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Shell grants $300,000 toward Donaldsonville museum’s Rosenwald School

Michael Tortorich
Pictured from left are Shell Convent Operator and RRAAM Board Member Tyrone Smith, RRAAM Board Member Emanuel Mitchell, Shell Convent General Manager Allen Pertuit, RRAAM Executive Director Darryl Hambrick, RRAAM Board President Todd L. Sterling, Shell Vice President U.S. Gulf Coast Rhoman Hardy.

Last week, Shell gave a $300,000 grant to support the restoration of the Rosenwald School building owned by the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville. 

Once completed, the historic structure will be the home of the RRAAM Rosenwald School for Education, Culture, and History, which will provide a modern space for visitors and groups to explore the role of African Americans in the region’s history.

Rosenwald Schools are named after Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist who established a rural school building program for African American children. The buildings were constructed between 1917 and 1932.

A photo of Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington appears on the informational kiosk, installed last year by the Ascension Parish Tourism Commission, in front of the building.

The historic Rosenwald School is located at 511 Williams St. in Donaldsonville.

According to RRAAM’s Board President Todd L. Sterling, the building will enhance the museum’s ability to provide science, technology, engineering, art, and math programming, healthy eating and living seminars, and cultural and history events. Additionally, the location will serve as a center for genealogical research.

“The River Road African American Museum is truly excited about the gift Shell is contributing to our work,” Sterling said.

Children, members of the community, and patrons from around the world will benefit from the programming and events available once the building is renovated, he added. Completion is estimated for summer of 2021. 

The Rosenwald School building is one of just a few remaining in the area. It originally served to educate African American children in St. James Parish in the early 1930s. 

The Rosenwald School building was moved from St. James Parish to Donaldsonville in 2001.

The building was moved to 511 Williams St., Donaldsonville in 2001 in order to save it from demolition. RRAAM’s museum is located next to Donaldsonville City Hall and the Bicentennial Jazz Plaza at 406 Charles St.

Shell Vice President for the U.S. Gulf Coast, Rhoman Hardy, said the company’s relationship with the museum goes back to the beginning.

“The Rosenwald School will bring new resources and opportunity to our region while assisting the museum in advancing its mission, one we believe deeply in,” Hardy said. 

Two years ago, Shell worked with RRAM to honor and commemorate slave burial grounds found near the company’s Convent refinery.

Archaeologists confirmed the presence of the burial grounds in 2013. After the discovery, Shell commissioned an archeological and genealogical study. A commemorative program was held in 2018.

Historical markers were placed for the Bruslie Plantation Cemetery (circa 1830s) and the Monroe Plantation Cemetery (circa 1820s).

Shell also produced a video titled “Creative Energy: Embracing the Rhythm of Louisiana,” which chronicled the history and mission of the museum.

Shell’s partnership with RRAAM dates back to the museum’s humble beginning in 1994. To mark the 25th anniversary last year, the company donated $25,000.

Shell has three Louisiana locations. The Convent refinery is located near the Sunshine Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River close to the Ascension and St. James parish line. The Geismar plant sits along Hwy. 75 on the east bank of the river. The Norco manufacturing complex, along the river between LaPlace and New Orleans, is one of the largest petrochemical facilities in the United States, according to the company’s website.

Shell Oil Company is the United States-based subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, which is one of the largest oil companies in the world.The U.S. headquarters is located in Houston.