“Celebrating our journey and leaving our legacy” was the theme for last weekend’s Rosenwald Alumni Reunion. They kicked off late Friday afternoon with a mixer and the precious opportunity to meet, greet, reminisce and fellowship with “old” and new friends. Shared anecdotes and stories ran the gamut from favourite teachers, pep rallies, dances, Glee Club songs, school plays, getting in trouble, getting lost, special poems, songs, games, lunch, field trips, devotions, bible verses, the flag and wrapping the maypole.
From the onset, with the arrival of each guest under the waving balloons and Rosenwald banner, I’m sure that gratitude was felt by all. It was plain to see, that the planning committee members and all attending alumni were delighted that their festive weekend was finally here. The value of gathering under one roof to be in reunion cannot be understated. The Rosenwald class song of 1957 referenced never forgetting the hard work that was put in, nor forgetting “our pleasures here, between these walls, friends and teachers dear.” Having “reached the golden moments,” as the song stated, the now expressed hope for the alumni, is that they continue to make a difference in life and to leave a legacy for the generations to come, to learn and be inspired by the grace of God to be the best that they can be.
An overcast Saturday morning opened to clear skies and high heat. The walking tour group was not deterred, but was wise to revisit part of the TCIO Historical Tour from the shade. Lunch followed, generously provided by the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center Board. Randy Lytle, President of the Board, presented the community “cause” with an extended invitation to the Alumni to be supportive and assist in any way possible. Randy shared the board’s desire to restore some of the hopes and dreams of the community. He said that the community center project has been “5 years going now with lots of moving parts.” A fundraising film, produced and created by past middle school students from Mountain Sun Community School was viewed with a healthy exchange of ideas to follow.
The rest of the afternoon was for rest, relaxation and to get ready for an evening of dining, socialising and dancing! Prayer, songs, remembrances and inspiring words were woven into the wonderful night. Edith Darity expressed her happiness that the group had made the effort to come. Tommy Kilgore was gracious as Master of Cermony, keeping the programme flowing perfectly. Mr. Lewis Whiteside, Sr., thoroughly inspired us as guest speaker. His task was to address the subject, “What kind of legacy are we leaving the Rosenwald Community?” As a child growing up in the 1949’s and 50’s, he had a good eye’s view of the Rosenwald Community. As such, he felt it fitting to go back in time to take a quick look at the kind of legacy that was left to them. I will share his powerful message here:
“The legacy we leave is part of the ongoing foundations of life. Those who came before leave us the world we live in. Those who will come after will have only what we leave them. We are stewards of this world, and we have a calling on our lives to leave it better than how we found it, even if it seems like such a small part.
First of all, the Rosenwald Community was divided into several sections separated by only by the railroad tracks with Goose Hollow and several more on one side of the tracks and Greasy Corner and several more on the other side. There were several other outlying communities such as Frog Bottom, Glade Creek and French Broad which I have always considered to be an integral part of the Rosenwald Community.
There were 5 black owned convenient stores; Mills Groceries, operated by Reverend J. F. W. Mills, originally, then Sherman Crite Jr.; Killian’s Grocery, operated by Ms. Annie Bell Killian, Hill’s Parlor, operated by Ms. Mattie Pierce and her daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Hill; Elliott’s Cafe, operated by Mr. Grady Elliott; and Whiteside’s Cafe, operated at various times by Roy Whiteside, Ed and Opelia Hutchinson and Sam and Winona Whiteside.
There were 2 Taxicab services, owned and operated by Mr. George Bailey and Mr. Ed Killian, respectfully. Mr. Killian was also the constable and I clearly remembering hearing him state, and I quote: “I am the only man in the county who can arrest the high sheriff.”
There were 2 barbershops, Betsill’s Barbershop, operated by Mr. Victor Betsill and Hutchinson’s Barbershop, operated by Henry Hutchinson. And also 2 Beauty Parlors, owned and operated by Mrs. Callie Mills and Mrs. Evon Kelly.
There were 2 garbage services, Elliott’s owned and operated by Mr. Grady Elliott and Mackey’s, owned and operated by Mr. Cleo Mackey.
