Appalachian students team up with local community to preserve historic African-American school

BOONE - In the early 1900s Booker T. Washington approached philanthropist and founder of Sears and Roebuck, Julius Rosenwald, to discuss the state of education for African Americans in the south.

Out of this conversation Julius Rosenwald established a fund to build schools to serve the needs of black communities in the south.

The first six schools, known as Rosenwald Schools, were built in Tuskegee, Alabama. They soon blossomed across the south to the total number of 5,300.

This semester Dr. Kristen Deathridge's Philosophy of Historic Preservation students, graduate students in the Public History program at Appalachian State University, are working to add one more to the list.With desegregation in the the 1960s, Rosenwald Schools were defunded. Many of the buildings went into disuse or were reappropriated for other uses. North Carolina had over 800 Rosenwald Schools. Today, 25 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Lincoln Heights School in Wilkesboro, NC, about 32 miles east of Boone, was built in 1924. It has been on the study list of national historic places since 1987.

The Lincoln Heights Alumni Board, chaired by Brenda Dobbins, reached out to Annie McDonald, Preservation Specialist at the Western North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, to see what they could do about their Rosenwald School and possibly completing the National Register nomination. McDonald then reached out to Dr. Deathridge about enlisting students to work on the project.

Dr. Deathridge, in turn, called Dobbins to find how how she could help. "I said, 'Annie told me about your Rosenwald school, what are you looking for?' Because for me, it is most important to not come in and tell people what to do, and tell them what should be important to them. I believe in doing the types of projects that are going to be the most helpful, that are going to help protect and preserve the places and the stories that are the most important to the people who care about them," said Dr. Deathridge.

What came from this conversation was the decision to finally have Lincoln Heights listed as a National Historic Site and to work on a handful of other projects for the Alumni Board

Dr. Deathridge's students work in teams to put together a draft National Register Nomination. They are completing a detailed architectural description of the main building, and writing a history of Lincoln Heights and its importance in Western North Carolina for the nomination. Further, they are surveying the 19 acre surrounding campus, completing a historic structures report and a list of suggestions for rehabilitation of the property, as well as a grant assessment.

An important aspect of this work, expressly requested by the Alumni Board, is the development of different strategies to engage younger generations' involvement with Lincoln Heights to help preserve, celebrate and use it. In the works are designs for future exhibits, as well as the possibility of digitizing the ephemera and documents preserved by the Lincoln Heights Board.

These Philosophy of Historic Preservation students hope to have their work finished by the end of this semester to present their findings to the Lincoln Heights Alumni Board during finals week. If all goes according to plan, they will turn their nomination package in early next year to the State Historic Preservation Office and Lincoln Heights could be up for vote by next June.

Dr. Deathridge, who is on the State National Register Advisory Committee, will have to recuse herself from the vote, however Appalachian students will still have been a part of preserving history.

Photo Credit: Kristin Deathridge - Students in the Philosophy of Historic Preservation course at Appalachian State University with members of the Lincoln Heights Alumni Board on the Lincoln Heights property, a Rosenwald School in Wilkesboro, NC.

Published: Oct 22, 2015 1:19pm