For Immediate Release
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Contact: Mark Ard
PRESS RELEASE: Secretary Byrd Announces the Designation of the Okahumpka Rosenwald School in the National Register of Historic Places
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd announced today that the Okahumpka Rosenwald School in Lake County has been listed in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
“I am pleased to announce that the Okahumpka Rosenwald School has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places,” said Secretary of State Cord Byrd. “The Okahumpka Rosenwald School is one of the local Black American community’s best surviving historical resources and served for many years as a school and community center. It is also one of only 25 remaining Rosenwald Schools in Florida.”
The Okahumpka Rosenwald School is a two-room, wood frame, one-story building located in a historically African American neighborhood north of the center of Okahumpka in Lake County. The Julius Rosenwald Fund facilitated the construction of hundreds of “Rosenwald Schools” for Black students across the South from 1917 to 1932. Julius Rosenwald, then head of Sears, Roebuck and Company, partnered with Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute and endowed the fund to design and build the schools. The Okahumpka Rosenwald School was constructed in 1929 and replaced an earlier one-room schoolhouse. The Rosenwald Fund provided $500 towards the total construction cost of $3,320, with the remainder provided by the Black residents of Okahumpka and the Lake County School Board. The Okahumpka Rosenwald School is located on the site of the previous school, where civil rights pioneer Virgil Hawkins obtained his education. Hawkins is noted for suing the University of Florida for racial discrimination in 1949, when the university denied his application to their law school. The subsequent legal cases resulted in the integration of the law school in 1958, although Hawkins himself never attended. The road where the school is located is named “Virgil Hawkins Circle” in his honor.
Okahumpka Rosenwald School. Photo by Chris D’Amico, Okahumpka Community Club.
The Okahumpka Rosenwald School is an important surviving example of a historic Black American school design in Central Florida. A total of 140 Rosenwald funded schools and auxiliary buildings were constructed in Florida between 1921 and 1932, but today only 25 remain. The Okahumpka School is one of two surviving examples in Lake County, out of eight originally constructed in the county. The other is the Rosenwald School in Mount Dora. While the interior partitions of the Okahumpka Rosenwald School no longer exist, the building retains its original exterior materials and location. The school was constructed using one of the architectural plans provided by the Rosenwald Fund. It sits on concrete piers and has its original Dutch-lap, wooden siding. Originally, the school would have had large windows which provided sunlight as the main source of light for the school.
In addition to serving as a school, this property was the only social center for Black Americans in Okahumpka. After the school closed in 1964, the property continued to serve as a community center. In 2021, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation included the Okahumpka Rosenwald School on its “11 to Save” list of the most endangered historic places in Florida. The Okahumpka Community Club recently received grant funding from the Division of Historical Resources to restore the school as a museum and build a new community center on the property. To learn more, visit okahumpka.org or facebook.com/okahumpkacommunityclub.
About The National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is a list maintained by the National Park Service which includes historical and archaeological properties including buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts, that are considered worthy of preservation because of their local, statewide and/or national significance. Nominations for properties in Florida are submitted to the National Park Service through the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources. Florida has over 1,700 listings on the National Register, including 295 historic districts and 175 archaeological sites. There are more than 50,000 sites contributing to the National Register in Florida. For more information, visit flheritage.com/preservation/national-register. For more information about the National Register of Historic Places program administered by the National Park Service, visit nps.gov/nr.
About The Florida Department of State’s Bureau of Historic Preservation
The Bureau of Historic Preservation (BHP) conducts historic preservation programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, preserving, and interpreting the historic and cultural resources of the state. The Bureau manages the Florida Main Street Program, and under federal and state laws, oversees the National Register of Historic Places program for Florida, maintains an inventory of the state's historical resources in the Florida Master Site File, assists applicants in federal tax benefit and local government ad valorem tax relief programs for historic buildings, and reviews the impact that development projects may have on significant historic resources. For more information, visit flheritage.com/preservation.