Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow Just Won't Leave Kingsport Alone

David Grace —

Drivers on Stone Drive faced another snowy commute Thursday morning, but the ground and roads were largely clear later in the day in Kingsport.

Get current weather conditions in Riverview on your weather station at the bottom of the Douglass Website's main page.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"The Land of 10,000 Lakes": A Neighborhood's Growing Problem

Lately, Riverview has reminded a lot of people of Minnesota. Lately, every time it rains, the community becomes that state's nickname: "The Land of 10,000 Lakes."

Of course, that's an exaggeration. But when water is standing in your backyard that hasn't stood there in years, you gotta wonder what's going on.

The heavy snows and rains of the winter, have apparently soaked the ground in Riverview so badly, backyard puddles have turned into ponds that rival the water traps you see at Meadowview's golf course.

The city of Kingsport says, the ponding is nothing unusual, given the amount of rain and snowfall the past few weeks.

"These pictures can probably come from just about any resident in Kingsport," says city Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds. "Anybody that has flat spots in their yard has experienced standing water recently, especially if they're in a low-lying area."

"And Riverview is definitely in a low-lying area."

Through the years, it's no secret that part of Kingsport's African-American community is located in an area near the South Fork Holston River, that has several aquifers (underground water streams in caves and caverns) that feed the river. Due to the fact that the groundwater table could have been affected by the chemical and industrial waste dumpsite the community was built on many years ago, whenever there is standing water in yards, it raises the concerns of local residents, many of those who have contacted the Douglass website and city administrators with concerns.

But Mr. McReynolds says, he has noted only one concern that has gotten his interest.

"We have noticed a lot of flooding in the streets, in relation to the construction on the HOPE VI homes and the V.O. Dobbins Center," he says. "The only thing we could determine with some of the street flooding, was that there was a problem with one of the techniques that the contractor is using for erosion control. Some of the netting had started channeling water in places near storm was holding back sediment and water, and the sediment was not letting the water get through to the drains. At one point, we had to have him cut the netting, to allow water to drain through, yet keep trapping the sediment. It's a difficult balance, but it's necessary."

As for the ponding in nearby backyards, McReynolds says, he is sympathetic with local property owners, but right now, water is standing because it doesn't have any other place to go.

"Even if the water seeps into the underground water table," he says, "it still is finding water already there, and it will dam up towards the surface. As the system relieves itself of the pressure, the water will, of course, go down. It may take several weeks for the underground aquifers to shed themselves of the excess water, in order to allow the surface water to come on down."

The tremendous pressure that is underground, can be seen in stormwater manholes, like this one on Industry Drive near Wheatley Street. Water that normally runs into the recepticle was so backed up the day we noticed it, that the backed-up pressure was forcing water to bubble up through the manhole cover, and spill down in a cascading waterfall into the ditch along Industry Drive. From there, it was just a short journey underneath Eastman's railroad tracks and into a churning Holston River, South Fork.

McReynolds says, that's typical of an overloaded stormwater system.

"Water will always seek the lowest point of travel downhill," he says. "Whenever pipes, aquifers, street drainage systems, and backyards are backed up, the pressure increases on the lowest end of travel, and in all case, it's always at manholes along the escape route. We have the manholes locked down so that the pressure stays inside the concrete and steel structure, but unfortunately it does create backups back up the chain. Give it a few hours, and the pressure will always relieve itself."

"At the beginning of that process, is backyards and street drains," McReynolds says. "When the water table gets too high, that water has no place to go until the downward pressure is relieved. Until then, water will sit in the backyard or on the street corner. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but too much rainfall or snowfall just aggravates an already aggravated system."

But the city Public Works office will continue to monitor the drainage system in Riverview. McReynolds says, other situations may be taxing the stormwater runoff in ways that cannot be detected or explained.

"I will definitely continue to look into the stormwater conveyance system through the community," he says, "just to make sure that there isn't something abnormal that can't be explained. But I would not be as worried about water in backyards, as I would about water in the streets."

"That could signal a much bigger problem."

