Remembering Black History through a restored Columbia building

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- It may seem like just an old building but if its walls could talk you'd learn that if it weren't for the Pine Grove School plenty of African Americans living in Columbia during the early 1900's may have not received an education.

â??There was a black board up and that wall would come down and divide the rooms,â?? says Cleoniece Rhett.

83 year old Cleoniece Rhett says she was six years old when she started taking classes. The year was 1935.

This school and others like it were made possible by a man named Julius Rosenwald.

Rosenwald was part-owner and leader of the department store Sears and helped to establish the Rosenwald Fund.

This fund donated millions to support the education of African -Americans in the rural south.

In 1912, Julius Rosenwald gave Booker T. Washington permission to use money he had donated to Tuskegee Institute for the construction of six small schools in rural Alabama.

The popularity of those schools began to spread across the southern states including South Carolina.

These schools would become the place were African American children would learn because they could not attend the same school with white children.

â??They went to the better schools, they had buses and we really got their reject books after they finished their books then we got their books,â?? says Rhett.

The Pine Grove school, built in 1923, was one of 15 other Rosenwald schools constructed in Richland County.

The total cost to build the Pine Grove school was $2,500.

Black communities had to foot the bill but they did get some funding from Rosenwald.

Over the years when the school closed the community continued to use it for events and meetings .

Fast forward to 2004 and the property was left for the Richland County Recreation Commission.

According to the commission Pine Grove was the last Rosenwald School standing in Richland County and they wanted to keep the history alive.

â??Their sweat went into building the school and bringing their money when folks didn't have alot of money. They paid to help bring the school here,â?? says Leigh Cheatham, Richland County Recreation Commission.

As a former student Rhett was one of the frontrunners when it came to the restoration process.

The school was deemed an historic site by the National Register of Historic Places on January 29, 2009.

Months later nearly $250,000 in grant money rolled in to help restore this Rosenwald School.

â??We've preserved a very small part of history and thatâ??s key,â?? says Cheatham.

Cheatham says the commission is working to incorporate Rosenwald School history into South Carolina education history.