Rosenwald Schools and George Davis of Johnson C. Smith University

Davis (second from the right in the rear row) with his family.

On March 24, 1862, African American educational leader George E. Davis was born in Wilmington. Davis was the primary organizer and fundraiser for the Rosenwald schools movement in North Carolina. 

After graduating from the forerunner of Johnson C. Smith University, Davis became that school’s first black professor.  He earned his doctorate over time while teaching science and sociology and was named dean of the faculty in 1905. He stepped down in 1921 to take on the task of implementing the Rosenwald program in North Carolina.

Sears, Roebuck, and Company president Julius Rosenwald established a fund to finance public school buildings for African Americans in the rural South in 1917. Educational facilities for blacks in the South at the time were sorely substandard, usually much worse than counterpart white schools.

Between 1917 and 1932, more than 5,300 Rosenwald Schools were constructed in 15 states. Of that number, 813 were built in North Carolina, more than in any other state.

Davis crisscrossed the state to raise funds in mostly impoverished communities. In 1932, he reported having raised more than $660,000 in matching funds since 1917. In exchange for money from the Rosenwald Fund, local communities were expected to raise a matching amount and white-dominated school boards were expected to commit to maintenance.

Davis retired in 1935 at the age of 73, and he died in 1959.

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