For any water runoff problems, Riverview residents can call Ronnie Hammond at Kingsport Public Works at 229-9451. For problems relating to the HOPE VI Homes or V.O. Dobbins Complex construction projects, call the Kingsport City Manager's Office at 229-9412.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Claflin Choir Kicks Off Black History Month Weekend

The City of Kingsport’s Cultural Arts Division is celebrating Black History Month with a weekend of African-American music, workshops and art around the Model City as part of its Art Nights/City Lights series.

The Claflin University Concert Choir will kick things off at 7:30 p.m., Friday with a concert at Eastman’s Toy F. Reid Employee Center.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (423) 392-8417 or online at Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.
Founded in 1869 in Orangeburg, S.C., Claflin University is an independent, liberal arts, co-educational, historically black institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The 50-voice mixed chorus Claflin University Concert Choir is one of the largest and most active ensembles on campus and is dedicated to performing the finest choral music of both classical & contemporary composers. It is the primary vocal ensemble of the university’s music department and is comprised of both music majors and non-music students.
The concert choir tours extensively throughout the year. Members traveled to China in 2008 to participate in a choral tribute to the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, and in 2009, on their return from a national tour, they made a stop in Kingsport for a performance at First Broad Street United Methodist Church.

In addition to Friday’s concert, the choir will participate in a free youth workshop from noon to 3 p.m., Saturday as part of a day full of Black History Month workshops aimed at school-age children to be held at the Kingsport Renaissance Center.
“We’ll have traditional African dress and food as well as opportunities to explore drama, dance, drumming,” said Stella Robinette, the event’s chairwoman.
The celebration starts at noon and continues through 6 p.m. on the Renaissance Center’s second and third floors and in the theatre.

Among the scheduled presenters are choreographer Terrence “Taps” Bennett; drummer Richie Hicks; Lavonda Price, a local hairstylist who will demonstrate headwrapping techniques;

Step Instructor Xavier Hall, a 1992 graduate of Dobyns-Bennett High School who has been been touring the country with a troupe of comedians featured on BET’s “ComicView”; D-B graduate Starr Releford, an actor with the Carpetbag Theater and Wordplayers in Knoxville who is returning home to teach drama; and Gerrie Harrison, who will prepare traditional African foods for sampling.
A display of African-American art in a variety of media is on display in the Renaissance Center’s Atrium Gallery throughout the month of February.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Douglass Alumni Board Meeting

Our next regular scheduled meeting of the Douglass Alumni Association is set for February 27, 2010. The meeting will be held at Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church at 1:00p.m.

Please help spread the word to those that do not have access to a computer.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Food for the soul

Erica Yoon —

New Vision Youth, the Kingsport Parks and Recreation Department, and the Riverview Boys and Girls Club hosted the fifth annual Soul Food Gathering Friday at the Civic Auditorium. The free event included a sampling of foods such as chicken, deer meat, chicken gizzards, meat loaf, barbecued pigs feet, salmon patties, whiting, neck bones, ham, soup beans, turkey and dressing, a variety of side dishes, desserts and beverages. Clockwise, from top: The New Vision Youth; Angel Pruitt cuts into a ham; Michael Vaughn shows off a large amount of fried chicken; Johnnie Mae Swagerty serves up food to Frank James; and center background, Betsey Pierce serves Beverly Woody.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Historical Marker approved for Douglass High School


From staff reports

The Tennessee Historical Commission on Friday (2/19/10) approved a historical marker for Kingsport’s Douglass High School, which at the time of its closing in 1966, was the largest African-American high school in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Southeastern Kentucky.

The Tennessee Historical Commission on Friday approved a historical marker for Kingsport’s Douglass High School. Shown, l-r: Sam Elliott, chair of the Tennessee Historical Commission; state Rep. Tony Shipley; Calvin Sneed, Douglass Alumni Association; and Marilyn Kincaid Caitlin, Douglass Alumni Association.

“This certainly means a lot to me and the many students who passed through Douglass High School’s doors,” said Calvin Sneed, a Douglass High School alumnus. “This historical marker will serve as a reminder to newer generations of their heritage, and as an advocate of preserving that history, I could not be more pleased with the commission’s decision.”
State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, was on hand for the meeting in Nashville.
The historical commission’s vote was unanimous.
“I had the pleasure of becoming friends with Calvin Sneed throughout this process, and I know this issue is very close to his heart,” Shipley said. “Calvin and I share a history common and not common — we grew up in the same community, we graduated high school about the same time, and we both went on to the University of Tennessee, but we never met until Calvin began this crusade. I am pleased that the commission approved the marker and look forward to knowing Calvin for years to come.”

