Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Word Fittingly Spoke

You know you're a nerd when...

You read at 11:40 that there's a noon lecture at the Historical Society and you manage not only to change clothes and drive there, but be in your usual seat chatting with a guy from Westmintser-Canterbury by 11:58.

"You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South" sounded compelling enough to throw off my sweaty walking shorts and high-tail it to the Boulevard.

Speaker Stephanie Deutsch got a thumbs-up from me for speaking extemporaneously rather than reading from a script.

It was hardly surprising to learn that Booker T. Washington had been the product of an enslaved black mother and a nearby white planter.

She brought us up to speed on his life, including his tragic personal life, with two wives dying within a  few years of marrying him and a child who died young.

We heard about him going to and teaching at Hampton before being recruited to start the Tuskegee Institute, for which he became known.

Almost as interesting was Julius Rosenwald, who'd bought into Sears when Roebuck wanted out and used his pragmatic, executive style to turn it into a moneymaker.

And because he was Jewish, he had a history steeped in giving and started looking for more ways to do good beyond helping European Jews escape pogroms.

When he met Washington, a fast friendship was formed, with each visiting the other's home and place of work.

That was the crux of the talk, about how these two men got the ball rolling on the over 5,000 schools built for rural black children from Maryland to eastern Texas.

North Carolina got the most (800) and our own Virginia got 365 schools.

Rosenwald was a "matching funds" kind of guy, meaning he wasn't handing over money without the community raising a little of their own.

We all know a person's more invested when their hard-earned nickels are involved.

To induce the locals to raise funds, "arousement meetings" were held, not a tough sell in areas where blacks were desperate for their children to have access to education and a better life than they'd had.

By the time all was said and done, the county boards of education were also involved, finally contributing money to building schools for the children they'd once ignored.

That was the feel-good part of the story.

Deutsch said only 10% of the schools are still standing, but many have been rescued by alumni and former teachers at them and repurposed.

They're even now part of the "Most Endangered Historic Sites in America" listings and not a moment too soon.

See, that's something a nerd would say.

On the other hand, if I hadn't collected myself and gone to the lecture, I'd never have known about arousement meetings.

Now there's a meeting a nerd could really get into.

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