Preservationists and alumni unveiled a new historical marker Saturday at a newly restored elementary school built in 1933.
The Morven Rosenwald Alumni Association has been working for more than a decade to renovate and restore the Barney Colored Elementary School, a building off of Highway 76 that was erected thanks to a 1913 partnership between African-American community leader Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, that led to the construction of more than 5,000 schools, teachers’ homes and shops along the eastern seaboard and the Deep South, said Gerald Golden, Morven Rosenwald Alumni Association chairman.
The school-construction idea sprung from what Washington and Rosenwald believed to be the underfunding of educational efforts aimed at African-American children, children who were required to attend segregated schools, said Golden.
Classes began at the Barney Colored Elementary School in 1933, teaching students from first through sixth grade. The school ceased operation in 1959.
By 2001, the building had decayed from decades of disuse. A tree had even grown into the side of the building. There were six Rosenwald project buildings in Brooks County, but the the Barney Colored Elementary School and a building in Crossroads are the only buildings that have not disappeared over time.
The Morven Rosenwald school was one of the buildings that no longer existed, but the school’s alumni association looked to the Barney school as a restoration project and acquired the building in 2006 with the plan to preserve it as a community center.
“Through your faith in God, all things are possible,” said Golden, “And that’s what directs us.”
Golden shared that paraphrase of a verse from the book of Philippians at the unveiling of the historical marker, a verse he learned as a student at the Rosenwald school in Morven.
The Morven school’s alumni association has held numerous fundraisers and events to raise the $278,000 needed to restore the Barney building. Their efforts, combined with assistance from the Department of Natural Resources and a grant from the Loews Corporation, made the restoration possible, said Jeanne Cyriaque with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The text on the historical marker recognizes the school’s origins as a philanthropic project during segregation and its Progressive-era design emphasis on lighting and ventilation to make the classrooms functional and comfortable without the need for electricity.
Christy Crisp, director of programs for the Georgia Historical Society, said she hopes the marker and the school’s restoration serves as a reminder of the vast contributions that African-Americans have made to American society.
Historical Marker Text
“Barney Colored Elementary School was part of the Rosenwald school building program that matched funds from philanthropist Julius Rosenwald with community donations to build rural Southern schools during the era of segregation. An example of a ‘community school plan,’ it included large banks of windows, and industrial room, and sliding partition doors to accommodate larger school and community gatherings. This combined a Progressive-era design emphasis on lighting and ventilation with educator Booker T. Washington’s focus on community development and industrial training for rural African Americans. The school operated from 1933 to 1959, serving first through sixth grade students. One of six Rosenwald projects in Brooks County, Barney served as a feeder school to the Morven Rosenwald School. In 2006, the Morven Rosenwald Alumni Association, Inc. acquired the building and preserved it for community use.”