It was standing room only at Scrabble School on Saturday, Feb. 19 as more than 70 people packed the old schoolhouse for the Scrabble School Preservation Foundation’s first annual Black History Program.
In their speeches, author and SSPF board member Stephanie Deutsch and Rappahannock school superintendent Aldridge Boone placed Scrabble School within the context of the Civil Rights Movement and the work by African-American leader Booker T. Washington to establish opportunity for African Americans. Separately, they reminded the audience that the painstaking efforts of ordinary people also made a difference in the struggle to gain freedom, opportunity and respect.
Deutsch, who became interested in Rosenwald Schools due to a family connection, has spent many years studying the topic. Her book, “You Need a Schoolhouse: The Story of Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and 5,000 Rosenwald Schools,” is being published by Northwestern University Press and is due in bookstores later this year.
Rosenwald Schools were established thanks to the friendship between Washington and Sears Roebuck co-founder Julius Rosenwald. However, they did not accomplish this by themselves; rather, they created the Rosenwald Fund to provide matching grants. The response was overwhelming as “hundreds and thousands of people in small communities who just wanted a good, decent place for their children to get an education — and were willing to dig deep into their own pockets and into their own resources of good will and energy to make it happen,” Deutsch said. “That good will was kept alive for several generations in the schools and is . . . the basis for the affection felt today by so many Rosenwald school alumni.” This is why, Deutsch said, the National Trust for Historic Preservation lists Rosenwald Schools among America’s “most endangered places” and why — to use the Trust’s motto — “This Place Matters.”
Boone brought the history into the present. Speaking of the “Reality of a Dream,” he noted how Washington’s work presaged Martin Luther King’s vision, as he described so memorably in his speech “I Have a Dream.” “As an educator,” Boone said, “we have to make sure all children have a chance to dream and the opportunity to use that learning experience to fulfill those dreams. Schools and communities have always played an important role in the lives of children. Therefore, school and community leaders must dream larger dreams than children. Those of us who can influence this process — that includes everyone in this room — has an innate responsibility to do so. There can be no higher calling in life than to devote oneself to make a positive difference in the life of a child.”
The community that built Scrabble School certainly aspired to this calling. Alumni remember a school that fostered and encouraged their aspirations, and a community based on faith. The Black History Program recalled that faith in the same fashion as the school days, with Board member and alumna Estelle Lewis leading opening and closing prayers and the Unity Choir, led by Sister Alfreda Dean, singing hymns. Repeating the theme of the school’s history, Board members provided the audience with hot soup, cornbread, and desserts—just as their parents did every Wednesday.
Visit to learn more about the history of Scrabble School. If interested in scheduling a tour, please call Melanie Kopjanski at 540-987-8876 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.