The Rosenwald School building program of the early 20th century grew out of a vision for educational reform for African Americans initiated by Booker T. Washington, principal of the Tuskeegee University in Alabama. Washington developed a plan to educate African Americans in the south as part of his educational philosophy of advancing education for blacks across the country. Through his partnership with Julius Rosenwald, the CEO of Sears, Roebuck & Co., Washington developed a plan to fund and build schools in rural southern communities.
Rosenwald partially funded the construction of schools in these communities by matching funds raised by the communities themselves. The program resulted in the construction of more than 3,500 schools across 15 southern and southwestern states from 1906 to 1932. In Kentucky, 158 Rosenwald Schools and related educational buildings were constructed in the state, including 12 training schools, between 1917 and 1932.
The Kentucky Heritage Council is currently involved in the final phase of a research project of Kentucky Rosenwald Schools. The goals of this project include finding remaining Rosenwald Schools, determining their condition and assisting local communities with the preservation of these buildings.
Kentucky’s Rosenwald schools are an important legacy and their presence on our landscape reminds us of the African American experience in Kentucky, the universal quest for education, and the strength and perseverance of African Americans during a time blighted by the socioeconomic framework of the post-Civil War segregation period.