"We Got It:" The Future of Douglass Linked to a New Historical Marker of Its Past

"We got it."

Those three simple words are rapidly circulating among Douglass alumni and Kingsport city residents, and it now mean the entire state of Tennessee will know the legacy of Upper East Tennessee's largest African-American high school when it closed in 1966.

The Tennessee Historical Commission has approved a historical marker commemorating Douglass High School (1928- 1966). Douglass will join its bretheren Langston in Johnson City, Douglas in Elizabethton, Morristown College, and the Swift Memorial College-Price Public School in Rogersville, with historic markers containing facts and little-known knowledge about the school.

"The legacy of Douglass High School in Kingsport lives on today, and is very deserving of our state's recognition," says Tennessee 2nd District State Representative Tony Shipley. "The school's motto 'looking hopfully onward' did in fact, lead to several generations of African-American students to better lives."

A drive around Kingsport will find several Tennessee Historical Commission markers. The nearest one to the Riverview Community is one that commemorates the Donelson Flotilla, as Colonel John Donelson amassed flatboats for the river trip in 1779 that ultimately resulted in the founding of Nashville the next year. That trip began at the south end of the Wilcox Drive bridge over the South Fork Holston River where you'll find this marker, less than a thousand feet from Riverview.

Another marker only a few feet away recognizes the Avery Treaty, that precedes the Donelson Flotilla by a couple of years. This one could be one of the most historic in Kingsport, as it commemorates the signing of the treaty that transferred much of the Cherokee Indian land that is now the Tri-Cities to white settlers. It also notes that even though the treaty was a done deal, the settlers violated its terms frequently. These are the only 2 historical markers near the Riverview Neighborhood.


"We get from 18 to 24 applications for markers every year," says Linda Wynn, the Historical commission's Assistant Director for State Programs, the division that directly oversees historical markers. "People like you send in the criteria and I go over the information to make sure it meets the standards for a marker. From my desk, the information then goes to the Markers and Monuments Committee, and they make a decision either for or against, based on the documentation presented. The full commission then acts on the committee's recommendation at its next regularly scheduled meeting."

"Documentation is required for all text on the markers," she says. "It's sort of like a research paper, in that you have to document in writing the source for every quote you put down. In the template for the marker text, there is space for a bibliography to point us to the source for all your information. It's a verification to us that everything you're putting on the marker is true and accurate."

The Douglass High School text was compiled with the help of former teacher Jill Ellis, as she wrote it for the school's entry in the book "80 Years of Enlightenment--Recollections of Kingsport Teachers." In that, she noted facts about Douglass most of which could be easily verified in writing, and are listed in the entry's bibliography. But there was one reference for which verification was not readily located.

It was the reference that Kingsport's Douglass School was one of the original Rosenwald Schools.


"In confirming one of the facts you listed in your facts," says Ms. Wynn, "I saw that reference to the Rosenwald Foundation, and immediately jumped on that. We have a number of markers with Rosenwald references, and if Douglass was indeed a Rosenwald School, that information needed to be on the Douglass marker. As a result, we needed you to verify that information as fact. It's another reflection of how Rosenwald affected education of African-Americans across the state and the South."


Indeed, research turned up the original Rosenwald Foundation database that was stored by African-American scholars, at Fisk University in Nashville. The Douglass-Rosenwald School was located within that database, and it turns out Douglass was the only Rosenwald-funded African-American high school in upper East Tennessee.

The Markers and Monuments Committee also noticed another fact it felt important. "We wanted to use the fact that Douglass was one of the largest African-American high schools around, because the documentation is there for that," Ms. Wynn says.

Apparently, there is so much documented information on the Douglass High School, that a one-sided marker is not enough for commemoration.

"We are proposing a two-sided marker," she says. "What that is, is the text begins on one side and continues on the back side. Most of our markers have the same information on both sides, except in the case where there are more important facts for which there is written documentation. With the Rosenwald information, the 'largest black school' documentation, and other facts, Douglass fits that bill."