There were also 4 realtors, who owned and managed rental properties, within the Rosenwald Community, they were: Mr. & Mrs. J. F. W. Mills; Mr. & Mrs. Avery Benjamin; Mr. & Mrs. Leroy Brown and Mr. & Mrs. Roy Whiteside. And lastly there were 2 rock masons/contractors, Mr. Avery Benjamin and Mr. Fred Mills. And, 1 Janitorial Service, owned and operated by Mr. Sherman Crite.
There were 5 churches, 1 community center, The Mary C. Jenkins Community Center, and 1 school, Rosenwald Elementary School. Today, to the best of my knowledge, we still have 5 churches. The Holiness church is not among the original ones. Another one is. The Rosenwald building is no longer a school but now the educational office headquarters for Transylvania County Schools. And the MCJ Community Center.
The economic conditions were not good other than the previously mentioned businesses and professions, including the teachers at Rosenwald. The other Rosenwald citizens, primarily, were domestic workers and janitors. There was love and respect, one community united together. That is my recollection and reflection on how I remember the old Rosenwald Community.
The businesses that were an integral part of the Rosenwald Community are now non-existent, with the exception of beauty parlors, janitorial service and barbers. Does that mean that we have dropped the ball and mismanaged the legacy that we were left? No, not by any means. During that period of times, all the adult members of the Rosenwald community, whether they owned a business or did domestic work, which was about all they had, taught and provided us with much more than just the tangibles and services provided by those businesses. You see, the choices we make about the lives we live determine the kinds of legacies we leave. The generations before us made good choices about the lives that they lived, They lived lives that enabled us to have a better life than they had: they were providers and insured that we had a better and higher level of education than they had. They were honest with themselves and each other. They were their brother’s keeper. They left us with a legacy of commitment; they were committed to their families. They loved one another. They kept the faith. They also loved God, their country and their fellow man. They let love prevail instead of letting hate destroy them.
We have made a lot of progress in our lives and within the Rosenwald Community, with the legacy left to us. But, by no means have we completely overcome some of the same obstacles that faced previous generations.
Sometimes, we are still judged by the color of our skin instead of the content of our character. Prejudice still exists, racism periodically raises its head and justice still does not flow like a mighty stream. Even though all is not well, we must not give up or give in. The dream of achievement is there for anyone who wants to take advantage of it, and that includes the Rosenwald Community. If any community it to thrive and be successful, it must find ways and provide the youth within that community the same degree of love, education, commitment and guidance that we were provided. Either we are a part of the problem or are a part of the solution, The choice is ours.
Our forefathers fought and and sacrificed so that we would have many of the opportunities that we have today. We should not only be appreciative of those sacrifices but we should make the most of them.
The Rosenwald Community and each of us individually must do our part to continue the legacy that was afforded us. A project is underway to revitalize the MCJ Community Center, which is a part of the legacy handed down to this generation and gives us an opportunity to maintain and pass on.
When we look at some of the situations that our country is currently faced with, such as the upcoming presidential election, the two lives taken in Minnesota, Louisiana and the lives taken and the 9 injuries that resulted from the ambush in Dallas, it is evident that for us to survive as a country, and as a community, all mankind, yes even the Rosenwald Community, must embrace the following legacies:
Love must be an integral part of everything we do, in order to drown out the hatred that lives within the hearts of mankind.
Being men and women of Faith, Mary McLeod Bethune once stated, and I quote, “Faith is the first factor in life devoted to service. Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.” Faith in God is the greatest power, but great also is faith in one’s self.
We must be peacekeepers instead of peace breakers. We must be prayer warriors. We must seek divine guidance in all situations. We must pray without ceasing and we must stay truly committed to our God, to our family and to our country.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote by Ron Brackin: “In the world, success is measured in terms of legacy, what we leave behind. In God’s kingdom, success is measured by what we send on ahead.”
So, the legacies that we leave to the our families and to the Rosenwald Community is left up to each of us and is based upon the type of lives we choose to live. May God bless and keep each of you in His care.”
Nicola Karesh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rosenwald Community Volunteer
(Published in the Transylvania Times, 7/14/16)