August 14th, 2012
10:18 AM ET

Saving Rosenwald's Schools

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN

Cassville, Georgia (CNN) - Tuesday through Saturday Marian Coleman goes to work at her old elementary school. Her husband jokes she's there more often than she's at home.

Coleman serves as the curator for the Nobel-Hill Wheeler Memorial Center. It's a modest museum in a restored 1920s-era building that served as an educational oasis for African-American students during segregation. After integration, the building sat empty and in disrepair until the community raised funds to restore it and create a museum:

[:41] "It's part of our history so we can look back and see where we came from really and see how far we've progressed," Coleman says.

Coleman attended classes here in the 1950s when it was just one of several thousand similar schools. All shared similar design elements and all were built as a collaboration between the communities and the philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald. Stephanie Deutsch married a descendant of Rosenwald and has written a book about the schools.

[3:10] "The Rosenwald Schools were a real safe haven."

Coleman agrees. Looking back on her time at the school she recalls playing games and singing songs. Serving as the curator though she hears stories of people who suffered greatly during segregation:

[3:46] "To me it's helpful it's helped me to learn some things that I didn't know when I was growing up that were happening during that time and it's really helping to educate me too."

For her part, Deutsch hopes that people will learn about the contributions African-Americans made to our country even during bleak chapters of history. Like Booker T. Washington who collaborated with Rosenwald to make the schools a reality.

[4:03] "I would really like to see enhanced appreciation for what African-Americans have contributed to our country.  It's quite remarkable.  We owe them a great deal."

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