A Better Life for Their Children
Julius Rosenwald led Sears, Roebuck & Company from 1908 until his death in 1932. He helped turn Sears into the world’s largest retailer, and he became one of the earliest and greatest philanthropists in American history. Booker T. Washington was one of the most prominent African American voices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born into slavery, he became an educator and was the founding principal of Tuskegee Institute. He led the college for more than 30 years.
Rosenwald and Washington met in 1911. At that time, black public schools in the South were usually in terrible facilities with outdated materials and a tiny fraction of the funding provided for educating white children. Many communities did not even have public schools for African American students. Rosenwald and Washington, forging one of the earliest collaborations between Jews and African Americans, attacked this education challenge with originality and sophistication and created the program that became known as Rosenwald schools. From 1912 to 1932, the Rosenwald schools program built 4,977 schools for African American children across fifteen southern and border states. One final school was added in 1937. Hundreds of thousands of students walked through these doorways.
The Rosenwald schools program changed America. Between World War I and World War II, the persistent black-white education gap that had plagued the South narrowed significantly. Economists at the Federal Reserve would later conclude that Rosenwald schools were the most significant factor in that achievement. Further, Rosenwald schools would be a meaningful force in helping give rise to the civil rights movement. Many of the leaders and foot soldiers of the movement were educated in Rosenwald schools