Our research of two-sided markers in East Tennessee has discovered one other two-sided marker, this one in nearby Baileyton, Tennessee. Click here to read the Greeneville Sun article about Baileyton's marker. As of this writing, that marker has yet to be placed.

Ms. Wynn notes a big increase in the number of markers, both requested and approved for former black schools.

"In upper East Tennessee, you have Langston, Douglas-Elizabethton, Swift-Price, and soon, Douglass-Kingsport," she says, "and we are getting more applications all the time. My feeling is, the school was the hub of activity in the community and when it closed, that hub was lost. It was what the community centered around. Just like you all had an interest in recognizing the Douglass School, someone else had an interest in Pearl High School in Nashville, Eaton-Meigs, Cameron, the Haynes School in North Nashville."

"They were all the centers of their communities."


"When I first got here, there were markers for 12 African-Americans," says Ms. Wynn, "and now there are 200 markers denoting black history. They range from schools to individuals. There's one for the National Negro High School Basketball tournament, Sarah Estell is on 5th Avenue here in Nashville..she was an African-American businesswoman back in the 19th century. There's also one that commemorates "Blacks in the Civil War" and one for D. Ford Bailey, a pioneer in country music."

"There has always been this idea that if history is important to us as a people, then we need to pass it down," she says. "I tell young people all the time that there's not reason why they should not be good in math and sciences, because if you look back at the continent of Africa, those subjects are utilitzed and our people are very good at them. So, why are our students having problems with them? A lot of that has to do with history, and that's why these markers are so important in the African-American community."

For folks interested in involving their kids in history, the Tennessee Historical Commission is sponsoring Tennessee History Day. In the past, students have written competitive essays on historic conflicts and compromises in the state, and Individuals in History. This year's theme is Innovation in History. The regional competition will be held at the U-T Student Center in Knoxville on March 1st.

Click here for more information on how to enter a student or students in the Tennessee History Day competition, or call Kelly Wilkerson at (615) 741-8934. You can also email her at

The Rosenwald Influence: A "Douglass" Experience



Your former Douglass High School has an historic connection.. another dimension that brings along a GREAT amount of pride with it.

Douglass was a Rosenwald School.

Not the school building on Louis Street, built in 1951. The FIRST Douglass School building on East Sevier Avenue at Center Street, built in 1928, was a Rosenwald School. Although the school name was changed from Oklahoma Grove to the Douglass School in 1929, the original name for the new building on file at the Tennessee Department of Education in Nashville long ago, was "The Douglass-Rosenwald School."

So, exactly what is a Rosenwald School?


This story begins in the early part of the 20th century with Booker T. Washington, the great champion of African-American justice. Washington drew lots of attention from white politicians, philanthropists, and educators, as he sought to make life better for his people.

First of all, understand that Booker T. Washington was a very smart man.

Although he knew his people needed to help themselves, he also thought the best way for his people to move forward was for them to be educated. Getting a good education, he always felt, would not only help African-Americans survive, it would elevate them in the eyes of white people. One of his main goals was for rural black children to have safe, multi-purpose school buildings. It was a lofty goal--most black schools in the South were dilapidated structures.. drafty buildings with rats in the corners, and walls that could barely stand.

Washington wanted better for his people, and he knew any improvement would cost money.

It was to that end, he always somehow surrounded himself with influential whites people of the time.. businessmen, movers and shakers, industrialists, men of character, men of financial integrity.


One of those men was Julius Rosenwald.

Rosenwald, the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany, was a partner in Sears, Roebuck and Company back in the early 1900's. By establishing the company's soon-to-be-famous mail-order business, he rescued the store chain from bankruptcy and became a wealthy man. Rosenwald had many philanthropic interests, among them, the plight of African-Americans. He donated millions of dollars for programs to help the underprivileged in his hometown of Chicago, and many other large cities. His spirit of giving to what he considered worthwhile causes was well documented.

Booker T. Washington saw the financial potential in that, and named Rosenwald a Board member at Tuskegee Institute, the African-American school for higher learning he led.

Their friendship grew quite strong.


If it were possible to overhear one of their many conversations, as they strolled along the campus at Tuskegee.. "You know, my friend," Washington probably said, "I'm encouraged by the wonderful education the students are getting here on campus."

