A former “Rosenwald school” on the Elizabeth City State University campus that served as a training facility for black teachers could play a key part in college recruitment and genealogy research.
Students at what was then called Elizabeth City State Colored Normal School took classes on campus and then walked across the road to where the white, wooden building used to sit to hone their skills in instructing children.
The university plans to renovate the schoolhouse and turn it into a museum and research center for black history and genealogy, said Russ Haddad, special assistant to the chancellor and a project manager.
“With this, we can be specific with our particular history,” he said.
The university will seek grants and donations for the project. The search is on for vintage school furniture and books, Haddad said. Symposiums on black history could be held there, and the university could use it as a tool to recruit students.
Donations from then-Sears, Roebuck and Co. CEO Julius Rosenwald – who financed hundreds of schools for black citizens in the South – plus local fundraising in the black and white communities built the school in the 1920s for $6,800.
It served as a training school for black teachers for about 20 years. Later, the building was moved a few hundred feet to its current location. The university ROTC program uses the facility now.
Students could go from first grade through high school attending the practice school, then earn a teaching certificate from the Normal School and later an undergraduate diploma after the institution became a four-year college, according to a history submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.
The university began in 1892 with 69 students and two instructors in a rented building on the outskirts of town. Its purpose was to train desperately needed black teachers. The first principal, Peter W. Moore, and Pasquotank County native Nathan Newbold lobbied for money to expand the facilities.
Newbold was the state agent of rural schools in 1913 and later became the state’s director of the Division of Negro Education, said Glen Bowman, an ECSU history professor.
“The average Negro schoolhouse is really a disgrace to an independent, civilized people,” Newbold said in a document provided by Bowman.
At the time, Newbold promoted “separate but equal” school facilities for black and white children.
“He took the ‘equal’ part very seriously,” Bowman said.
Newbold worked to get as much Rosenwald funding as possible for construction of black schools. As a result of his efforts, North Carolina had 813 Rosenwald schools, more than any other state, Bowman said.
Moore was hailed as the Booker T. Washington of North Carolina. He wrote that “well-trained individuals became better citizens” adding that “good citizens were knowledgeable, refined, cultured, worthy of respect and understanding,” according to a history compiled by the late Tom Butchko.
When Moore retired in 1928, the Normal School enrolled 355 students served by 15 faculty members, Butchko wrote.
Students during the Depression paid part of their tuition by working on a farm on the grounds.
“The large campus provided suitable fields for the tending of vegetables and raising cows and pigs,” according to Butchko’s history. “The products of the farm greatly reduced the expenditures of the dining hall.”
The story of ECSU, the practice school and early leaders of black education is not well known, Haddad said.
“We have an opportunity here to promote African American history in Elizabeth City,” he said. “We have a rich heritage here.”