[graphic] Link to National Park Service Homepage [graphic header] National Register of Historic Places African American History Month
Liberty School

[photo]
Liberty School Front (north) and west elevations, view looking southeast
Photo by J. Daniel Pezzoni, courtesy of North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office

The Liberty Hill School stands stands at a lonely hilltop seven miles northwest of the nearest community, the town of Ellerbe, in Richmond County, North Carolina. Historically important for its educational, African American and architectural history, the former one-story school, was built in 1930 on the same site as a 19th century building for local African American children. The Rosenwald Fund assisted with the plan development of the school. The one-story frame building has a rectangular form with a foreword projecting wing flanked by duel entries, a front-gable roof, wood-siding, and two brick stove flues, and a two-classroom interior. An industrial room within served for girls to be taught home economics and farm work with tool training for the boys.

[photo]
Liberty School interior, combined classrooms
Photo by J. Daniel Pezzoni, courtesy of North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office

At first, schooling in Richmond County was tied to religion. One of the earliest references to a school is a 1774 deed that provided for a schoolhouse to be established at the same site as the Cartledge Creek Baptist Church. Private academies were established during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and in 1839 passage of state legislation led to the creation of the county’s first public schools. The Civil War and the economic dislocation that followed interrupted the local development of public education. When efforts resumed, the local school system accommodated African American children as well as whites. However, in 1875, public education in North Carolina was officially segregated. The original Liberty Hill schoolhouse was built in the same year. Many of the students attending Liberty Hill School were probably the children of former slaves who lived on the large plantations of northeastern Richmond County’s Pee Dee River Valley. The school’s early activities received strong support from the local African American community. A local observer noted in 1884, “The negroes seem to take a great more interest in educating their children [than] the white people do.” However, the educational outlook for North Carolina’s African American children grew increasingly dire. In 1915 the state spent $2.50 per African American pupil compared to $7.40 per white pupil (the national average was nearly $30.00 per pupil).


[photo]
Liberty School - South and east elevations, view looking northwest
Photo by J. Daniel Pezzoni, courtesy of North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office

Working to enhance educational opportunities for African Americans in the South was Booker T. Washington, who promoted the concept of ‘industrial education” at his Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington’s work attracted the interest of a Chicago philanthropist named Julius Rosenwald, the head of Sears, Roebuck and Company. As the son of German Jewish immigrants, Rosenwald was sensitive to racial prejudice. In 1917 he formed the Rosenwald Fund with Washington to address the crisis in African American education in the South. By the time the fund’s construction grants ended, the Fund supported the construction of 5,357 school buildings in 15 Southern States. 21 were built in Richmond County. Liberty Hill School was among the last to be built in the nation, in 1930-31.

[photo]
Liberty School interior, industrial room
Photo by J. Daniel Pezzoni, courtesy of North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office

During World War II and immediately after, only one teacher, Miss Hula Mae Thomas, taught at Liberty Hill School. She taught in one classroom while the other rooms were reserved for meetings, parent days, and presentations, following Booker T. Washington’s philosophy that each Rosenwald school should be a community center. In 1944 enrollment stood at 42 students. It was one of four one-teacher African American schools in Richmond County. In April 1946, in response to state policy, the county superintendent of schools submitted a plan for the consolidation of the county’s one-teacher African American schools. Beginning with the 1947-48 school year Liberty Hill’s students went to Mineral Spring School in Ellerbe, which at the time was had the county’s largest African American facility. It was seven miles from Liberty Hill School. In the spring of 1948 the school board auctioned off excess school buildings and Liberty Hill School was purchased by the Nicholson family. It later served as a community center until passing into private hands again in January 2006.

The Liberty School House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 17, 2008.

Sherwood Equal Rights Historic District | Liberty School
Featured Park | African American Feature Page Home | NR Home

National Park Service | U.S. Department of the Interior | USA.gov | Privacy & Disclaimer | FOIA
Comments or Questions