BY TEVYA W. GRIFFIN
It is with deep respect and excitement for our Northampton community that I reach out to share news about the progress that the Cape Charles Rosenwald School Restoration Initiative is making at the former Cape Charles Elementary.
As many of you may be aware, I embarked on this journey over a decade ago after learning that the school was used to educate African Americans during segregation, some of whom were my high school teachers, family members, and elders.
I saw a unique opportunity to bring people together to resurrect a building that, while built during segregation, represented one of the last known buildings that held within it the voices and memories of African American life and community.
With that in mind, my husband and I gathered Cape Charles Elementary alumni, area religious leaders, friends, and civic and community leaders to begin this conversation.
We have grown in numbers and are proud of the diversity of people uniting to rehabilitate the decayed schoolhouse and repurpose it as a new place of education and lifelong learning accessible to all residents on the lower Eastern Shore.
As the historical blight of segregation gripped this nation, Cape Charles Elementary was a place for resilience, courage, and great achievement that captured the spirit of the community it served.
While everyone’s experience at the school was different, when alumni and past teachers speak of the school, it is with joy and fond memories.
We are standing together to repurpose this landmark for generations to come.
It will represent the power of unity and be known as a place of gathering for all.
This is true to the purpose of such schools envisioned by the leader and educator, Booker T. Washington, and heavily financed by his colleague and friend, Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.
Both men were believers in the power of self-determination. Their alliance led to the construction of more than 5,000 schools to increase education for Black children in the rural segregated South.
Washington believed that education was the building block on which people would build better and stronger lives.
The historic Cape Charles Elementary, a rare brick Rosenwald School, had four classrooms, an auditorium, and an office. It was staffed by three teachers and a principal-teacher. It taught children in grades 1-7 and served as an important part of the community for many years.
Although the building has sat vacant since 1977, the voices of the past are rising again to a new generation with God’s help. Professionals in the historic preservation and building construction arena marvel at the brick gem that we have right here in town. They are amazed at just how well the building has held up. We say it’s divine providence.
Our mission is to recognize the Cape Charles Rosenwald School legacy and offer experiences that engage and enrich our community, promote cultural awareness and understanding, and support self-sufficiency and economic mobility. The school will be reopened with a certified commercial kitchen, meeting and event space, and classroom space for workforce development, including classes brought to the lower Shore by the Eastern Shore Community College.
The rehabilitated school will create a home for multiple programs designed to include shared and coordinated activities between a consortium of employers and community partners that will improve the spirit of our community. It will be a multigenerational center for education, entrepreneurship, arts, and culture where all races can gather and inspire one another. It will be an investment in the future, just as it was 100 years ago.
Please join us! We want to hear from you, and look forward to our shared love of our community as we move forward in our building plans. Construction of the new roof will begin before the end of the year.
Join us as we go onward and upward.