Historic Preservation History Local News School Board

Rosenwald School Dedication

The total refurbishing of a 102-year-old nationally-recognized Rosenwald School has been completed and celebrated with the intention of continuing to serve the educational needs of the Plaisance community.

State and St. Landry Parish school officials gathered Saturday for a dedication ceremony at the school building which was constructed originally to provide early 20th-century education for a rural African-American populace.

School officials said during 2021-22 committee meetings, that total project costs for classroom building which is the only Rosenwald statewide school still located at its original site, included $500,000 in funding from state sources and another $250,000 from the District.

District 4 school board member Raymond Cassimere said revenue streams obtained for the reconstruction effort could not have been accomplished without the persistence from Plaisance-area committee members who were determined to save the school from further deterioration.

The building will be used as a band room, classroom space and a museum that will illustrate how the Rosenwald school educated Black students in the Plaisance area, Cassimere said.

Cassimere during his remarks during the dedication, said that District school teacher Karen Ryder was also instrumental in moving a proposed project forward.

“Mrs. Ryder came to me with her concerns and said that we needed to do something for the building. I told her then that I agreed with her and that we were going to give it our best shot,” Cassimere said.

School building construction completed.

Historical Aspects

Cassimere added that historical research provided by Ryder indicated the historical significance of the wood frame Rosenwald school which was completed in 1920.

“There were some things about this school that people couldn’t tell us about and Mrs. Ryder showed us that a design from the Rosenwald schools were created by Fisk University and that a local builder Willie Stevens and people from the Plaisance area assisted him and they constructed the school by hand,” Cassimere said.

The school located on the Plaisance middle school campus was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

Wording on the plaque indicates that philanthropist Julius Rosenwald donated $1,200 for the original construction of the school. St. Landry School Board members also gave $100 each towards the original construction costs.

Rosenwald, who was president of Sears Roebuck and Company, collaborated with educator Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute to build over 300 schools for Blacks in Louisiana between 1914 and 1932.

Most of the schools have been torn down or moved to other locations, but research shows Cassimere said, that the building in Plaisance is the only one still located at its original site.

Beginning Of Education Purposes

Dr. Merlin Pitre, a retired Texas Southern University history professor said in another interview that land for the school was donated by Felix Thierry.

The information accompanying the National Historic Register plaque said that when the school opened, 160 students in grades one through eight attended classes there.

Pitre said before the completion of the Rosenwald school, most rural Blacks in the parish were either taught at home or at other small independent or church schools in the Plaisance area or surrounding communities.

“St. Landry was a prairie area and after the Civil War, Blacks were not allowed to attend schools here in St. Landry. Some were created, but they were poorly attended until Felix Thierry offered his land for the Rosenwald school.

Attendees viewing photos of prominent educators.

Construction Process

Project architect Philippe Prouet  said the reconstruction was motivational for him.

“It was a fun project. I knew about the building and how much it meant to the community. The research that had been done on the building shows that it was original and intact. The floors were remarkable and original long leaf pine, but tile had been placed over them,” Prouet said.

Prouet said costs of material included in the renovation increased by 35 percent during the past year.

One floor however had to be redone and redesigned in order to create a large band room which has been named the Wade A. Robinson band room.

Robinson was band director at Plaisance for 34 years.

Longtime Plaisance band director Wade Robinson and school board member Raymond Cassimere.