By Emma Castleberry
In Chicago in 1911, two men met who would go on to change the course of history for education access: Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co. “Together, they built almost 6,000 schools in the south for children of color, back in the day when it was pretty much unheard of,” says Fatimah’ Shabazz, co-chair of the Rosenwald Collaborative and coordinator of alumni and families for the Friends of Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School. “It verifies that coming together with others can create a lot of good.”
The Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School (MHARS), located in the Long Ridge community, was recently renovated and will serve as a community cultural center and interpretive museum intended to promote a fuller understanding of Southern Appalachian Black History and to enhance education at all levels. To that end, the Rosenwald Collaborative is hosting a series of events in the spring and summer that will acknowledge alumni and families of the school, culminating in a major Homecoming/Family Reunion in September featuring a speech by Kenneth B. Morris, a direct descendent of both Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglas.
The Rosenwald Collaborative is co-chaired by Shabazz, Sally Gooze and Supt. Ronald Gates of the Greater Works Church of God in Christ. Gooze serves on the social action committee at Congregation Beth Israel. She first learned of the Rosenwald schools after reading Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World by Hasia R. Diner. This led her to partner with Shabazz and Gates to support the MHARS and spread awareness about the achievements of Rosenwald and Washington. “It’s important for us to discuss this significant history between a Jewish philanthropist and an important African American educator,” Gooze says, “to show young people the importance of a collaboration between people and community involvement willing to raise money for education.”
Upcoming events begin with a screening of the film Rosenwald by Aviva Kempner on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. at Greater Works Church of God in Christ, in Asheville. On Sunday, May 22, at 10 a.m. at Congregation Beth Israel, there will be a presentation by Andrew Feiler, who for three years researched and photographed Rosenwald Schools across the country. Later that day, at 7 p.m., Feiler will present on the book that culminated from his project: A Better Life for Their Children. On Saturday, May 28, at Mars Hill University, there will be a performance by the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre at 3 p.m. and an Appalachian, Native and African jam session at 5:30 p.m. Many more events are planned for June and beyond.
“The collaboration of Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald was forged on unity, love and concern for my fellow brother, instead of looking at one’s color,” says Supt. Gates. “They overcame a lot of obstacles to make sure that education was provided for all. The love of these two men and the vision that was galvanized, that has really touched me.”
To learn more, visit Malaprops.com/rosenwald-school-events.