At the beginning of the 20th century, the educator and reformer Booker T. Washington collaborated with his staff at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) to envision a project to construct primary schools for Black students in the rural South. To bolster this project, Washington obtained the economic aid of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., and the Rosenwald Fund was initiated in 1917. This program used matching grants, extensive fundraising, and detailed school blueprints to expand the presence of rural schoolhouses for Black students in the South. While the Rosenwald Fund increased access to education in the rural South for Black children, the schools, adhering to the Jim Crow laws of the time, were segregated.
The Julius Rosenwald Fund Schoolhouse Construction Map, July 1, 1932. This map shows the location of more than 5,000 buildings that were built with the help of the Rosenwald Fund. North Carolina had the most schools of any state. Credit: Julius Rosenwald Fund Archives, Fisk University.
There were 26 Rosenwald Schools constructed in Mecklenburg County between 1918 and 1929. The Siloam School, named for the Siloam (or Salome) Presbyterian Church, was not one of the schools that received Rosenwald funding; however, the school benefitted from the 1924 release of the Community School Plans, which made high-quality blueprints available for public use by both white and Black schools. The Siloam School used the Community School Plan No. 1-A, a plan consisting of a single classroom for a single teacher, an industrial room, and two cloakrooms. The door to the school faced north as the plan required, and the original building had six windows—three on each side—to allow plenty of natural light to filter into the building due to its lack of electricity.
Although the publication of the Community School Plans made it easier for the public to construct rural schoolhouses, many Rosenwald-era schools would not exist without the private funding of Black communities. Some scholars argue that the widely used philanthropic tool of the matching grant was troublesome because it capitalized on double taxation. Double taxation, as described by historian James D. Anderson, corresponded with white supremacist efforts to hinder Black children from receiving an education as taxes paid by Black people were allocated to the funding of white public schools, making the private contributions of Black people necessary to fund their public schools. And because there’s no evidence of the Siloam School receiving Rosenwald funding, the significant grassroots fundraising effort it took to build this one-room schoolhouse are all the more impressive.
Front and rear view of Siloam School in its current location off Mallard Creek Church Road. Credit: Photo by Joshua Komer, The Charlotte Museum of History.
The Second World War brought about the obsolescence of one-room schoolhouses like Siloam as it heightened the effort to consolidate schools. Consequently, on June 5, 1944, Siloam students were permitted to transfer to the Newell School, a three-room Rosenwald School, by the Mecklenburg County Board of Education. By April 1947, the Superintendent advertised the sale of the Siloam School building and site, so the school had ceased operations around the mid-1940s. On March 14, 1950, the Board agreed to sell the Siloam building and site to Nelson Young, the school’s former caretaker, for $550.00. The school was then adapted into a home for the Young family. Eventually it became an auto-repair shop after Nelson and his wife Cora relocated to the city and passed ownership of the building to their son, Reverend James Young, a former Siloam student. Currently, the Siloam School is surrounded by an apartment complex that was constructed after the property was sold to a developer in the early 2000s, and the Charlotte Museum of History is leading the effort to preserve and restore the school into a community space through the Save Siloam School Project.
To learn more about the Rosenwald Schools, check out Fact Friday 200 - The Rosenwald Schools.
The Museum’s new exhibit “Siloam School” is now open. Find visiting information and tickets at charlottemuseum.org.
Until next week,
Queens University of Charlotte Undergraduate Student
Summer Intern, The Charlotte Museum of History
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“Save Siloam School Project,” The Charlotte Museum of History
J. Murray Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives at UNC Charlotte
James Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860 – 1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988).
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“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass