Ever heard of Julius Rosenwald? Or Arthur B. and Joel Elias Spingarn?
How about Carter Godwin Woodson, who, after earning a doctorate at Harvard, established Negro History Week?
Well, sometimes it seems as though the people perched in Washington — the ones we elect to run the country — haven’t heard of them either. Or perhaps they’re merely ignorant; then again, maybe they just do not care.
So here’s a brief history lesson before Black History Month ends. It’s a lesson that’s as important now, as we try to erase Confederate memorials but not slavery, as it was in the early 1900s, when pervasive segregation left black Americans behind.
Rosenwald was born to Jewish immigrants from Germany during the Civil War in Springfield, Illinois. (Think Abe Lincoln.) A businessman and philanthropist, Rosenwald appreciated civil rights leader Booker T. Washington’s insights about the importance of education and worked with him and other wealthy Americans to establish what was called the Rosenwald Schools for black children in rural America.
Rosenwald also financed scholarships for black children. Think Rep. John Lewis, poet laureate Rita Dove and author Maya Angelou.
Imagine: No school, no education.
Most of the 5,000-plus schools and countless teachers employed there helped to make America great.
Now let’s turn to the Spingarn brothers. Born into a wealthy Jewish family, they also moved in civil rights circles, pushed for education of blacks and worked closely with the NAACP. They even were among its leadership but stood with NAACP cofounder W.E.B. Dubois and the school of thought regarding academic teaching and learning vs. Washington’s gradual, hands-on agricultural and technical teachings. (Schooling by any means necessary, eh?)
So, what do official Washington and City Hall think of Spingarn these days? Not much.
Indeed, Joel Spingarn’s D.C. namesake, Spingarn High School in Northeast, is dry rotting.
Closed several years ago, the red-brick schoolhouse sits empty of students and teachers, and stands as a testament to what happens when black history and American history are celebrated only occasionally.
Spingarn the schoolhouse is perched off Benning Road, and it was built by blacks for blacks in a neighborhood established for lower- and middle-class blacks.
Three others are it neighbors — Young Elementary School, Browne Junior High School and Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School. Together the four schools covered Rosenwald‘s, Dubois’ and Washington’s academic visions for blacks.
I shed a tear every time I drive by the schools and their next-door neighbor, the 18-hole Langston Golf Course.
Now, in one way or another Langston, Spingarn and the Rosenwald facilities all have official historic designations, which means you can’t simply take a sledgehammer, a bucket of paint or new HVAC system to them as part of a DIY renovation.
No, the Department of the Interior, City Hall, the White House and Congress have a say in what happens next. And, since the nation’s capital belongs to all American taxpayers, so do you.
Like millennials and Gen Zers, I like new shiny things, too. However, we shouldn’t dispose of history as if it never happened.
⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at email@example.com.
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