JAMESTOWN -- Raleigh Hallback left this rural community for New York City in 1956, right after he graduated from the segregated Jamestown School.
He didn't think he would ever come back. "But that was a child's way of thinking," the 68-year-old said.
Hallback came home in 1998, and he's now part of a group of residents who want to preserve the Berkeley County community's history by restoring the Jamestown School building.
The Rev. Wilford Kinlaw, minister at New Mount Zion AME Church and one of Hallback's former classmates, never left. Kinlaw said residents want to convert the building into a community center, a move that would preserve the community's legacy and serve residents' needs.
The original Jamestown School was built in the 1928-29 school year with $1,200 in seed money from Sears, Roebuck and magnate Julius Rosenwald and $5,400 from the community. It had space for five teachers.
Rosenwald, at the urging of Booker T. Washington, contributed to about 5,000 schools for black students across the rural South between 1912 and 1932. Among those were six in Berkeley County, 13 in Charleston County and two in Dorchester County.
The original Jamestown School burned in 1931 but soon was rebuilt with insurance money on the site on U.S. Highway 17A near its intersection with S.C. Highway 41, Kinlaw said. The building is crumbling in parts and water-damaged in others, Kinlaw said, but he would like to see it once again become the center of the community.
The building, which would require extensive renovation, has several classrooms, a small, central auditorium with a stage and a large kitchen.
Young people need a place to go and healthy things to do, Kinlaw said. And senior residents, who often are isolated in the rural community, could come together for meals, activities and to socialize, he said.
Residents have tried to save the building for nearly a decade, he said. It hasn't been used as a school since the early 1960s and needs upgrades to become an appealing place to spend time.
Three local communities -- Jamestown, Shulerville and Savannah Creek -- hold the deed to the school, Kinlaw said. Six churches in those communities want to see the school restored, he said. So far, residents have cleared the grounds of brush and debris, and formed a nonprofit organization that will raise money for the restoration, he said.
Anthony Parker, superintendent of the Berkeley County School District, has met with residents and visited the school. "It connects us to our history," he said. The district is struggling financially, he said, but it can help the group in indirect ways, such as helping members write grants to raise money. "We're going to support them as much as we can."
Tracy Hayes, who handles the Rosenwald Initiative from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Office on King Street, said the program was launched to respond to community groups that want to restore such schools. The trust also wants to raise public awareness.
"People still don't know the story behind the Rosenwald Schools," she said.
Her group works with groups to guide them through the restoration process, which can include helping them find sources of money to complete the projects.
Caroline Barker, the trust's communications director, said Rosenwald schools across the South are being restored and used as community centers or for other public purposes. That's important, she said, because the schools originally were at the center of their respective communities. "They were more than schools," she said.
Jeremiah Green, 81, is one of the older members of the group trying to preserve the Jamestown School, which he graduated from in 1945. He went on to college at Allen University and graduate school at Atlanta University, eventually becoming principal at St. Stephen High School (now Timberland High School).
Green understands the importance of looking out for the community's youth and preserving its past. Restoring the school, he said, will "bring a lot of memories and assistance to this community."
Rosenwald schools in the tri-county area:
• Cordesville School
• Dixie Colored School
• DuBois School No. 2
• Jamestown School
• Pineville School
• St. Stephen School Charleston County • Ashley-Phosphate School
• Four Mile School
• Liberty Hill School
• Lincoln School
• Lincolnville School
• Little Edisto School
• McCarley School
• Nine Mile Fork School
• Parkers Ferry School
• Red Top School
• Seven Mile School
• Six Mile School
• Ten Mile School Dorchester County • County Training at Summerville
• St. George School Source: Fisk University, Rosenwald school database