Trailer Narrative for Rosenwald Film
by Muriel Miller Branch, Former Student
Booker T. Washington, renowned African American Educator and President of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, conceived the idea of building quality schools to educate Black children in the rural South who would not otherwise have received a formal education. Dr. Washington, and a like-minded philanthropist named Julius Rosenwald, President of Sears Roebuck Company, developed a building plan that required matching funds from three different entities to build the schools: the Rosenwald Fund, members of the Black community, and the local public school system. The two forward-thinking men reasoned that if all facets of the community were required to contribute, it would instill a sense of ownership and pride. A “hand-out” could not accomplish those goals.
The schools were built according to specific plans provided by the Rosenwald Fund, with attention to making sure the schools were conducive to learning; meaning well-lit, well-ventilated, and spacious. They also took into consideration space for community meetings as a way of engaging the community. As the result of the successful initial pilot school building program in the Tuskegee, Alabama area, over five thousand Rosenwald schools were built to educate poor, Black children in the rural South.
Pine Grove, like the local Black churches, served as the hub and heartbeat of community life in the Pine Grove community. Holiday programs and plays, oratory contests, spelling bees, Black History programs, May Day celebrations, turkey shoots, community meetings of organizations such as the Future Homemakers of America, Future Farmers of America, and NAACP were all held inside the building or on the grounds throughout the year.
Generations of the Agee Miller Mayo Dungy family, as well as the Gilliam, James, Anderson, Scales, Harris, Tate, Austin, Wade, Scott, Taylor, Boatwright, Parker, Sanderson, Jefferson, Flood, and Jones families were the beneficiaries of being able to attend the well-lit, clean, well-constructed Pine Grove School in Cumberland County, Virginia, beginning in 1917. My first cousin, Gloria Miller Anderson, who is a retired teacher living in Delaware, was one of three members of the last graduating class of Pine Grove in 1964. From 1917 – 1964, the Historic Pine Grove School enabled hundreds of students to launch successful careers in journalism, ministry, law, science, education, building trades, cosmetology, business, counseling, and the military.
But more importantly, had it not been for Pine Grove, and other Rosenwald Schools, Black children like myself would not have known about our rich Black history and culture. Our teacher, Mrs. Mary E. Gilliam, a graduate of Hampton Institute, inspired us to be proud of being Americans of African descent, by introducing us to great African American leaders, educators, scientists, artists, performers, musicians, and poets and writers who had been left out of the History books written by white men.
In order to expand our horizons, Mrs. Gilliam provided a tiny library to encourage us to read beyond the ragged, hand-me-down textbooks we were given once the Caucasian children in Cumberland County had discarded them.
On a personal note, I became a published author, historian, librarian, and community activist because of the influence of what took place in the little two-room Pine Grove Elementary School, and intend to work tirelessly to make sure the school is protected, preserved, and re-purposed to serve my beloved community.
A sincere thank you to Muriel Miller Branch for her time to write the narrative for this blog. Blessings and kindness to you.