WARM SPRINGS, Ga. (WRBL) — Once a schoolhouse for Black children in the Warm Springs area, this historic building will again provide an educational experience for locals.
Former students, teachers, locals and other figures returned to the site of the Eleanor Roosevelt School, built on commission of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the last Rosenwald School, on Sept. 7. They were there for a 1 p.m. ground-breaking ceremony, kicking off what the school’s new owners expect will be a year-long restoration and rehabilitation project.
“We are here because we all have a connection to this beautiful building, and, in that regard, we’re all related,” said DeBron Walker in an address to the crowd, invoking a sense of family.
Walker, who also owns Green Mine LLC, purchased the Eleanor Roosevelt School from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation with his sister Voncher Walker in 2020.
The pair intends to make the school a national museum, culture center and events venue. They also plan to grow a victory garden and build a hydroponics/aquaponics system to provide education on historic and modern gardening techniques.
The funding for these projects comes from a nearly $700,000 grant awarded to the Georgia Trust from the National Park Service (NPS) Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program.
“Eleanor Roosevelt had a very close relationship with my mother, Nina Roosevelt,” said Haden Luke, great-grandson of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He attended the ceremony on invitation of the Walkers and was grateful to represent his family for the occasion.
Luke said his mother would have loved to attend with him, however travel is difficult at her age.
“She would be just thrilled to see the school being preserved and that the historical legacy of racial equality that meant so much to Eleanor is being cared for,” Luke said.
The goal of the Rosenwald Schools, built by Julius Rosenwald primarily between 1917 and 1932, was to provide higher quality buildings and educations for Black students. Nearly 5,000 Rosenwald Schools were built, serving over 660,000 students, according to the Walkers’ website for the project.
A tour through the historic building showed many of its original interior features, including chalkboards and paint, still remain after its closure during the 1970s. This is, in part, due to the fact the original windows were removed and filled with bricks for security reasons.
The Walkers plan to return the windows to their original state by removing the filler bricks and replacing them with historically accurate panes and trimmings.
A former student of the school, 80-year-old Patricia Copeland, said she hopes the school will remain for years to come. She added her children also attended the Eleanor Roosevelt School until it closed.
Also at the event was Cecelia M. Dean, who taught elementary and middle school students at the Eleanor Roosevelt School during the 1960s. Now 92 years old, she found herself walking through it’s halls once again.
With a smile, she said, “It’s just a blessing to be here today.”
DeBron and Voncher Walker intend to open the school for its new educational purposes in 2024, if everything goes as planned.