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Posted: November 20, 2011 12:00 a.m.

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Historic Oxford School to receive plaque

Douglas Moser/

This foundation is all that remains of the Oxford School on Mitchell Street.

Oxford will dedicate an historical plaque marking the site of an all-black three-room school built mostly through private donations that operated in the city for more than 35 years.

The Oxford School was built on Mitchell Street in 1921 partially with money from the Rosenwald School Building Program, a private fund that built schools for African-American children in the South during segregation, and was used until 1957.

At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27, the city will hold a ceremony at the site of the school – only a portion of the foundation remains now – to dedicate the memorial, said City Councilor Frank Clark. State Sen. Ronald Ramsey, Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry and city councilors are scheduled to be at the dedication.

W.D. Ballard, an attorney with Ballard Stephenson & Waters in Covington, owns the property and gave the go-ahead to install the memorial plaque and hold the dedication.

The Oxford School was a three-room schoolhouse built in 1921 for $3,300; $1,200 was raised from Oxford’s African American community, $1,100 from Newton County and $1,000 from the Rosenwald fund, Clark and Ballard said.

It held classes until 1957, when its students were integrated in the Washington Street School and the Cousins school.

The Rosenwald School Building Program was created when activist Booker T. Washington, principal of what was then called the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, approached Sears & Roebuck President Julius Rosenwald about creating a fund for to improve education for black children in the South, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In 1912, Rosenwald donated $25,000 to the Tuskegee Institute, which Washington used to help educators and to revive a rural education plan he had previously tried in rural Alabama.

“At this time, most public rural black schools were dilapidated structures with few amenities other than makeshift desks and benches,” according to the NTHP’s website. “Many counties provided few or no public school buildings for African Americans, and so children learned in churches, lodge halls, and other private buildings.”

Initial funding started at $300 and helped build more than 300 schools by 1919. After 1920, the funding ranged from $500 to $2,100, depending on the number of teachers who would work at the school.

“In the prime years of the school building program from 1920 to 1928, between four and five hundred schools were built annually, with the fund's aid totaling from $356,000 to $414,000 each year,” according to the NTHP’s website.

The last Rosenwald school was built in 1937 in Warm Springs, Ga., five years after Rosenwald’s death, and the Rosenwald Fund distributed money to schools until about 1948, according to the NTHP.

Most of the schools remained open until the 1957 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, which ruled the idea of “separate but equal” racial segregation unconstitutional, according to the NTHP.

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