"They do seem to be learning a lot," Rosenwald probably replied, as the birds chirped in the breeze. "It amazes me how they get to campus, and they leave smarter than when they got here."

"You know, if we could just touch their lives early on," Washington might have responded.. "Their elementary schools are so run down, it's difficult to shape those little minds.. if their parochial schools don't provide a good enough atmosphere to learn. I wonder how we could remedy that?"

"Those children deserve the same kind of learning environment as the white children down the street," probably offered Rosenwald.

"I'll tell you what," Washington continued. "Let's pick some schools to experiment with, I know of a couple close by. Let's fix 'em up, make them places that the children will want to come to, and we'll see what happens."

"I like that idea, my friend," Rosenwald probably said, as they turned a corner of the historic Tuskegee campus, toward the warm Alabama sunset.


Washington wasted no time.

He picked 6 rundown black elementary schools in the immediate Tuskegee area hidden in the rolling hills of the rural Alabama countryside. The Loachopoka School in Lee County, Alabama, was the very first Rosenwald School, to feel the buzz of the saw, the hammering of the nail and the sweat of the brow. True to his word, Julius Rosenwald donated money from his own pocket to rebuild Loachopoka and the 5 other schools. He mandated warm classrooms and school lunches, together with black instructors who had a knack for teaching black children.

The results were impressive.

Black children immediately embraced their new learning environment. So impressed was Rosenwald that he established a fund, for the sole purpose of either building new, or refurbishing old, black elementary and high schools around the South. Through the Rosenwald Foundation, headquartered in Chicago with an administrative office in Nashville, Tennessee, 4,977 schools, shop buildings and teacher homes were built, a total of 5,401 structures in all.

But African-Americans had to prove they deserved the schools. Black residents had to also contribute money, and the Rosenwald Foundation would also put up funds, to show the white school boards and districts they meant business.


"What struck me and what I think is very important to remember," says Dr. Nancy Stetten, Education Consultant with the Tennessee Department of Education in Nashville, "is to realize the extent to which the local community contributed to the construction of the schools. I don't know if white schools had to be built with the help of donations from local people, but if you check the Rosenwald Schools, you'll see that the local black community gave financial support to constructing the building, along with financial support from the Rosenwald Foundation, and ultimately the white Board of Education."

"Back then, that was obviously a strain for the black people of the community," she says. "There were not a lot of very wealthy people there, but they did contribute."


400 miles from Tuskegee and a world away from Alabama, the Oklahoma School was struggling dearly as the educational institution for African-Americans in Kingsport, Tennessee. It was passed down to the black community when the city built a new school for the white children that formerly occupied it. Oklahoma's history pre-dated all the other schools in Kingsport, and even the incorporation of Kingsport as a city. Located in an open area near the Robert E. Lee School location, Oklahoma was renamed the Oklahoma Grove School for the stand of oak trees that surrounded it.

According to ole timers in the black community, the school had been given to them in a run-down condition at first, and local parents had already been struggling to keep it standing. At first, the school housed about 40 black children, but the student population was growing rapidly. Learning in a distracted environment, soon became a challenge.


It was no secret that many of Kingsport's black parents used their skills to shore up the building and make repairs, so that their children could learn in a comfortable environment. Stoking the fireplace, patching the walls, sometimes right in the middle of classes, students huddled up in the winter, sweating and fanning in the spring... through pictures and personal accounts, the building was lucky to be standing--every year, the building deteriorated even more, such that repairs became futile at best.

Any subsequent attempt at finding and locating the school in pre-occupied buildings, produced the same results for the African-American community. Each time the "Oak Grove School" moved to locations at Walnut Avenue (now Sevier) and Myrtle Street, and the 700 block of Sullivan Street at "5-Points" where the chinese restaurant is now located, students and teachers found the buildings in deplorable condition.

Eventually, Kingsport's apparent dead-end attempts to locate a permanent home for the city's African-American children to learn, attracted the attention of the Rosenwald Foundation, which immediately came forward with a plan to help fund a new all-black school for the city.

To the rescue came Robert E. Clay, Julius Rosenwald's state agent in charge of dispensing funds for the Rosenwald Foundation, based in Nashville.

