History comes to life at Pleasant Hill School

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Stephanie Deutsch is surprised by the unexpected gift from the Pleasant Hill Quilters. An original meal tray once used at Pleasant Hill School before it closed in 1964.

By Angela Guillory


It was as if history came to life as the Pleasant Hill School Restoration Project hosted "From Slavery to Education" Wednesday at the Pleasant Hill Center, a historical Rosenwald school.

Members of the Pleasant Hill Quilting Club performed their Underground Railroad skit on how quilt patterns were used to help the slaves escape to freedom. This skit includes narrations and songs from long ago, based on the book "Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad," by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard.

The group has traveled all over the United States by invitation to perform. Among the members are several retired school teachers including the last surviving Rosenwald school teacher, LaJoyce Flanagan.

Special guest author Stephanie Deutsch spoke with enthusiasm about Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, who built schools for blacks in rural communities. She presented a slide show containing photos of both including their families and other Rosenwald schools.

Deutsch spent 10 years doing research that resulted in her book, "You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South," published in late 2011 by Northwestern University Press.

Her research took her too many of the places associated with Washington and Rosenwald, including the Booker T. Washington Birthplace National Park in western Virginia, Tuskegee, Ala., and Springfield and Chicago, Ill.

In addition, she has visited many Rosenwald schools and met with alumni and community groups working to restore the schools.

Her husband, David Deutsch, is a retired television director with public broadcasting and a great-grandson of Julius Rosenwald, an American businessman and philanthropist best known as a part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company. He established the Rosenwald Fund, which donated millions in matching funds to support the education of African-American children in the rural South and other philanthropic causes in the first half of the 20th century. He was the principal founder and backer for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, to which he gave more than $5 million and served as president from 1927 to 1932.

After her presentation Deutsch was presented with an original meal tray once used at the Pleasant Hill School before it closed in 1964. She said she was surprised and excited to receive the gift from former student Ether Blaylock.

Attendees lined up for Deutsch to autograph her book.

The quilters laid out a hearty spread of refreshments for guests as they visited with the author, and members of the quilters and restoration group.

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