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Past may show path to future

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In the front row are: (from left) Reverend Joseph Haden Sr., David I Greenberg, Mary Fleming, Calvin Hopkins, Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, Rush Pace, Dr. Ken Lipstock, and Martha Cohen; 2nd Row (from left) David Winston, Julia Price, Lil Tyler, Dr. Richard Carchman, Gail Smith, Ruby Murrell and Pastor Stevie Trent Sr.

By Martha Cohen

“Education means emancipation.”

Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears quoted Frederick Douglas at the Richmond Jewish Coalition and Second Union Rosenwald School Museum (SURSM) celebration of the collaboration of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington that created over 5,000 modern schoolhouses to serve African American children across the segregated South.

The audience, filled with former students, members of both the Richmond Jewish Coalition and SURSM, the surrounding community, and special guests all nodded in agreement with the keynote speaker whose words took on special meaning considering the historical legacy of the one-room schoolhouse located in Goochland County.

Even those who attended the school marveled that the partnership, begun in 1911, was responsible for educating a third of the South’s African American children by the time segregation ended.  The schoolhouse averted destruction in 2005 when alumni came together to convert their cherished school into a museum where visitors hear first-hand accounts from those that attended.

Though the front page of the “New York Times” read, “Rosenwald Dead, Nation Mourns Him” in 1932, and Booker T. Washington was so admired that even Teddy Roosevelt hosted him at the White House, most have no knowledge of the tremendous impact they had on countless lives.  Washington, the former slave and revered educator, created the educational components and class structure.  Rosenwald, the engine behind the Sears department stores’ remarkable success, was the originator of the matching funds prototype, making the local community, government, and families have, as Sears put it, “skin in the game.”

Dr. Ken Lipstock, co-founder of the Richmond Jewish Coalition, said, “I am certain that Mr. Washington, a former slave living in the bitterly racist south, and Mr. Rosenwald, a Jew living in an age when antisemitism ran rampant, didn’t look at themselves as victims but as victors in their own lives.  They believed that everyone had the ability to follow their dreams if given the opportunity for a solid education.”

Calvin Hopkins, president of the SURSM Board, one of many local alumni, spoke with deep affection about his teacher, Ms. Fannie Beale, who “would give you an assignment and you would have to tell her what you read the next day.”

He credited her emphasis on reading comprehension for his success on the entrance exam that led to a career in the Air Force.  Board member Gail Smith shared with joy, “everybody wanted to come to school.” There wasn’t indoor plumbing, or even heat – the boys had to bring wood in to burn when it became cold, but that didn’t matter.  They were inspired by Ms. Beale and learned that achievement took dedication and discipline, all which served her well in her corporate career in New York City.  Other alumni echoed the positive impact the school had on the trajectory of their lives.

Mrs. Ruth Cooke-Johnson, beloved substitute teacher now 95, returned the affection but expressed sadness for the lack of discipline, respect and excitement for learning today, key elements woven into the fabric of the Second Union experience. Sears spoke of asking students in a new school years before about what inspired them to come. She was met with silence but for a seventh grader named William who replied, “I’m just glad that I get to live to see another day.”

Ms. Stephanie Deutsch, a Rosenwald schools author said, “they were pragmatic men.  Build community by working together for the shared good.  This is a roadmap for the future, this is how community happens.”

Sears expressed hope that this century old paradigm might provide a path to repair the current system. “This is such a beautiful example of what can come out of partnership.”

For information on The Richmond Jewish Coalition, please call 804-562-9172.

The Second Union Rosenwald School Museum is located at 2843 Hadensville-Fife Road, Goochland 23063

For further information: 804-457-3132.

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