Getting an education allows children to step out of poverty and into a future of success. That's what Booker T. Washington and others believed and they took action to ensure everyone who needed it, had that step up.
Today one man is on a mission to preserve that history. In 2006, Herman Wright Jr. left corporate America and his life in California and come home to find his roots in Jasper County. He founded The Long Black Line, a non-profit that's mission it is to preserve part of history and educate and inspire a generation to discover their own rural roots.
Down country roads lies the history of Texas and Herman Wright Jr. is trying to ensure future generations know about those who traveled before them.
He says he wants, "To be able to tell people the story of how these people became who they were despite incredible odds stacked against them and I want kids growing up to understand that there is more to their life than what's on I-tunes, Youtube, or Facebook or what's on Twitter.
But Herman's curiosity actually began when he was only 10 years old, when he walked passed the Walnut Hill school house his father attended as a child. Full of questions, he ran to quiz his grandmother on the topic. "And I came back and I asked her what is that? She said that's where your dad went to school and I thought about my dad who I idolized and I said he went to school there in the middle of the woods and he became what he became and she said yes"
Herman credits that early education for helping to mold his father into the man he would become; a decorated Lt. colonel in the U.S. Army. And that would not have been possible without the building. So Herman set out on a treasure hunt to find out everything he could about his family, the schools and the history of his ancestors. He found that in the 1920's Booker T. Washington joined with Julius Rosenwald, the head of Sears and Roebuck, and parents, to build schools for children to attend in the south in what came to be called the Rosenwald School Initiative.
Wrights says, "And from there, they began a partnership that resulted in the building of 5,000 schools." Five of those are in jasper county.
In 2006 Wright set out on a quest to preserve that forgotten history and he started The Long Black Line, a non profit that works to promote education through preserving the historical school houses. And for people like Earlene Southwell, who was in one of the last classes to attend the Rock Hill School before it closed giving these buildings a voice is important and personal. "It gives me a pleasure to know that, that little building is still standing. That's where I first got my start, you know. That's something close to my heart. It's part of my history."
The other purpose of The Long Black Line is to educate people abut their rich history developing curriculum for teachers. That's why the name is so symbolic. Wright says, "I have a picture of the brigade of Prairie View in the early 50's in which they were marching and I thought that's the long black line."
And though Wright's father has passed, through the organization's education component, that line of history he is a part of will live on because people will learn what Herman Wright Jr. has come to know. "I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. It's not just my parents or my grandparents, that I am the sum total of decades of decades and centuries of history."
Many of the school houses that are still standing are currently used as churches or community centers.
If you would like to know more about the work Herman Wright Jr. is doing and The Long Black Line visit their website at www.thelongblackline.com.