"Bob Clay was a very dynamic and pursuasive speaker," remembers Jill Ellis, who, as a child, attended many meetings with her parents the Looney's, that Clay would hold. "Anywhere he could speak to a group of black residents, be it at churches, meetings, programs, picnics.. you would find him there, convincing black people to give up their money to help build local schools for black children. And you've got to remember.. 25 cents here, 50 cents there, a dollar around the corner.. that was a lot of money back during the Great Depression. Black people did not have a lot of money. But that's where Clay's charisma came in: 'Let us build these schools so that our black children can learn in a positive environment, just like the white children.' Somehow he got it."

"Clay was a native of Bristol," says Mrs. Ellis, "I don't know if it was Tennessee or Virginia. Even though he was serious in his fundraising, I always remembered him to be a fun person, always laughing, always loving a good joke, and having a special feeling for Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. But it was Kingsport he made a special emphasis for, in the Tri-Cities."

"He may have been less successful in fundraising in his hometown and in Johnson City, but based on the contributions from the black people of Kingsport, he made quite an impact."

According to the Rosenwald Card File Database at Nashville's Fisk University, the Douglass-Rosenwald School in Kingsport was built in 1928-1929 on 2 acres at the corner of the old Bristol Highway (now Center Street) and East Walnut Avenue (now East Sevier Avenue) at a total cost of $52,235 dollars.

Of that, the file notes that local Negroes (as referenced in the file) contributed $400 dollars, and the Rosenwald Foundation put up $3,150 dollars towards the construction. Once the Kingsport City School Board saw that the community was giving of its own money and an outside source was willing to help finance a new building, the Board allocated the remaining $48,775.

The building was an eight-teacher type structure. Rosenwald Foundation planners had one type of school, designed for a north-south plat, and also one for an east-west facing. The Douglass-Rosenwald School would be a north-south design, which mandated two wings of classrooms on either end of the main building, with the center reserved for a combiled auditorium-cafeteria. Offices, restrooms, clothes closets and other needed rooms would be in the center as well.

Comparing the blueprint plan with the Douglass-Rosenwald School that was built, shows the exact nature of the construction. Because of the growing number of black children, the Douglass facility was also built as a 2-story structure, something Rosenwald scholars noted, happened occasionally, but not often. The school was ready for occupancy by the fall of 1929, and the move wasn't a minute too soon. School Board records show the black student population in Kingsport had more than quadrupled since 1920.

Please click here to see the data card file for the Douglass-Rosenwald School in Kingsport.

The Douglass Elementary-High School in Kingsport was one of 375 Rosenwald Schools eventually built in Tennessee. The Foundation made financial contributions in many other states, all of them south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Alabama - 405 schools
Florida - 127 schools
Georgia - 271 schools
Kentucky - 161 schools
Maryland - 155 schools
Mississippi - 639 schools
North Carolina - 819 schools
South Carolina - 503 schools
Tennessee - 375 schools
Virginia - 382 schools

Arkansas - 391 schools
Louisiana - 442 schools
Missouri - 5 schools
Oklahoma - 199 schools
Texas - 526 schools

"The Rosenwald Foundation did not provide ALL of the money to build the black schools," Dr. Stetten noted. "It wasn't even a majority of the funding. But it was that little extra push that was the difference in it happening, or not happening. There could have been the feeling by the local school board that if they didn't take the money, they could lose it. That's only speculation on my part."

Although Douglass-Rosenwald was of the eight-teacher type, there were also plans from one-room schools, to 8 or 10 rooms. The Rosenwald Foundation even built homes for teachers, and shops for schools it did not build.

Please click here to see the blueprint plans for all the Rosenwald Schools.


"It was the very strong combination of several beliefs that education was the way to help their children," Dr. Stetten says of the local African-American contribution to building the new school. "Research shows the black schools back then were very underfunded, and if parents wanted their children to succeed and get more education than they had, they would have contribute something financially themselves."

"It makes me sad to think that many people nowadays think public schools are failures, that they feel that our children are not learning as they should," Dr. Stetten says, "and then, there's the legacy of these Rosenwald Schools. Back then, these schools were viewed as the greatest hope for our children, which is a long-lost view of our history. The Rosenwald Schools were neat and tidy buildings, they were well-built, beautiful and well-designed. They showed care in their design, and that showed care for our children, that we cared enough to have them in good schools."

