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The Cape Charles Rosenwald School: Getting Over the Hump

We are only a few generations away from a time when Black children in Cape Charles, Virginia walked past a white segregated school in town, to make it to "over the hump," to The Cape Charles Elementary School - a Rosenwald School.

"Over the hump" was in reference to the railroad bridge in the community, that led to the

The Cape Charles Rosenwald School

school - a Rosenwald School. Many Black students in America's "Black Belt" (and rural areas mostly in the south) benefited from the philanthropic endeavors of Mr. Julius Rosenwald, an immigrant who achieved wealth from his business, Sears & Roebuck. His partnership with Mr. Booker T. Washington, one of the greatest educators and thought leaders of his time, led to providing Black communities an access to an education from seed money through the Rosenwald Fund, guidance from Mr. Washington, public funding, and an investment from the Black community where each Rosenwald school was to be established.

Through purpose, passion, perseverance, they helped thousands of Black learners get "over the hump," by creating roughly 5,000 Rosenwald schools between 1918-1930's; nearly 400 of those schools were built in Virginia, with the majority of the schools located in North Carolina.

Sears & Roebuck has historically been known for their home designs in the 1900's, the

Caption: The auditorium

Rosenwald schools followed this characteristic in their development, as each school had a particular architectural design. The design of each school was determined by the capacity, staff, and grade levels to be taught in each building. The structure of the Cape Charles Rosenwald school is in relatively good shape, as it was made of brick, had multiple rooms, and even an auditorium.

Fisk University maintains a searchable database of Rosenwald schools where you can view images, analyze the funding for each school, and learn more about each of the each of the structures.

The Cape Charles Rosenwald school was a "Four Teacher Type" model structure, built in 1928. The Rosenwald Fund provided $1,800.00 in seed funding, the Black community invested $1,000.00, and the public provided $16,600.00 towards the construction of the school.

Beneath the Surface: Take a moment to reflect on the time period, the types of employment for Blacks living in Cape Charles during that time, a generation post emancipation. Imagine the challenges faced to secure funding from the public to secure funding for a Black school during the time the school was built.

The Cape Charles Rosenwald school was the center of the Black community, as it served as a gathering place during segregation where: community events, classes, basketball games, softball games, community dances, meetings and more. Students were taught with second-hand books, but received a first-class education from caring teachers - even the principal taught classes, and the school community was nurtured by their tight-knit village.

That village has come reunited under the leadership of Mrs. Tevya Griffin, founder of The Cape Charles Rosenwald School Restoration Initiative. One day while driving "over the hump," she noticed the building and inquired about it, only to learn of its deep roots in the Black community. Through seeking knowledge about the structure, she met Ms. Davis and learned that she was an alumnus of the school! "The Cape Charles Rosenwald School Restoration Initiative (CCRSRI) was established in 2012 as an alliance of alumni, faculty, and friends working to preserve the history of the Cape Charles Elementary School. In January 2019, CCRSRI purchased the school! Now we are working to rehabilitate the building. As a Rosenwald School, it remains on Preservation Virginia’s Most endangered Historical Places list and is treasured for its brick facade, a rare design feature among Rosenwald schools."

You, VBLM Villagers, have the opportunity to help protect this sacred Black space by supporting the Initiative and help the CCRSRI get "over the hump" by spreading the word, and contributing financially towards their goal of raising $2.5 million to restore the building and preserve its history.


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