Booker T. Washington’s vision of creating an educational system for black students in the early 1900s was funded by businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.
The Rosenwald Fund donated millions of dollars to promote black technical and vocational education in the South and established more than 360 schools in Virginia between 1917 and 1932.
Nine of these one- and two-room schools were in Caroline County.
This school year, Caroline Public Schools added lessons about the county’s early black education system to its curriculum for the first time, beginning in grade five.
This is part of a school system effort to implement local history lessons covering six categories: historical events; education; economy and agriculture; government; important personalities; and geography.
Teachers covered bits of local history, from the capture of Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth in Port Royal to the groundbreaking Richard and Mildred Loving case that ended interracial marriage laws in the states -United.
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“The feedback from teachers and students has been wonderful,” said CCPS Education Specialist Rebecca Schieber. “The sense of pride children have about where they live is also very important. I think that helped instill that.
The school system coordinated with the Carolina Historical Society, the Port Royal Museum, the county branch of the NAACP, and other community partners to help form the program.
Local historian Susan Sili organized a guided tour of Bowling Green for the teachers as they stopped at the county courthouse as well as the Shiloh Baptist Church on Main Street, one of the churches that have helped establish the education system for blacks in the county.
The program also includes a lesson on Jericho School, a one-room schoolhouse for blacks that was built in the Carmel Church area in 1917. The school replaced an old log building that stood on the same property. The school was not built with Rosenwald funds, but has a similar layout to his schools.
Students also learned about the effects of segregation during the second half of the 20th century and how the Carolina school system continues to develop today.
The curriculum teaches that Carolina schools were segregated from 1903 to 1969, and that Union High School—the county’s black high school during segregation—began as a private high school called Bowling Green Industrial Academy. It was created and supported by the Carolina Sunday School Union and provided more than a rudimentary education. It then became a training school for black teachers before becoming an approved public high school.
“Our main goal was to connect Caroline to the larger history of our nation,” Schieber said.
Caroline NAACP President Lydell Fortune recently gave a presentation to the high school African American history class.
CCPS history education specialist Courtney Lander said incorporating local history as a basis for starting the school year makes learning more interesting for students and also inspires their parents who have roots in the count.
“I think when you start learning this way, it makes it more approachable and accessible to students and results in better student engagement,” Lander said. “If it’s something they can identify with on a personal level and lend their voice to it, then their voices also become part of the story. I think that’s great.
Students also learned about the Triple Crown Racehorse Secretariat, the establishment of Fort AP Hill in 1941, explorers Merriweather Lewis and William Clark and York, the slave who traveled with them.
They looked at Edmund Pendleton, one of the nation’s founding fathers, who was born and raised in Carolina, as well as John Penn, another county-born founding father.
They discussed the two fires that engulfed the town of Bowling Green in the 1950s.
Lander said one mission was particularly intriguing for the students. They created bobblehead characters of important people in Caroline’s history. Richard and Mildred Loving were a popular choice, but other historical figures were also recognized.
Elementary students also conducted videotaped interviews with longtime county residents, educators and historians to learn how Caroline developed over the years.
“We were brainstorming together and thought it would be nice for the kids to ask the elders in our county about what they went through,” teacher Cindy Honeycutt said. “The children asked them what they had seen over the years, what they thought of the county, even if they wanted to talk about segregation and integration. I started thinking that might be really cool.
Longtime Caroline educator Sharon Brown-Scott was interviewed by students about growing up in the county in the late 1950s through the late 1970s. Brown-Scott also spoke about how his father was one of the first black businessmen in the county as the owner of Brown’s Gas on US 1 near Ladysmith.
“It was indeed a pleasure to work with the students under Ms. Honeycutt’s guidance,” Brown-Scott said. “The students were great and professional. Their interest in the story was aroused and I really enjoyed the interaction.
Fortune said it’s promising that the county’s NAACP and schools are strengthening their partnership. He said CCPS has made a concerted effort to tell a story that is inclusive of the county’s history and to build relationships within the community.
He noted that the school system also supported the NAACP’s Black History Month essay contest.
“I’m glad the line of communication is open,” Fortune said. “I really think their willingness to partner up is in good faith.”
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526