"I can just imagine the difference it must have made to the black school children and their families, when suddenly they were moved to a much nicer school. The learning level probably jumped tremendously."

Our research for this article shows that Douglass was one of four schools that received Rosenwald funds.


Another Rosenwald School was the all-black New Canton-Rosenwald School, in the New Canton Community in Eastern Hawkins County. The database indicates that school was built during the same years (1928-1929) as the Douglass School, and was a two-teacher design school.

Please click here to see the original data card file on the New Canton-Rosenwald School in Hawkins County.

Black folk in the New Canton community contributed $400 dollars for a new school to replace the one that was falling apart at the time, and the Rosenwald Foundation put up $750 dollars, which included a special aid contribution of $250 dollars. The remaining $1,700 dollars was funded by the Hawkins County School Board, and the New Canton School was built on 2 acres in the vicinity of the Allen's Chapel AME Church, at a total cost of $2,850 dollars.


A third area Rosenwald School was the all-black Prospect School in Scott Couunty, Virginia. Database information shows that the $2,300 dollar total cost, consisted of both the black community and several whites in Gate City contributed $600 dollars, Rosenwald funds gave $500 dollars, and the Scott County Board of Education made up the remaining $1,200 dollars.

Please click here to see the data file card on the Prospect-Rosenwald School in Gate City, Virginia.

The Prospect-Rosenwald School started out built to "Tuskegee standards" as a two-teacher type school built in 1923-1924, but was later expanded to the four-teacher type design, then five-teacher in 1925, with the funding as follows: black contributions $2,000 dollars... white contributions $300 dollars... Scott County Board of Education, $4,000 dollars, and Rosenwald funds, $1,100 dollars.


We also noted a contribution to the Langston School in Johnson City, for the construction of a shop building in 1929-1930, which stood separate from the main school building. The six-room shop's total cost of $16,500 dollars was funded with $14,100 dollars of Johnson City School Board funds, and $2,400 dollars in Rosenwald funds. Although Rosenwald funds helped build the shop building, no Rosenwald money was spent on the Langston School building itself; there Langston itself is not considered a Rosenwald School.

Please click here to see the data file card for the Rosenwald "Shop at Langston School" in Johnson City.

Probably the biggest surprise in our Rosenwald research is in Kingsport, at 1000 Summer Street.

The Lincoln School was also a Rosenwald School.

Was Lincoln one of Kingsport's all-black elementary schools?

The evidence would seem so, although early school records do not indicate this.

Both Lincoln and Jackson Schools were proposed and built in 1921, and Lincoln eventually moved into its current building (at right), at the same time (late 20's - early 30's) that a new all-black elementary-high school building was proposed to replace the old all-black Oklahoma Grove school building. The new "Oak Grove" school was never built, but both Lincoln-Rosenwald and Jackson Schools were, with Lincoln-Rosenwald constructed on 3 acres just off the old Bristol Highway (now Center Street). The Lincoln-Rosenwald School was built for a total cost of $13,392 dollars, of which Negroes (as referenced in the file) contributed $300 dollars, the Rosenwald Foundation $850 dollars, and the Kingsport Board of Education put up the remaining $12,542 dollars.

Please click here to see the data file card for the Lincoln (Lincoln-Rosenwald) School in Kingsport.

And therein, lies a lot of confusion.

To date, there is no evidence that black children ever attended Lincoln in the
1930's, even though evidence exists that African-Americans did contribute to its construction in the years 1930-1931.

"I have no idea why Lincoln, a white school, ended up with Rosenwald funds," says Mrs. Ellis. "Clearly, Rosenwald intended his funding to help build black schools, but it's hard to tell if Kingsport had any ulterior motives back then by getting Rosenwald money for Lincoln. After all, the Oklahoma Grove School still existed AFTER Lincoln received funding from the black community and Rosenwald. The name 'Abraham Lincoln' held a lot of clout and was much revered in the black community. It's only speculation on my part, but perhaps somebody on the Board of Education may have said, 'with Kingsport growing so fast (which it was doing rapidly in the 20's and 30's, here are some funds that we could use, so let's try and get them, even though they're intended for colored schools.' Again, that's only speculation on my part."

