Residents of the Hertford County community of Como are hoping to stall nature and time from doing further damage to a symbol of their proud–but segregated–past. In the mid-1920s African-Americans in Como raised $200 toward the construction of a two-room school house. With an additional $700 from the Rosenwald Fund and $2745 from Hertford County officials, the Mill Neck School was completed in 1927 and provided instruction for African-Americans through 8th grade for about 35 years.
Mill Neck was one of 12 African-American schools in Hertford County built with money from the Rosenwald Fund, a philanthropic effort supported by Julius Rosenwald. One of the owners of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Rosenwald provided financial support to a wide variety of causes. But after meeting Booker T. Washington in 1911, he became focused on improving black education in the South. Rosenwald and Washington hoped not only to improve black school facilities, but also to promote black-white cooperation. The Rosenwald Fund school building initiative provided only seed funds for school construction. African-Americans and county officials (usually white) were also expected to contribute money for construction.
From 1912 to 1937, the Rosenwald Fund supported the construction of more than 5,300 schools, teacher homes and workshops for African-Americans in the South. According to Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett, more than 800 facilities were built in the Old North State alone, making North Carolina home to the greatest number of Rosenwald Schools. In 2002 the National Trust for Historic Preservation added the South’s remaining Rosenwald schools to its list of most endangered places. Scholars and others will mark the 100th anniversary of the Rosenwald school building initiative at Tuskegee University next June.
The Mill Neck School is one example of the effects that weather and time have had on the structures. The building, now owned by Mill Neck Missionary Baptist Church, was already in need of repair when Hurricane Irene damaged its roof in August. Church and community members, many with limited incomes are now struggling to find a way to restore the structure and turn it into a agricultural museum and rural education center. Filmmaker Caroline Stephenson, a Hertford County native, is hoping to document the community’s efforts to save the building.