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Rosenwald Schools helped educate Black students in segregated South. Could a national park follow?

by Joshua Brown
5 comments
fokus keyword: Rosenwald Schools

Rosenwald Schools were instrumental in the education of Black students in the segregated South, offering an opportunity for learning that was otherwise denied to them. Ralph James, recalling his own experiences at a segregated school in South Carolina, is part of an effort to restore these vital institutions. Nearly 5,000 such schools were constructed a century ago, facilitated by the philanthropy of Jewish businessman Julius Rosenwald, who partnered with African American leader Booker T. Washington.

Named in Rosenwald’s honor, these schools were groundbreaking, especially in regions like South Carolina where the government disproportionately funded education for white students. James, a 76-year-old retired judge, has dedicated his life to renovating his old school, securing more than $2 million for the cause. The grand opening is scheduled for September, with a special visit from the governor planned prior.

Efforts are also being made to create a national park in Rosenwald’s name, highlighting his significant contributions not just to education but also to Jewish charities, hospital construction, scientific research, and war relief. His foundation’s gifts would be worth about $440 million today.

Rosenwald’s compassion for African Americans, stemming from his own background as the son of Jewish immigrants, led to his commitment to this cause. His vision saw the growth of a united community, working together for a better society, an example that still resonates today.

Prominent civil rights figures like John Lewis, Medgar Evers, and Maya Angelou owe their education to these schools. The state funding discrepancy, highlighted by South Carolina’s 1927 expenditure of $14.9 million on white students compared to $1.7 million on Black students, emphasized the importance of the Rosenwald Fund.

Among the southern states, South Carolina had 481 Rosenwald schools, surpassed only by North Carolina and Mississippi. The legacy of Rosenwald’s work, captured by photographer Andrew Feiler, is not just about financial contributions but also pioneering modern philanthropy through matching grants.

Despite racial tensions, Rosenwald’s partnership with African Americans demonstrates that focused action can create meaningful change. Around 500 Rosenwald Schools still stand today, with many repurposed into community centers, town halls, and other venues, reflecting the careful design principles approved by Rosenwald.

In St. George, the restoration of a school aims to revive not only the building but also the sense of a flourishing African American community that once thrived there. Inside, classrooms preserve their 70-year-old appearance, while other spaces are transformed for community use.

Charlie Grant’s efforts to restore a Rosenwald School in Gifford mirror the broader movement to honor these educational havens, symbolizing hope and faith during an era of discrimination. His aspiration is to transform the school into a community center and museum, a tribute to the past, and an inspiration for the future.

The story of Rosenwald Schools is not just a historical account but a living testimony to cooperation, determination, and the belief that concerted efforts can lead to a better, more inclusive society. It serves as a reminder that even in the face of adversity, hope can endure, and dreams can be realized.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword: Rosenwald Schools

What are Rosenwald Schools, and why were they created?

Rosenwald Schools were educational institutions created to educate Black students in the segregated South. They were founded a century ago, largely ignored by the white power structure, and were made possible through the philanthropy of Jewish businessman Julius Rosenwald, who teamed up with African American educator Booker T. Washington. The schools provided an essential educational foundation for Black children at a time when governments disproportionately funded education for white students.

Who was Julius Rosenwald, and what was his role in Rosenwald Schools?

Julius Rosenwald was a part-owner and eventual president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. He was instrumental in creating Rosenwald Schools by providing significant funding, and he collaborated with African American leader Booker T. Washington to establish the program. He gave $20 million to his foundation to build the schools and saw this effort as a chance to help another oppressed group.

What is being done to preserve and memorialize Rosenwald Schools?

Efforts are underway to restore and preserve Rosenwald Schools, with individuals like retired judge Ralph James leading initiatives to secure funding and renovate these historic institutions. A nationwide movement is also in progress to create a national park to honor Rosenwald and the schools, which may include a visitors center in Chicago and encompassing five schools across 15 Southern states.

How many Rosenwald Schools were built, and how many still remain?

Nearly 5,000 Rosenwald Schools were constructed in the American South. Around 500 of these schools remain standing today, with roughly half in a condition to be used. They have played a vital role in African American education and some have been converted into community centers, town halls, and other venues.

What was the impact of Rosenwald Schools on prominent African American figures?

The Rosenwald Schools were crucial in educating several prominent civil rights figures, such as John Lewis, Medgar Evers, and Maya Angelou. They provided educational opportunities that might have otherwise been denied and laid a foundation that contributed to the Civil Rights movement.

How did the Jewish community view the partnership between Rosenwald and African Americans?

Julius Rosenwald’s efforts to support African American education resonated with the Jewish community, many of whom saw similarities between the violent repression they had suffered in Europe and the oppression faced by African Americans. Rosenwald’s vision of united community action still serves as an inspiring example.

What is the modern legacy of Rosenwald’s philanthropy?

Rosenwald’s legacy goes beyond the creation of schools. His philosophy of giving while living and pioneering the modern idea of a matching grant has left a lasting impact on modern philanthropy. His story continues to inspire people and shows that concerted, focused action can make a real difference in addressing complex social issues.

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5 comments

Sarah T. August 6, 2023 - 7:54 am

This is the first time im hearing about these schools. What a beautiful story. Can’t believe Rosenwald’s impact on education and philanthropy. Definitely want to learn more.

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Frank A. August 6, 2023 - 10:20 am

Restoration of the St. George school? That’s near me, i think. I should pay a visit sometime. These are parts of history that people need to see and touch to really understand!

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Johnathan Mccoy August 6, 2023 - 4:31 pm

julius Rosenwald seems like an extraordinary man. If only there were more people like him today. Its not just about the money he gave but the change he made

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Mike Jenson August 6, 2023 - 5:09 pm

So happy to hear bout the restoration of Rosenwald schools. It’s a part of our history that shoudnt be forgotten. Where can I donate?

Reply
Emily K. August 7, 2023 - 12:55 am

My grandmother went to one of these schools! So proud to see them being restored and remembered. It’s not just about buildings but the lives they’ve shaped.

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