The Rosenwald rural school building program which began in 1912 was a major effort to improve the quality of public education for African Americans in the early 20th-century South. By 1928, one in every five rural schools for black students in the South was a Rosenwald school, and these schools housed one third of the region’s black school children. The Pine Grove School is an original Rosenwald School built in 1923.
The Rosenwald School Project was, at the time, the country’s best answer to improving the poor state of education for blacks in the rural South in the early 1900s. The goal of the project was to provide black children with safe, purpose-built, school buildings. Most southern counties provided few or no public school building for African American students. Therefore, they had to attend school in dilapidated structures with few amenities other than makeshift desks and benches.
Built in 1923, Pine Grove School is the last remaining Rosenwald School in Richland County. Through funding secured from the South Carolina Community Competitive Grant Program, Richland County Conservation Commission, and the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Preservation Fund through the Richland County Recreation Foundation, the Commission has worked diligently to restore the school to its original configuration and successfully created a historic community gathering place. In 2009, the school received its National Register designation and just recently received a Historic Preservation Award from the Historic Columbia Foundation.
The Richland County Recreation Commission will use the restoration of the Pine Grove School as an opportunity to educate the residents of Richland County about the historic integrity of our area and the need to preserve and acknowledge the historic landmarks that we have. Through the Pine Grove Rosenwald Restoration Project citizens will become educated about the significance of the school and the need to preserve our area’s treasures. Pine Grove will serve as an example of how history can successfully be restored, and in turn bolster community interest in local preservation initiatives.
History of the Pine Grove Rosenwald School (circa. 1923-53)
In 1912, Julius Rosenwald gave Booker T. Washington permission to use money he had donated to Tuskegee Institute for the construction of six small schools in rural Alabama, which were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914. Pleased with the results, Rosenwald then agreed to fund a larger program for schoolhouse construction based at Tuskegee.
By 1928, one in every five rural schools for black students in the South was a Rosenwald school, and these schools housed one third of the region’s rural black schoolchildren and teachers. At the program’s conclusion in 1932, it had produced new schools, teachers’ homes, and shop buildings in 883 counties of 15 states.
The Pine Grove School, built in 1923, was one of 15 other Rosenwald Schools constructed in Richland County. It is believed to be the only one still standing. Communities were given half the funds to build the school and they had to raise the other half. This was not an easy task for poor, rural black families, but because they felt so strongly about their children’s education, they did everything they could to raise the money. They sold quilts and other items, some provided labor and materials, while others even donated family land.
The total cost to build the Pine Grove School was $2,500, which was composed of contributions from the Rosenwald Fund, $700, the white community, $315, the black community, $285, and the public contribution was $1,200.
After the school was closed, the community raised money — $20 from each family — to purchase the land from the public school district. They used the building to hold community events and meetings.
In 2004, the community deeded the property and building to the Richland County Recreation Commission so that the building could eventually be restored to its original form.
With the assistance of University of South Carolina graduate student, Kevin Fogle, an application was submitted to the South Carolina State Board of Review for nomination of the school to the National Register of Historic Places (June 2008). The State Board voted to nominate Pine Grove and the school was deemed an historic site by the National Register of Historic places on January 29, 2009.
Since the Richland County Recreation Commission acquired the property, the Richland County Recreation Foundation has been awarded $144,000 to fund the restoration project. The Richland County Conservation Commission has awarded $94,000 and the Lowe’s Foundation granted $50,000 in March of 2009.