On Steekee Road in Loudon, an aged school house with peeling paint, a barren flagpole and a historical marker reveals the 1920s building survived decades of change.
Dunbar Public School, which was erected in the 1923, served as the sole school for African American students in Loudon during the Jim Crow era.
Several similar two-room structures, called Rosenwald schools, were built across the South for children who couldn’t attend other public schools. Each room catered to a slew of grade levels and had only two teachers for all of the students.
“Dunbar was the place to be to go to school,” Ella Jones, an alumnus, said. “You didn’t miss nothing.”
The school shut its doors in the late 1950s as desegregation allowed African American students to attend other area schools. The building later served as a community center in Loudon for a period of time.
The Dunbar Rosenwald School Foundation now hopes to reopen the facility as a museum and community center, but with a long to-do list of restorations, modifying the school house is no easy feat.
The school has maintained a solid condition for nearing a 100-year-old building, Joyce Blair Fields, foundation president, said.
“As for being built in 1923, it’s in pretty good shape,” Fields said.
With outside help, the foundation has completed some much-needed restorations.
“One thing that we’ve done is put the windows in,” Fields said. “They have been approved by the historical society.”
The school has maintained original chalkboards and the stage, which was used to perform plays and recitals and was the spotlight for students to recite the day’s lesson.
Foundation members hope grants for the restoration of the exterior will allow other upcoming projects, like a heritage room, to fall into place.
“There’s so much to be done,” Fields said. “The roof has to be painted, and it also has to be restored.”
To expedite the process, city government has been a key player in helping raise money.
Earl Smith, foundation treasurer and Dunbar alumnus, said Loudon has even set aside money in the city budget.
“For instance, like the windows, we had to pay about $4,000 for the windows,” he said. “If I can have an invoice and a council check, I can submit that to the county and they will reimburse us to the $10,000 that they’ve appropriated in the budget.”
Loudon City Council held a barbecue in October that raised more than $1,100 in donations to benefit the refurbishment.
On June 26, the Tennessee Historical Commission announced historic preservation fund grants of $40,350 to fund the exterior restoration of the National Register-listed school house.
Until the foundation creates a plan for restoration, the focus is envisioning a community space for birthday parties and weddings as well as a place where people can learn about the school’s history.
“It’s our heritage,” Fields said. “We want to share it with the community. That’s our mission statement, too, and our purpose. We want to have a building that can satisfy the needs of the community.”
Other board members agreed the restoration will benefit everyone.
“It’s really good, not only for the legacy of the black community, but our community,” Brenda Hardy, wife of assistant treasurer, Tommy Hardy, said.
The school serves as a reminder of the Jim Crow era, but also recalls the opportunities given to students.
“I didn’t know that it was segregation,” Gloria Brown Jones, Dunbar alumnus, said. “I just thought it was a way of life. But it was a blessing that we had a school. It was a blessing that we had teachers in this area to teach us, now that I look back.”
Despite the school’s lack of teachers and small size, alumni revere their education.
“We were really prepared when we went to high school,” Fields said. “I count it a blessing. Somebody said to me, ‘Well, did you miss anything?’ No. I don’t think I could’ve had a better education here than we had. It prepared me for my future endeavors because I can remember all the things we did here.”