a Rosenwald school

by Martha b. bowden,
Knoxville, Tennessee, 2008
An artistic rendering of Pleasant View School.

This African American Elementary School was located in the Walnut Grove Community of Sevier County Tennessee. The land the school was constructed on was donated by James, Newton, and Fred McMahan. They were African American brothers living in the Walnut Grove Community. It was the largest African American school built in Sevier County.

The school was contracted with financial assistance from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation’s regional office. Julius Rosenwald[i], President of Sears Roebuck and Company, was interested in developing self-sufficiency in rural black communities in fifteen southern states. These schools were known as Rosenwald Schools.

The Rosenwald School Program provided its own school designs in a book called Community School Plans, published in 1921. Fred McMahan was provided with a copy of the book to design a two-teacher community school.

The Rosenwald School had to meet very specific requirements such as placing of the doors, and windows. The building was required to be facing either east or west in order for the school to receive proper lighting (in the absence of electricity. Pleasant View School was built to face east. Lamps (oil) were provided for emergencies.

Pleasant View School was the only one of the Rosenwald schools constructed of brick. This could have been because the J.F.N. Construction firm and the volunteer workers from the Black community were also brick masons.

Sevier County applied to the Rosenwald foundation for funds and received $ 800.00. The Black Community matched the Rosenwald fund. Rosenwald required state and local governments to match his contributions. These governments gave a total of $2,200.00. The grand total cost for the Pleasant View School construction and interior furnishing was $ 3,800.00 in around 1921. The donated land and labor, the qualifications of the teachers all contributed to the sound elementary education provided to African American children in Sevier County.

There was no provision set aside for children who wanted to attend or obtain a high school education. Thus, many families moved to other counties; and, the remaining children ended their education at Pleasant View School.

Pleasant View School operated as a three-classroom with one teacher. Two of the rooms were separated by a movable partition wall. This was helpful and served as curtains when the school presented programs and plays. The building was used from time to time for community gatherings. In the 1950s, the third room was used as a dining room. There was a partial basement used to house equipment and coal for heat in the winter. Originally the grounds had a tennis court used by students and the community. There was a large playground, a well with a pump for the water supply, and two outhouses. In the 1950s a small library was constructed in one corner of the classroom which contained three hundred thirty-five books donated by the Sevier County Public Library.

Mary Bond McMahan was the second teacher to teach at Pleasant View School. She was the first teacher with a Master’s Degree in Sevier County. She was innovative, always introducing new methods and social skills with music and drama. She was also a leader in education, keeping her teaching methods up-to-date by continuing to take courses. She was a leader in the black community. When her students completed the eighth grade, she offered to teach ninth grade course work to those interested.

Mary B. McMahan, wife of Fred McMahan, grew up in Kentucky. She received her Bachelor’s of Science degree from Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1918. She received her Master’s Degree from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.

Pleasant View School was her third teaching assignment; she remained in that position until retirement. She taught two generations of Burdens, Rimels, Mouldens, McMahans, Martins, and Turners. Under her leadership, Pleasant View School students were able to travel far and wide as professionals in the fields of education, medicine, and business.

In 2008, Pleasant View School was demolished without any notification to the Black community. The community had discussed applying for the National Register of Historic Places prior to this demolition.

[i] In 1917, Julius Rosenwald, President of Sears, Roebuck and Company, initiated a school building program that would have a dramatic impact on the face of the rural South and in the lives of its African-American residents. Through the Julius Rosenwald Foundation, more than 5300 schools, shop buildings, and teachers’ houses were built by, and for, African-Americans across the South and Southwest until the program was discontinued in 1932. The Rosenwald School program has been called the “most influential philanthropic force that came to the aid of Negroes at that time.” In all, the Rosenwald Foundation contributed more than $4.3 million to construct schools across the regions, and more than $4.7 million was raised by African Americans to build the schools. http://www.rosenwaldschools.com/


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