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The former Rosenwald School in Huntersville, which opened in 1925, is now the Torrence-Lytle Community Center on Dellwood Drive.

An unlikely partnership between a wealthy Jewish business executive and civil rights pioneer Booker T. Washington led to the creation of more than 5,000 schools for African-American students in the South in the early 20th century.

Seven of those schools were in what is now considered the Lake Norman area, and four of those structures are still in use.

In 1913, Washington approached Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Chicago-based Sears Roebuck and Co., with the idea of using seed money to fuel a wave of new schools for African-Americans in an era when Southern blacks had largely been stripped of their rights to vote and education options for their children – including rural areas of northern Mecklenburg and southern Iredell counties – were few.

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The former Caldwell School building is now part of the Burgess Supply facility on N.C. 73 in Huntersville.

“The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer,” Rosenwald wrote at the time.

By requiring matching funds from communities, the funding model developed by Rosenwald and Washington gave local blacks a sense of ownership in the institutions that were created and freed them from relying solely on white-dominated local governments to provide separate – and almost universally inferior – schools for African-American students.

Rural Southern blacks at the time often were sharecroppers, so raising money for the schools was a challenge.

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The former Smithville School is now a community center on South Hill Street in Cornelius.

“To gather nickels and dimes, women of a community might hold a ‘box party,’ fixing boxed lunches for neighbors to bid on,” writes Tom Hanchett, a Charlotte historian who has researched Rosenwald’s efforts in the area. “Families joined to plant an extra acre of cotton or raise hogs and chickens to be sold for the effort. Blacks who owned land might donate the school site, or cut trees to be sawn into boards for the work crews.”

The National Trust for Historic preservation estimates that only 10 percent to 12 percent of Rosenwald Schools, most of which had closed by the 1950s, survive today.

Here is a look at local Rosenwald Schools, using information from a Fisk University database:

Smithville School

Opened in 1923 in Cornelius with three classrooms on South Hill Street. It has been significantly modified and now serves as the Smithville Community Center.

Funding

Rosenwald: $900

Black community: $500

Public funds: $2,600


Caldwell School

Opened in 1924 with four classrooms in what is now part of the Burgess Supply building on N.C. 73 in Huntersville.

Funding:

Rosenwald: $1,100

Black community: $600

Public funds: $3,500


Huntersville School

Opened in 1925 with four classrooms in the Pottstown neighborhood, off Holbrooks Road. It has been significantly modified and now houses the Torrence-Lytle Community Center.

Funding

Rosenwald: $1,100

Black community: $800

Public funds: $3,200


Troutman School

Opened in 1920 with two classrooms just west of North Main Street in Troutman. The building no longer exists.

Funding

Rosenwald: $400

Black community: $400

White residents: $250

Public funding: $450


Neilstown School

Opened in 1922 with two classrooms near what is now Stumpy Creek Park off Perth Road. The building no longer exists.

Funding

Rosenwald: $700

Black community: $600

Public funding: $850


Morrow Chapel School

Opened in 1924 with three classrooms near what is now Trump National Golf Club on Brawley School Road. The building no longer exists.

Funding

Rosenwald: $700

Black community: $400

Public funds: $1,400


Coddle Creek School

Opened in 1927 with two classrooms near Mooresville. It has been significantly modified and now serves as a home.

Funding

Rosenwald: $500

Black community: $175

Public funds: $2,325

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