A Rosenwald School was the name informally applied to over five thousand
schools, shops, and teachers' homes in the United States which were built primarily for the education of African-Americans in the early twentieth century. The need arose from the chronic underfunding of public education for African-American children in the South, who were required to attend segregated schools. Julius Rosenwald, an American clothier who became part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, was the founder of The Rosenwald Fund, through which he contributed seed money for many of the schools and other philanthropic causes. To promote collaboration between white and black citizens, Rosenwald required communities to commit public funds to the schools, as well as to contribute additional cash donations. Millions of dollars were raised by African-American rural communities across the South to fund better education for their children.
Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) was a German-
Jewish immigrant's son and became a clothier by trade, after learning the business from relatives in New York City. His first business went bankrupt; however, another he began in Chicago, Illinoisbecame a leading supplier to Richard Sears' business. Sears, Roebuck and Company was a growing mail-orderbusiness which served many rural Americans. Anticipating demand by using the variations of sizes in American men and their clothing determined during the American Civil War, Rosenwald helped plan the growth in what many years later marketers would call "the softer side of Sears": clothing. In 1895, he became one of its investors, eventually serving as the president of Sears from 1908 to 1922. He was its chairman until his death in 1932.
After the 1906 reorganization of the Sears company as a public
stockcorporation by the financial services firm of Goldman Sachs, one of the senior partners, Paul Sachs, often stayed with the Rosenwald family at their home during his many trips to Chicago. Julius Rosenwald and Sachs would often discuss America's social situation, agreeing that the plight of African Americans was the most serious problem in the United States.
Sachs introduced Rosenwald to
Booker T. Washington, the famed educator who in 1881 had been the first principal of the normal schoolwhich grew to become Tuskegee Universityin Alabama. Dr. Washington, who had gained the respect of many American leaders including U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, had also obtained financial support from wealthy philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie, George Eastmanand Henry Huttleston Rogers. He encouraged Rosenwald, as he had others, to address the poor state of African-American education in the U.S.
In 1912, Rosenwald was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of Tuskegee, a position he also held for the remainder of his life. Rosenwald endowed Tuskegee so that Washington could spend less time traveling to seek funding and devote more time towards management of the school. As urged by Dr. Washington, Rosenwald provided funds for the construction of six small schools in rural
Alabama, which were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914 and overseen by Tuskegee.
Julius Rosenwald and his family established the The Rosenwald Fund in 1917 for "the well-being of mankind." Unlike other endowed foundations, which were designed to fund themselves in perpetuity, The Rosenwald Fund was intended to use all of its funds for philanthropic purposes. It donated over 70 million dollars to
public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities and black institutions before funds were completely depleted in 1948.
The school building program was one of the largest programs administered by the Rosenwald Fund. Using state-of-the-art architectural plans designed by professors at Tuskegee Institute [http://www.nationaltrust.org/news/docs/20020606_rosenwald.html] , the Fund spent more than four million dollars to build 4,977 schools, 217 teachers' homes, and 163 shop buildings in 883 counties in 15 states, from Maryland to Texas. The Rosenwald Fund used a system of matching grants. Black communities raised more than $4.7 million to aid in construction [http://ford.claiborneone.org/] . These schools became known as "Rosenwald Schools." By 1932, the facilities could accommodate one- third of all African-American children in Southern schools.
In some communities, surviving structures have been preserved because of the deep meaning they had for African-Americans as symbols of their community dedication to education. Others were threatened by lack of funds in rural areas, changing style of education to consolidated and integrated schools, and other social changes. In 2002, the
National Trust for Historic Preservationnamed Rosenwald Schools near the top of the country's most endangered places [http://home.hamptonroads.com/stories/story.cfm?story=100899&ran=189503] and created a campaign to raise awareness and money for preservation.
Some schools have been put to new uses. Walnut Cove Colored School in
Stokes County, North Carolinawon a National Preservation Honor Award for its rehabilitation for use as a senior citizens' community center. The Hope Schoolin Pomaria, South Carolinawill be used as a community center, too. The Highland Park School in Prince Georges Georges County, MD had been in continuous use by the school system. It was recently renovated for use as a Headstart Center.
* [http://www.aliciapatterson.org/APF2004/Granat/Granat.html Diane Granat, Saving the Rosenwald Schools]
* [http://www.rosenwaldschools.com/ Rosenwald Schools Initiative] sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Initiative seeks to help preserve Rosenwald Schools, which it calls "beacons of African-American education."
* [http://www.rosenwaldplans.org/history.html History of the Rosenwald School Program]
* [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3880/is_200804/ai_n19432560/ Alabama Review: Mary S. Hoffschwelle, The Rosenwald Schools of the American South]
* [http://www.rosenwaldharlanites.org/About-Us/Who-We-Are.html Rosenwald Harlanites, Inc] is a non-profit organization created to preserve the legacy of the Rosenwald School in Harlan Kentucky that provided the educational, community, family, ethnic and religious "roots" of its members.
* [http://www.shilohcommfound.com/?page_id=8] Shiloh Community Restoration Project, a non-profit organization created to restore the Shiloh-Rosenwald School.
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