Before Old Hopewell became a district-wide meeting space, the building served as the District’s segregated school for African American students from 1922 to 1966.
Although African-American students received an education as part of Round Rock ISD as early as 1914, Jim Crow laws regulated separate school facilities for white and black students. Rented churches and community spaces within Round Rock’s black community usually served as classrooms.
A permanent, District owned building specifically used to serve black students was first mentioned during the June 6, 1921 Minutes of the Board of Trustees. The location was determined to be the southwest corner of McNeil Road and what is now IH-35.
The Minutes note that “Jack Jordan, O.L. Brady, and C.D. Anderson were appointed as a committee to look into the building proposition of the negro [sic] school aided by the Rosenthal [sic] Fund, and make application to receive aid from said fund.”
The Rosenwald Fund began in 1912 as an initiative begun by Sears & Roebuck President Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish immigrant from Germany. His funding aided in the constructed schools in the American South for African American students. A collaborative project created by Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute (where Rosenwald was a trustee), was to change the course of black education in the South.
The Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes on July 5, 1921 stated, “The committee on the Negro school building made the report that the Rosenthal Fund would pay $1200.00 on a new building to cost aproximately [sic] $1800.00, which report was accepted.” and “O.L. Brady and Jack Jordan were appointed as a committee to see Wade Sauls and Dick Caldwell about signing the building note, to be given as part payment for the new school house.”
On May 8, 1922, C.E. Johnson was hired as principal for the negro [sic] school for the 1920-1923 term at a salary of $80.00 per month for six months. M.A. Starks was elected teacher in the negro [sic] school at a salary of 55.00 per month for six months service. The school opened during the fall of 1922.
By 1928, one in every five black schools in the South had been constructed using aid from the Rosenwald Fund. By 1932, Rosenwald Fund schools accommodated a third of the Southern black school population across fifteen states.
Rosenwald schools were planned by Tuskegee professors and buildings were designed based on the direction of the entryway. Because rural communities often lacked electricity, the schools generally had to rely on daylight, so placement of the building and planning for the windows made all the difference in the length of useful daylight for a classroom.
In Round Rock ISD one principal and one teacher divided the teaching duties for students who represented nine different grades. As attendance grew, grades one through ten were clustered into four groups for instruction: first through third, fourth through sixth, and two classes for grades seven through ten which made up the high school at that time. In 1928, the school year was lengthened to seven months, and this remained the school term for many years.
A training school was established in 1926 to provide vocational skills for adults as well as young people, but was discontinued in 1928 because of lack of funds. During the time the school was operating, many awards were given to Hopewell community members who participated in competitions demonstrating the skills they had learned in this program. Throughout its life, the school, along with the local church, served as a center for community events. Benefit dinners, musicals, and commencement ceremonies brought families together to raise money, enjoy entertainment, and to celebrate success.
During the Great Depression, Hopewell suffered along with the rest of the nation. From 1932-33, teachers were asked to teach without pay for one to two weeks because of lack of funds. Indeed these were difficult times, but the late thirties brought positive changes. In 1936, an additional 2.4 acres of land were purchased to accommodate growth in the student population. The next three decades saw many improvements for the original Hopewell. The old tenant house on the school grounds was repaired and leased to the school principal, a new wing with additional class space and a cafeteria was added, and an annex was built southeast of the building. Moreover, a decision was made to hire only certified teachers who monitored student performance closely to ensure continuing academic progress.
In 1965, after the passage of Civil Rights legislation, the district adopted a free choice enrollment plan. Segregation had ended. In 1966-67, the name of the former Hopewell building was changed to Southside Elementary School for one year. It then became the transportation facility for the Round Rock ISD until it was finally abandoned for a larger facility.
In 1966 when the first Hopewell closed, it had eight teachers, a principal, and a business, a home economics, and a band department.
As for the old Hopewell building, it sat vacant for many years. In 1998 the land on which it originally sat was sold and community members, led by former students and community groups, urged the district to move and preserve the structure. In October 1997, the old Hopewell building was placed on two trucks and made an hour long journey from its original site to its new home on the grounds of the Round Rock ISD administrative offices, 1311 Round Rock Ave. The District set aside $50,000 to renovate the building and material and labor was donated by community members and businesses. The building is currently used as a District meeting space
A Dedication Ceremony was held on Saturday, February 24, 2001.
The legacy of one Sears president to the black community. BY ROBERT L. WOODSON SR., OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 10/30/18 09:00 AM EDT TheHill.com.
The Rosenwald Schools: Schools for African-Americans in the Rural South. By Kate Kelly. AmericaComesAlive.com
Historic Old Hopewell School gets new life serving community. Bob Banta, Austin-American Statesman. Page
Remembering Rosenwald Schools, The Journal of The American Institute of Architects
History South: Rosenwald School Plans from historysouth.org
Preserving Rosenwald Schools. National Trust for Historic Preservation