The history of the Middletown Consolidated School in Berea was recognized with a ceremony unveiling the highway marker placed by the Kentucky Historical Society. The public event took place Saturday, August 18 at the old Middletown Consolidated School on Walnut Meadow Road in Berea.
The event included representatives from state and local governments, and officials from Berea College and Berea and Madison County School systems and numerous Middletown School alumni, faculty and staff. The occasion marked the significance of the site as a Rosenwald school for African American children during the segregation era. The unveiling ceremony was followed by building tours and a reception.
As one of more than 100 Rosenwald schools built in Kentucky, this school—officially called the Berea Consolidated School for African American children—is a local historical landmark.
The steering committee that arranged the historical marker’s placement and organized the unveiling ceremony included local residents Sharyn Mitchell, Dr. Jackie Burnside and Dr. Janice Blythe, all of whom are members of Berea College’s faculty and staff.
The Kentucky Historical Marker program allows Kentucky communities to recognize sites, events and personalities considered to be significant to local, regional, state or national history. More than 2,400 such markers exist across Kentucky, including four others in Berea.
The Middletown Consolidated School was built in 1927 for African American children in the Berea area. A key factor in developing the school was the Julius Rosenwald Fund, named for the man who built Sears, Roebuck and advanced the cause of Black education in the American South. Coincidentally, the Julius Rosenwald Fund was managed by Edwin Embree, grandson of Berea College’s founder John G. Fee. Embree was president of the Rosenwald Fund and oversaw its distribution in addressing issues of racial discrimination in the U.S.
One of the features of the Rosenwald school-building program across the South was that the Rosenwald Fund would put up about 15 percent of the cost of a school and insist the local community—both black and white—contribute an agreed-upon amount (in money, materials and/or sweat equity), and that local officials assume ownership of the school and maintenance responsibility when the structure was completed. Berea College partnered in the project by providing the land on which to build, as well as installing electrical and water lines for the building. This approach encouraged both blacks and whites to buy into the project, and prod local school boards into expanding educational opportunities for Black youth.
Built at a cost of $12,000 and based on the four-room, four-teacher design typical of Rosenwald plans, construction of this school allowed for the consolidation of several one-room schools for African American students in the southern part of Madison County. It was this collaborative partnership that from the 1920s to the 1960s served students in grades one through eight at the Middletown School. After re-integration of public schools, the building later served as a community center before languishing vacant for more than two decades. Berea College completed an eco-sensitive renovation of the structure in 2006-2007, retaining much of the original materials and features of the building. Modern amenities, such as adding indoor restrooms, replacing the original privies, installing energy-efficient new windows, and adding an elevator with an accessible, exterior entrance, equipped the building for 21stcentury use.
The building now houses the College’s Partners for Education Program, which provides regional outreach services to lift educational aspirations, build academic skills and offer college and career connections for students, families and communities.