Community rallies to restore historical Lake County school built for African Americans

Okahumpka Rosenwald School built in 1930 during Jim Crow South

OKAHUMPKA, Fla. – A community is coming together to restore a piece of history some may have forgotten.

The Okahumpka Rosenwald school is now over 90 years old and in need of desperate repair.

“All we are trying to do is preserve history, and when you preserve history it’s a form of education,” said Charles Fields, a former FBI agent and Okahumpka native.

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Fields moved back to the area some time ago and is on a mission, alongside others, with the Okahumpka Community Club to save the school. The school was built in 1930 with a mission was to provide an education up to the 10th grade to Blacks during the Jim Crow South.

It shut down in 1960, a year before Fields said he was able attend as a first-grade student.

“Man, boy was I disappointed. You were talking about a kid who was boohoo crying, man,” Fields said.

Although Fields never got to enroll, he was able to experience some classes first-hand.

“I remember certain specific things like the school teachers, just the simple things like opening the windows they have, they have these pivot windows that were double hung. She would occasionally come with a pole or stick and had to loop it around,” Fields said.

Fields is working to save the school alongside Chip D’Amico, who is also part of the Okahumpka Community Club where D’Amico is the head of fundraising.

They plan on making this place an exhibit after it’s restored.

The school is one of 27 Rosenwald schools built in Lake County, and one of thousands placed across the rural south.

Mainly funded by Julius Rosenwald, who started the mission with Booker T. Washington.

Rosenwald was a businessman and part-owner of the Sears Company. He was also known for giving donations and promoting education.

“Booker T. Washington went to Julius Rosenwald and sat down with him probably to get money for his Tuskegee Institute, but it turned into so much more,” D’Amico explained.

Lake County Board of Commissioners have also stepped in to help with a letter of approval in a resolution.

The county will now be helping to register the building as a national historical landmark as well as help obtain future grants.

Fields encourages young people to learn from the past.

“To give a child an opportunity for education back in those times, that was the ticket to a much better life that continues on generationally,” Fields said.

To learn more about the Julius Rosenwald and his schools, click here.

If you would like to help with the restoration efforts, click here.

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.