Unity Grove Rosenwald School Preservation Plan

The south facade of the Unity Grove Rosenwald School shows the deteriorated condition, January 23, 2023
The south facade of the Unity Grove Rosenwald School shows the deteriorated condition, January 23, 2023

The Unity Grove Rosenwald School was constructed in 1931 near the town of Locust Grove, Henry County, Georgia. The Unity Grove settlement was a community that formed after the Civil War, composed primarily of newly-freed persons. From the beginning, its families, mostly farmers and sharecroppers, valued education. A school for the black children of Unity Grove was in operation by the 1890s. James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) taught there in 1891 while he was a studying education at Atlanta University. After graduation, he would return to his home in Florida, where, in 1900, he composed the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” for his pupils to sing in celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

By the 1920s, the old school was in dire shape, and black community leaders petitioned the Henry County School Board for a new building. In 1931, both the black and white communities raised money, which, combined with public funding from the Georgia Equalization Fund and a cash donation from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, enabled the construction of the Unity Grove Rosenwald School. Like all other Rosenwald schools, the community had to dig a well for water and build two sanitary privies for the students, in addition to the two-classroom schoolhouse. The first day of classes was November 2, 1931. Originally constructed on two acres, the community came together in 1932 to purchase an additional acre of land at a cost of $12.50, to provide a playground.

The school operated through the spring semester of 1954. After that, students were bused to another black elementary school in Locust Grove, and the school board sold the building to a private individual in 1955. Henry County would eventually desegregate its schools in 1968.

The school remains in private hands, and has been used over the years to store hay and as a recreation space. Renewed interest in the school began with (now former) Henry County Commissioner Warren Holder, who inspired others to join together to try and save the school–the only remaining Rosenwald school in the county. Commissioner Johnny Wilson and former Commissioner June Wood, with a diverse array of business leaders, elected officials, the NAACP, administrators and educators from the Henry County Schools, formed the Henry County Arts and Culture Alliance. The goals of this non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation are to preserve and promote diverse arts and culture in the community. Laura Drummond has joined the supporting group, the Unity Grove Rosenwald School Alliance, and is providing her services pro bono to document the history and construction of the building, as well as write a Preservation Plan for the school.