Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Julius Rosenwald

After the Civil War and Reconstruction era, Black schools began to be established, under legal segregation between the races, enforced by Southern States’ Democrats, when they regained power In the 1870s. 

The early Black schools were mostly rural; and classes were primarily taught by one teacher, who taught all subjects, ages, and grades. Chronic underfunding led to constantly over-populated schools, despite the relatively low percentage of African-American students in schools, overall. In 1900, the average Black school, in Virginia for instance, had 37% more pupils than the average White school.

Segregated School in Georgia after The Civil War

Despite the worst conditions imaginable, such as: fewer books, dilapidated buildings and much lower pay, Black teachers and students were able to create some outstanding schools.

One very significant benefactor and enabler of Black schools was Julius Rosenwald.

Julius Rosenwald

Born in 1862, to a German-Jewish couple, and whose father was a clothier, Julius followed the same career. Unfortunately, his first business went bankrupt, during the Recession of 1885. In 1890, Rosenwald married Augusta Nusbaum, a daughter of a competing clothier. With an entrepreneurial spirit, Julius tried again, with a new business. He had heard about other clothing manufacturers who had begun making clothes, according to standardized sizes, from data collected during the Civil War.  So, he convinced his brother and cousin to set up a business doing the same. It was called Rosenwald and Weir Clothiers, was based in Chicago, and was the major supplier to Sears, Roebuck & Company. The business became so successful, that in 1895, Julius became one of its investors, eventually serving as the president of Sears from 1908 to 1922. He was also its chairman until his death; and his son, Lessing, assumed chairmanship at that time, serving in that role unti 1939.

After the 1906 financial reorganization of Sears, Julius became friends with Goldman Sachs's senior partner, Paul J. Sachs.  Paul often stayed with Julius and his family, during his many trips to Chicago; and the two would discuss America's social situation, agreeing that the plight of African-Americans was the most serious in the United States.

Paul J. Sachs

Paul introduced Julius to two prominent educators and proponents of African-American education, William H. Baldwin and Booker T. Washington.  As the founder of Tuskegee University, Dr. Washington, who had gained the respect of many American leaders including U.S. President, Teddy Roosevelt, had also obtained financial support from other wealthy philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman and Henry Huttleston Rogers. He encouraged Julius, as he had others, to address the poor state of African-American education in the U.S.

Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington

At this point, Julius beagn to truly devote his time, energy, and money to philanthropy. In his words, written in 1911:
"The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the White race, on account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer."

In 1912, Julius was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of Tuskegee Unversity, a position he also held for the remainder of his life. He gave a significant amount of money to the school, so that Dr. Washington could spend less time traveling to seek funding, and devote more time towards management of the school.  Dr. Washington also urged Julius to provide funds for the construction of six, small African-American schools, in rural Alabama, which were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914 and overseen by Tuskegee University.

Along with other family members, Julius established the Julius Rosenwald Fund, in 1917, for "the well-being of mankind."  The Rosenwald Fund donated millions in matching funds to support the education of African-American children, in the rural South, as well as 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.

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Julius also commissioned one of Chicago's largest philanthropic housing developments, in the mid-1920s: the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, at 47th St. and Michigan Ave (aka The Rosenwald). It was one of the first American housing developments to include a mix of residential, commercial and social uses. In addition to the apartments, the development also included 14 stores along the 47th Street side of the property, four of which were occupied by Black-owned businesses. Julius invested $2.7 million in the project, receiving only a 2.4% return during the first seven years. The building still stands and received National Register of Historic Places designation in 1981. It is now often used as a film set.

Rosenwald Apartments

Over the course of Julius’s life, the Rosenwald Fund donated over $70 million dollars to schools, colleges, universities, museums, Jewish charities and Black institutions.   The rural 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, the Fund spent more than $4 million to build more than 5,000 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.  These schools became known as Rosenwald Schools.

Rosenwald School

In the 1930s, the NAACP launched a national campaign to achieve equal schools within the “separate, but equal” framework of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities. This case came to be after free-born, African-American (although, an Octoroon: someone of seven-eighths Caucasian descent and one-eighth African descent; yet, still classified as Black), Homer Plessy, bought a first class train ticket, and sat in the Whites only car, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was arrested and subsequently sued. The case eventually escalated to the Supreme Court. 

Homer Plessy

Eventually, the NAACP won several victories with its campaign, particularly around salary equalization, as African-American teachers were paid significantly less than White teachers, except in Washington DC, where they were all Federal employees, so had to be equally paid. Public schools were technically desegregated in the United States, in 1954 by the US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. However, many schools were still de facto segregated due to inequality in housing and patterns of racial segregation in neighborhoods. Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, enforced the Supreme Court's decision by sending US Army troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to protect the Little Rock Nine students' entry to school in 1957, thus setting a precedent for the Executive Branch to enforce Supreme Court rulings related to racial integration. He was the first President since Reconstruction to send Federal troops into the South to protect the rights of African-Americans.

Federal Troops escorting the Little Rock Nine into school

With increasing urbanization, many rural Rosenwald Schools were abandoned. However, in 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a campaign to preserve many of The Rosenwald Schools, and by 2009, many communities had restored them. Click here to read more about the preservation programs.

Some schools have been put to new uses. Walnut Cove Colored School in Stokes County, North Carolina, won a National Preservation Honor Award for its rehabilitation for use as a senior citizens’ community center. The Hope Rosenwald School, in Pomaria, South Carolina, is also a community center. The Highland Park School in Prince George’s County, Maryland had been in continuous use by the school system. It was recently renovated for use as a Headstart Center.

Julius Rosenwald died at his home in the Ravinia section of Highland Park, Illinois, on January 6, 1932. At that time Rosenwald Schools accommodated one-third of all African-American children, in Southern schools, equalling over 500,000 students. Research has found that these schools accounted for a sizable portion of the educational gains of rural Southern blacks. This research also found significant effects on school attendance, literacy, years of schooling, cognitive test scores, and Northern migration, with the highest gains in the most disadvantaged counties. Click here to read more information abut individual Rosenwald Schools.

1939 Rosenwald School Graduates

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. As a result, the fund was completely spent by 1948. Money extremely well-spent.

SOURCES: Wikipedia, Preservation Nation, Google Images

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