Jason Brown started the first grade in 1931 in the San Domingo Rosenwald school in Wicomico County. And today he sat in the same No. 1 classroom of that school, today dedicated as the San Domingo Community and Cultural Center. He proudly told me he was the oldest living resident of San Domingo, though I was not sure if it was pride or a frequently expressed astonishment of the fact. Eighty three years ago almost to the day Mr. Brown sat in this spot in what was then a nearly brand new school. He likely then did not know it was a Rosenwald or understood that significance. He only knew that he was seated in a brightly lit, impressive-looking schoolhouse, an extraordinary improvement over the rundown drafty one-room schoolhouse that had for years been located out back on the property.
This particular Rosenwald school (so-called for philanthropist and Sears President Julius Rosenwald who collaborated with Booker T. Washington to construct 5,000 such schools for African American education throughout the south from Maryland to Texas) was unique for it’s size, given its rural location. But the rare two-story four-classroom Rosenwald elementary school served students from all over that part of the county. One former student attending today’s dedication teased another, who had to walk quite a distance to school, boasting how she got to arrive in a school bus.
I was relatively unaffected until today I walked into this restored historic structure for the first time. This was something special, and you could feel its specialness. Photos do not do it justice. The foundation created to restore the building was fortunate because years ago siding had been placed over the exterior which actually protected the architectural integrity and stability of the structure. And they were also blessed, for much of the original interior was intact. The freshly painted wooden plank walls and ceiling were the original, as were the warm brown wooden floors. Two of the original windows could be restored, but the remaining windows were replaced to meticulous standards to replicate the originals. The result is a stunningly vibrantly-lit interior, a hallmark feature of Rosenwald schools. To the attending former students, the only thing missing was the pot-belly stove in the corner. So now they’re looking into including one, to fuel those memories and to teach young visitors what it was like to go to this school.
The John Quinton Foundation, Inc. today realized their dream of restoring history in order to teach its history to future generations. Newell Quinton and his wife Tanja organized a memorable dedication, with incredible guests, many of whom were community members and former students and a couple of past teachers. The memories permeated the air.
In addition to a local dignitary or two, there were other extraordinary guests, including Stephanie Deutsch who researched and authored a 2011 book, “You Need a Schoolhouse, Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and Building for the Segregated South.” Her connection with this history is intriguing, as she married a great grandson of Julius Rosenwald, but she was initially unaware of this history of Rosenwald. Also on hand was filmmaker Aviva Kempner, along with her film crew, documenting the event as part of her work creating the film documentary, “The Rosenwald Schools.”
But the star of this dedication was the community. The close-knit historic community of San Domingo was carrying on a tradition of support for history and education. I asked Mr. Brown if he was a descendent of the founder of San Domingo, James Brown. Jason Brown shrugged his shoulders, saying maybe, distantly. Chances are he’s a descendant. It seemed only fitting Mr. Brown was in attendance today, enjoying the dedication of a building which had been an important part of his life and of the history of San Domingo.
— Linda Duyer
First photo below; Jason Brown, seated on the right. Second photo: Newell Quinton