VICKSBURG FACTS: Rosenwald Funds helped bring better education to Warren County

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 2, 2022

Did you know about the impact of the Rosenwald Fund in Warren County?

The Rosenwald Fund aided rural school communities to better their education system for children of all races. Booker T. Washington, a well-known educator and prominent figure in the African American community, proposed a plan to Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, to invest in six schools in rural Alabama.

The investment grew and eventually, the Rosenwald Fund expanded to 5,000 schools in 15 states, including Warren County, according to the Catfish Row Museum’s research about the Rosenwald and Culkin exhibit.

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Michael J. Solender of The Smithsonian Magazine interviewed Tom Hanchett, a Rosenwald school scholar and historian, for a story titled “Inside the Rosenwald Schools.” Hanchett stated in the article, “Rosenwald had to think broadly about who Sears’ customers were. The advent of rural free delivery by the U.S. Postal Service had dramatically increased Sears’ base from in-store shopping to catalog-based procurement. Having rural customers made Rosenwald more aware of the disenfranchisement for blacks, especially in education.” 

As stated on the Catfish Row Museum website, Rosenwald saw the funds he gave as “seed money” and thought it was best for the community to get involved by raising the remaining funds, clearing the land and maintaining the campus. According to the June 15, 1914, edition of The Vicksburg Evening Post, the Black community in Vicksburg was excited to hear Rosenwald and Washington’s announcement about aiding all communities, since they heard about Rosenwald helping the black communities in Mound Bayou. 

Sen. John Patrick Henry Culkin started as a teacher and later on became a huge proponent of the Rosenwald Fund in Warren County. Culkin started teaching in 1907 in Warren County and was the principal of Vicksburg High School from 1907 to 1911. He then became the Warren County superintendent from 1911 to 1924.

Culkin was the first Senator in Mississippi to accept Rosenwald’s ideals of funding Black schools. However, those ideals had to be kept a secret due to local Ku Klux Klan factions trying to stop the construction of two dozen Rosenwald Schools for Black students, according to the Catfish Row Museum. 

During his time as superintendent, Culkin was able to receive $300 from the Rosenwald Fund for each Black school in Warren County in 1918. In 1920, Warren County’s application for the Rosenwald Fund was approved and they received $15,000.

It was announced on Dec. 6, 1920, according to a Vicksburg Evening Post article, that Culkin was able to secure an additional $5,000 from the Rosenwald Fund making the county’s allotment a grand total of $20,000.

As mentioned in the article, “Prof. Culkin considers this his most successful educational endeavor and states that it will bring many producers back here.”

Currently, none of the Rosenwald buildings that Culkin had built are still standing, but the impact made left a lasting impression on the community.