One of the greatest tasks before the United States at the end of the Civil War was to educate the freed slave. Even though efforts to educate African Americans existed long before the beginning of the war, those efforts were often clandestine and illegal in Southern states. After the war ended, this endeavor was undertaken by various religious denominations, philanthropic Northerners, and the newly created public schools systems within Southern states. Many schools were constructed to provide segregated education, often with one or two rooms for instruction, but sometimes including multi-building campuses. These buildings and campuses served as beacons in their communities, alongside places of worship, as a symbol of hope and opportunity--an emblem for change. As the racial climate in America changed and it became illegal to mandate segregated education, these buildings began to fade into the background, sometimes absorbed by school districts, converted into community centers or homes; however, they were usually, abandoned. Along with the memories of the teachers that taught generations of children and changed their lives, these buildings should be remembered, restored and returned to the prominence they once held in the African-American community.
Therefore, this thesis asks questions about how buildings and landscapes significant to the African-American experience, specifically segregated schools, are remembered in our society and whether preservation and interpretation are effective tools to protect or reestablish memories. This thesis also examines the concept of social memory as it applies to the formation of group identity and cultural heritage. It also examines how the social memories of sites important to minority groups may not have survived or were altered because of social, political and economic forces that impact the development of cultural identity over time. The final aim of this thesis is to observe four schools and evaluate how they utilized principles of preservation and interpretation to reestablish and continue their memories. The case studies are: Lyles Consolidated School in Lyles Station, Indiana; Division Street School in New Albany, Indiana; Brainerd Institute in Chester, South Carolina, and Bettis Academy in Trenton, South Carolina.