CLEMSON — Video made by a Clemson instructor and his students about life for African-American students in a Rosenwald school will be included in a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Hope School of the Pomaria community near Newberry was a Rosenwald School, a place created for African-American children in the South during the early part of the 20th century. The concept was developed by famed educator Booker T. Washington and funded by Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist and owner of Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Land for the Newberry County school was donated by the family of James H. Hope, a member of Clemson’s first graduating class and longtime superintendent of education for South Carolina public schools. 

The Hope School operated from 1926 until 1954, when it was closed by the school district and became an unofficial community center, according to Ron Knorr, a Clemson University instructor and Ph.D. student in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education. In time, the building fell into disrepair.  

Descendents of James Hope and members of the community, including alumni of the Hope School, galvanized in an effort to save the building that once provided African-American children in the community their only chance for education.

Knorr and his students became involved in the project in 2008, first when he was assigned a history paper for his doctoral class and then when he, in turn, gave a similar assignment to his students. They went to Pomaria on a hot summer day and interviewed on video six former Hope School students who recalled the days of taking their own firewood to school and fetching water in buckets for the two-room, two-teacher building.

Their six hours of video will join a replica of the Hope School as part of a new Smithsonian project on African-American history.

“There were 500 Rosenwald schools in South Carolina at one time. Now only about 30 of the buildings are left and some of them are in pretty bad shape,” Knorr said. “The Hope School is the heart and soul of that community, and it’s good to know that their efforts will keep it that way for years to come. The building has a real sense of permanence.”

Knorr, a lifelong history buff and former middle school English teacher, is amazed that some of his work will become part of one of the world’s great museums.

“I still find it hard to believe,” he said.

The Hope School replica will be part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African America History and Culture, opening in 2012. The Hope School Community Center in Pomaria will celebrate a grand opening on Aug. 22.


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