the Rosenwald Fund. However, buildings constructed using Rosenwald funds were not required to use the standard plans, as long as the plan used was approved by the fund. Still, the school did employ characteristics, notably an auditorium space, found in the school plans developed by Samuel Smith, who was the General Field Agent for the Rosenwald Fund. Smith recognized that school buildings often served as community centers, and he incorporated that ideal into his designs. He once wrote that, “the best modern school is one which is designed to serve the entire community for twelve months in the year…whenever possible a good auditorium, large enough to seat the entire community, should be erected in connection with every community school. If there are not sufficient funds for an auditorium, two adjoining classrooms with movable partitions may be made to serve this purpose.” The Malvern Rosenwald School was large enough for a separate auditorium, rather than using adjacent classrooms with a movable partition.

Smith was also very concerned with having the maximum amount of natural light get into the classrooms, especially since the rural areas where many of the buildings were built often did not have electricity. The Malvern Rosenwald School faces almost due east in order to allow east-west sunlight into the rooms. East-west sunlight allowed a more comfortable light (as opposed to an all-day exposure to southern sunlight), and also allowed for better ventilation since shades would not be needed to cover the windows all day long.

When the Malvern Rosenwald School initially opened in 1929, the building housed classes for first through ninth grades. However, by the 1939 fall semester, a group of Malvern’s black citizens had protested about the conditions that existed at the school, such as the teachers’ qualifications, the curriculum, and the lack of an opportunity for students to get a high school education in Malvern.

The Hot Spring County School Board took the protests of the citizens seriously, and instituted several changes to address their concerns. In 1942, tenth grade was added to the building with eleventh grade added the following year. By 1945 the school produced its first seven high school graduates.

In order to handle and meet the needs of the additional students, the school board also hired a new principal, Emma Peyton of Little Rock, and a new teacher, Hiram L. Tanner. As the new principal, Peyton’s first move was to reorganize and reactivate the PTA. To instill pride in the school and its programs, Peyton’s slogan was “It’s not my school, it’s not your school, it’s our school so let us make it the best school.” Peyton also established a hot lunch program, and the PTA led the way to get the dishes and cooking utensils necessary for the program. PTA volunteers cooked and served meals to an average of 250 students each day.

Tanner, on the other hand, in addition to his teaching duties, was given the mission of organizing boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. By the end of the season, several games had been played both in Malvern and in other communities. All of the home games were played on an outside court in the school yard, and it was the first year that Malvern played in the annual Junior High School District Tournament at Arkansas State A & M College in Pine Bluff (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).

Because of the additional students at the school, it also became necessary to enlarge the building to accommodate them. A new addition with several classrooms was constructed on the south end of the building. With its brick construction, large windows, and gable roof, the addition mimicked the architecture of the original building. (However, it was soon necessary to add a second addition to the building. The second addition, built c.1955, also reflected the original building in its use of brick construction and large windows, but employed a flat roof, a feature popular in school design of the period.)

By the 1941-1942 school year, Tanner had become principal of the school, and he requested ten students from the National Youth Administration (NYA) to do some minor work around the school. Each of the students was paid ten dollars a month for the work that they did. One of the projects completed was the cement sidewalk that led to the street in front of the building. The sidewalk not only involved the work of the NYA, but also involved the cooperation of the mayor, who was also school board president, and the Works Progress Administration, Public Works Administration, and the PTA.

The Malvern Rosenwald School was also important to the area’s black community during World War II. Tanner and Edward Bailey, principal of the Perla School, were put in charge of conducting the sugar ration program for all of the blacks in Hot Spring County, which they conducted from the Malvern School. Tanner and Bailey also enlisted three other teachers, a local businesswoman, and three students to help with the program. One of the students met people arriving at the school to receive their ration books. The students noted the names of the people along with the number of people in their immediate family. They were then given a number, and waited in the auditorium until their number was called. The system avoided having people wait in long lines, and allowed them to socialize instead.

By the early 1950s, it became apparent that a new high school was needed for Malvern’s black population, and the new Wilson High School opened in 1952. On February 29, 1952, the school board assigned an insurance value to the new building of $249,000, and the Malvern Rosenwald School was assigned a value of $40,000. After Wilson High School opened, the name of the Rosenwald School was changed to Tuggle Elementary School in honor of Sophronia Tuggle, a long time educator in the Malvern area.

It is likely that Tuggle Elementary School remained in use until c.1970 when integration affected schooling in Malvern. Wilson High School was closed as a result of integration in 1970, and it is likely that Tuggle was closed at the same time. However, the Malvern Rosenwald School building has remained a part of Malvern’s black community up to the present time.

Schools, especially Rosenwald Schools, along with churches were often the centerpieces of a community, and it was no exception in Malvern. The Malvern Rosenwald School was the center of life in this part of Malvern not only while it was a school, but for several years after. Even up until 2003, it served as the location for a Head Start program in the area, and today it houses programs of the Central Arkansas Development Council. As the only surviving Rosenwald School in Hot Spring County, the Malvern Rosenwald School is a rare and tangible reminder of the philanthropic legacy of Julius Rosenwald.

RESTORATION PROJECT

This old school is currently in progress of renovation, and this project is overseen by Henry Mitchell. Mitchell wants to see this property brought back to life, and you can help donate or give him a call at 501-818-9126 to see how you can help!

Read more at: Arkansas Preservation

11 Comments

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  3. The students met people arriving at the school to receive their ration books. The students noted the names of the people along with the number of people in their immediate family.

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  6. I'm glad the buildings are being restored. Abandoned buildings always make me sad, especially one with such a rich history. Even the more mundane buildings have much that can be recycled and reused.

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