Wed June 4, 2008
The Restoration of the Li'l Red Schoolhouse
By Ryan Milvenan
Drew, MS – The Lil' Red Schoolhouse in Drew, Mississippi, a dilapidated Rosenwald school built in 1920's, is well on the road to recovery. Having now received state funds, as well as a grant from Lowe's and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, local proprietor Rev. Jesse Gresham hopes that the conversion to a multi-purpose community center will soon be completed.
Started in 1912, the Rosenwald rural school building program was a major effort to improve public education for African Americans in the South. Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and former head of Sears, Roebuck and Company, was approached by Booker T. Washington, principal of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. They developed the Julius Rosenwald Fund, allocated to provide matching grants to communities seeking help in building schools.
By 1932, nearly 5000 schools had been built. These schools became the cornerstones of many communities throughout the South, instilling a strong appreciation for education among students. Unfortunately, the onset of desegregation cued the Rosenwald School's steady decline. No longer used for primary education, many of the buildings lost purpose, often falling into extreme disrepair. As a result, Rosenwald schools were named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered list in 2002.
The Lil' Red Schoolhouse in Drew, Mississippi stayed in use until the 1980s, when declining enrollment forced its closure. It has been that way since, having twice incurred severe tornado damage, further lessening hopes that the iconic brick building would see use again. In 1996, the school was purchased in auction by the Holly Grove Missionary Baptist Church, and Rev. Gresham has been passionate about finding new use for the dying structure ever since. First on his list is opening a Boys and Girls club for the children of Drew.
Beyond simply saving a building however, the loss of the Lil' Red Schoolhouse would be devastating to the town. Having recently received state funds for the renovation of its main street strip as well, Rev. Gresham believes the state's decision to provide those funds was based primarily on Drew hosting the venerated historical building. If the building were lost, it could very well take the rest of Drew with it.
The renovation of the Lil' Red Schoolhouse is currently being discussed by architects, with hope for completion before the end of 2008.
More information about the Lil' Red Schoolhouse and other Rosenwald Schools can be found at: