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Cairo Rosenwald School

Located in the unincorporated community of Cairo, the Cairo Rosenwald School is one of three extant Rosenwald schools remaining in Sumner County and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1922-23, the school served African American children in grades one through eight for over thirty-five years.

The Cairo African American community received financial support to build the school from the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1922. The Rosenwald Fund required the community to demonstrate its commitment to the school by providing a portion of the building funds. The Cairo African American community raised seven hundred dollars in support of the school. The Julius Rosenwald Fund contributed five hundred and the Tennessee public school fund supplied seven hundred dollars.

The architectural plan for the Cairo School is the standard Rosenwald Fund one-teacher school design, with a gable-end entrance, double-hung sash windows, weatherboard siding, and a stone foundation. The interior has a single room with two cloak closets flanking the central entrance at the south end and a platform built across the north end. Attempts to make the building similar in facilities to the county’s white schools occurred after World War II. The building was wired for electricity, and in 1951 running water was installed. At that time, officials located a sink and two drinking fountains on the school’s platform. It also contained a refrigerator and stove and became a place to teach home economics and to prepare lunches for the students. The platform could be separated from the classroom with folding wood doors when necessary. Before the construction of the school’s water pump, students carried buckets of water from a neighbor’s house across the road from the school.

The school closed in 1959 due to mandated consolidation, but the building remained an important social center and community landmark for African American families. After its 1996 listing in the National Register, the community transformed the school into a local African American history museum.

Suggested Reading

Mary S. Hoffschwelle, The Rosenwald Schools of the American South (2006).

Published » December 23, 2009