In 1951, the new Douglass School was built at 301 Louis Street in Riverview to house Kingsport's African-American elementary and high school students. That school was built entirely with funds from the Kingsport Board of Education, the Rosenwald Foundation having ended its philanthropy many years before.

It was then that the legacy of the Rosenwald Schools began to wane, not only in Kingsport, but in Tennessee and around the South. After Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, society slowly moved towards integration, and the all-black schools and the lessons of the past that led to the benevolence of the Rosenwald Foundation, began to fade into history.

After standing empty for many years, the majestic Douglass-Rosenwald School on East Sevier Avenue, after serving as headquarters and jail for the Kingsport Police Department, eventually met the same fate as many of its Rosenwald counterparts. The historic building was unceremoniously and quietly torn down, its valiant and courageous history reduced to a pile of dust and debris.

But is the legacy forgotten? Has it vanished, whisked away as dust in the winds of change?


As people learn more about the heritage of the Rosenwald Schools, your Douglass Alumni website has uncovered a small, but dedicated movement from state to state, to remember the schools funded by the Rosenwald Foundation, and honor them by reviving some of that new learning education enthusiam.

African-Americans entrusted the legacy of the Rosenwald Foundation to Fisk University in Nashville, where a database is kept of all of the former Rosenwald Schools.

To access the entire Rosenwald Foundation School Database, please click here.

"The Rosenwald Schools were very special institutions," says Dr. Stetten. "Unlike most schools that got primary attention from their local school boards, the Rosenwald Schools received special attention from the residents in the community. Each resident felt they had a personal stake in the construction of the school, and the level of education that was taught there. In fact, they did.. their hard-to-come-by dollars helped put up the building, and as a result, there was a huge sense of pride in what the community had accomplished."

"The Rosenwald Foundation provided the push that got it all started.. and kept the enthusiam level high."

"Alumni of the Douglass School in Kingsport, their descendants and the entire community of Kingsport have a very special reason to be proud of their former school."

"It was a Rosenwald School."


If only Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington knew the fruits of the seeds they sewed back in the 1920's.. you might find the two old friends strolling along the grounds at Tuskegee in the 21st century, their conversations modern in nature, but philosophies still old-school:

"I've been getting several emails about the renovation work at one of the schools in West Tennessee," Rosenwald might tell his friend. "Seems the EPA wants another land impact study. The foundation spends as much money trying to meet the environmental impact studies as in renovating the buildings themselves."

"I know what you mean," Washington might reply. "Those environmental people are blowing up my Blackberry, too. We can only do so much. I've got a meeting with the lawyers in Atlanta next week on that."

"No matter," Washington might say after some thought.. "It's important to get that school back up and running. One of the teachers texted me about a remarkable student in one of her classes at one of the schools. She says, he's writing a thesis on the molecular structure of the brain tissues in the central nervous system, and the lab in the school has not been renovated with the updated material from M-I-T."

"Would more money help?" Rosenwald might respond. "I've got some new funding sources on standby."

"It could," Washington muses. "After I went on Oprah a few weeks ago, she texted me with a pledge, then I got a call from the Gates wanting to help through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and PBS sent my systems analyst an email, wanting a video conference on contributions through the Annenberg Foundation. The Benton Foundation wants to sponsor a telecommunications link to all of our schools, so we can set the other school renovations."

As they strolled off into the sunset and into the history books, Washington is overheard to mutter..

"So many kids.. so little time."


This article is dedicated to the memory of all Rosenwald teachers at the Douglass-Rosenwald School in Kingsport; and "Mama Jill" Ellis and Alene Sneed, both Douglass Elementary teachers in the "new" Douglass building built in 1951. Mrs. Ellis, who knew the Douglass link to the Rosenwald Foundation, prodded me into finding the documentation, and encouraged the historical referencing of the facts in the story, and...


...Alene Sneed, who, herself, often spoke of the benefits of the Rosenwald influence in the former black schools. As a child growing up in the 1930's, she attended, and graduated from, the Farmington-Rosenwald School in Marshall County, Tennessee, another school partially funded by the Rosenwald Foundation.

---Calvin Sneed