The Rosenwald Schools were the brainchild child of Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, a Chicago philanthropist and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. In 1912 Rosenwald gave Washington permission to spend some of the money he had given to Tuskegee to build six small schools in rural Alabama. At that time, most Black children in the rural South, including Texas, attended classes in dilapidated buildings with poor equipment and “hand me down” books from white schools. Washington sought to change this situation by launching and completing a pilot program with these six schools (1912–13). Pleased with the outcome, Rosenwald agreed to fund a larger program. In 1917 he established the Julius Rosenwald Fund, and in 1920 he began the implementation of the rural school building program for Black youths. The program continued through 1932 and furnished more than $28 million in fifteen states.
The Black communities where schools were to be built had to meet certain criteria before they could become recipients. To be eligible for a Rosenwald grant, a school had to hold classes for more than five months, the site and building had to be deeded to authorities, and matching funds had to be raised. Grants ranged from $500 to $2,100 and were contingent upon the number of teachers employed. The matching fund had to come from the Black community and could come in the form of cash, in-kind donation of material, and labor. In many cases, Black men cut lumber, hauled material, and served as carpenters. In Texas, African Americans contributed almost $400,000 to the building efforts during a period of twelve years. Aside from cash given by the Black community, funds also came from white donors and tax money. Once a Rosenwald school was built, the school district was required to take ownership of the property and maintain it as part of the public school system. The school boards were required to furnish new desks and blackboards for every classroom as well as two hygienic privies for the school. In some places, houses for teachers were also constructed along with separate shop buildings.
Many of the Rosenwald schools also served as community centers. Their functional and efficient floor plans, which made use of large windows to maximize natural lighting, specific room dimensions and desk placement, and good ventilation, were also used for the construction of thousands of white schools across the South.
The state of Texas was the beneficiary of the following from the Rosenwald Fund: 527 buildings in fifty-two counties, most of them in the eastern and central part of the state (though schools were also built south to Bee County and west to Jones County); 464 schools with a 57, 330 student capacity; 31 teacher houses; and 32 shops. Of the 527 buildings in Texas, about 30 still existed as of 2005. Four are listed on the National Register of Historic Places—Sweet Home Vocational and Agricultural High School in Seguin, Lochart Vocational/Carver High School, the Garland Community School Teacherage, and Pleasant Hill School in Cass County. The last schools were built in 1932. The Rosenwald schools went out of existence for two of several reasons—integration and migration. The great majority of Blacks enrolled in public school from 1920 to 1932 attended a Rosenwald school. Alumni of the schools later celebrated Rosenwald Day to honor their benefactor and heritage.
By the mid-1990s the Texas Historical Commission began efforts to gather information on the history of the state’s Rosenwald schools—both demolished and still standing. The inventory process included applying for a National Register of Historic Places listing for as many schools as possible, part of a national initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.