A Black-Jewish Collaboration for Negro Education

Between 1912 and 1932, nearly 5,000 “Rosenwald schools” for black children were established in the South. They were built in the eleven states of the Confederacy as well as Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. They ranged in size from simple single-teacher schools to large high schools.

They were called “Rosenwald schools,” because the money to start them came from Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932). He was a second-generation American. His parents emigrated from Germany in 1854 to escape anti-Jewish discrimination.

Equally important in building the Rosenwald schools was Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). He was born a slave in Virginia. At age 25, Washington became the first principal of the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers in Alabama. He built it into the Tuskegee Institute, the largest and most successful college for African Americans, now called Tuskegee University. By the early 1900s, Washington was the most prominent and powerful African American in the country.

Washington and Rosenwald first met in 1911. Rosenwald and his wife traveled to visit Tuskegee Institute later that year. A month later, Rosenwald joined the Board of Directors of Tuskegee. He remained on the board for the rest of his life.

Rosenwald had money. Washington had knowledge and contacts. In 1912, the two agreed to work together to construct public schools for black students. They first decided to create six schools near Tuskegee as a pilot project. Over the years, the number of schools grew and spread through the entire South.

Q: Over the course of his life, Rosenwald gave $630 million dollars (in today’s currency) to various humanitarian causes. How did Rosenwald make his money?

Rosenwald made a great fortune by building Sears, Roebuck & Company into the world’s largest retail company. He served as Sears President and Chairman.

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