Julius Rosenwald High School in Northumberland County has been listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register since December 2022. DHR’s register historian provides a brief summary of the former school’s historical significance.
By Lena McDonald
Northumberland County has one of the largest African American schools to be built in part using a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a philanthropic effort from 1917-1932 that focused on improving educational facilities for Black students during the Jim Crow segregation era. The little-altered building that housed Julius Rosenwald High School preserves in exquisite detail the typical finishes and fixtures of a Rosenwald school in Virginia.
The former high school, closed in 1958, today stands as one of the few known two-story Rosenwald schools in all of the American South that is still in its original state. Construction of the school began between 1916 and 1919 with monies raised by the African American community and a donation by the Rosenwald Fund. The school’s opening provided mostly industrial educational opportunities for generations of African American students from the Reedville (Berryville) area and from towns across Northumberland County as far away as 30 miles or more. As the only training/secondary public school for African American students in Northumberland County, this property’s significance in opening the world of education to the African American community cannot be understated. The school opened as a six-teacher learning facility complete with a library. Several years later a business teacher was hired and held classes in the main building. Later the complex was enlarged with the addition of three more buildings and three more teachers (science, home economics and agriculture). Today, the 2½-story building is one of only a few surviving Tuskegee Institute-designed buildings as envisioned by Booker T. Washington, who died in 1915 and never saw one of his 2½-story school plans erected outside of Alabama.
Following its closure in 1958, the building was preserved for decades by the local family who acquired the land on which it stands. While active farming occurred all around the building, the school itself remained as a local landmark. Today, the Julius Rosenwald School Foundation is dedicated to repairing the building and returning it to active use. During the spring of 2021, Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-01), announced he had called on U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to include the Julius Rosenwald High School in a study of selected school sites to determine the suitability and feasibility of designating the sites as a unit of the National Park System. This study is a requirement from the Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools Act of 2020, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2020. More information about the study is available here.
Read more about Julius Rosenwald High School here.
Updated: February 24, 2023