The Rosenwald Schools: An Impressive Legacy of Black-Jewish Collaboration for Negro Education

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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.

Griot: Russell Brooker, PhD

Copy and Photo Editor: Fran Kaplan, EdD

Julius Rosenwald, Sears Company Head and Jewish Philanthropist 

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

Famed Black Educator, Booker T. Washington

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.

A Life-Long Partnership

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.

A Dedication to Quality

All Rosenwald schools were built to specifications for size, ventilation, windows, and other properties.  Tuskegee Institute architects developed the plans. Some schools were built by Tuskegee students. After Washington died, quality control suffered. Rosenwald then created the Rosenwald Fund to oversee school construction.

Self-Help Required

Rosenwald did not simply give money to people to build schools.  He required people in each locality to show how much they wanted the school. They had to raise money or contribute labor. They also had to convince the local white government to contribute money.

Rosenwald actually provided the smallest amount of money: about $4.4 million. State and local governments gave over $18 million. Local people raised about $6 million – $4.7 million from blacks and $1.2 million from whites. (They contributed to Rosewald schools besides what they already paid in taxes for public schools.)

The Great Scope of the Work

By the time of Rosenwald’s death in 1932, about one-third of black students in the South were attending Rosenwald schools. In addition to 4,977 schools, Rosenwald contributed to 217 homes for teachers. He also established 163 machine shops where students learned practical skills.  North Carolina had the most Rosenwald schools: 813.

Julius Rosenwald never finished high school, but he gave millions of dollars for education. He also gave a great deal of money to other causes, including Jewish charities.  He was the main donor to establish the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

What Happened to the Rosenwald Schools

The 1954 Supreme Court order to integrate public schools meant that black students moved to white schools. Many Rosenwald schools were abandoned.  Today, most have been destroyed or have fallen into disrepair – but some remain.  In 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the Rosenwald schools as “endangered places.”  They now are used as schools, community centers, senior citizen centers, and museums. In June 2012, The National Trust held a conference, "100 Years of Pride, Progress and Preservation," featuring education sessions, documentary films, tours, and national speakers.

What a powerful legacy they left – a wealthy Jewish businessman who believed in social justice and a former slave who believed in the power of education to uplift his brethren!  Over six hundred thousand African Americans received good educations in Rosenwald elementary and high schools. Many went on to college and vocational training and made important contributions to community and country.

Rosenwald

A new documentary about the impact of the Rosenwald schools is in production. Watch the trailer here and learn more about it at https://www.longleafproductions.org.

Source:

Stephanie Deutsch, You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South (Northwestern University Press, 2011).

More Information:

Russell G. Brooker, PhD, is Professor of Political Science at Alverno College, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He teaches courses in political science, and research methodology.  He has taught courses in African American history, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement since 1981.  He is currently writing a book on the civil rights movement before 1954. 

22 Comments

  1. claudia anderson on March 12, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    Hello — I would like to acquire a map of the Rosenwald Schools like the one you show above. I would settle for a high resolution picture of the map. If you can advise me, I’d love to hear from you. Many thanks — Claudia Anderson

    • dr_fran on March 18, 2013 at 11:57 PM

      Hi Claudia, Sorry for the long delay in replying. I’ve been ill and unable to work for several weeks. I should be able to get back to you about the map in a day or two. Thanks for your patience.

  2. Pat McFadden on April 13, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    Just found your website. So informative!
    Have visited the school in Springfield, MO.
    What a team Rosenwald & Washington made….
    need more like them!

  3. mary haley on July 24, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Hi there, can you please tell me how or some ways to identify a building as a Rosenwald school? I know of a structure that is similar in design of pictures of Rosenwald schools that I have seen. I noticed that each ones look varied, depending where they are located and that building materials also varied.

  4. Tanja R Henson Quinton on August 12, 2013 at 3:28 PM

    Hello. Where can I purchase pictures of Mr Rosenwald and Mr Washington to hang in our newly restored school? How do I contact you to invite you to the dedication ceremony? Thanks.

  5. Barbara Grunbaum on November 4, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    Hello Fran Kaplan,
    I would like to know the source of the Julius Rosenwald portrait that is included on this website. I am creating a video documentary on the history of Black Communities in Montgomery County, MD. And I would like to use that image, but I would like to request permission first.
    Thanks,
    Barbara

  6. Laurann Pierce on November 13, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    Since moving to the Madison, NC area about 5
    years ago, I have been researching black history in Rockingham County. I read an interesting newspaper article about Madison Colored School alumni, an area businessman, and The Virginia Dare Scales Renovation Project, working to preserve Madison
    Colored School, one of the Rosenwald schools built in 1924.

  7. Manuel Jones on February 15, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    Much needs to be wtitten about this very important part of America’s Education History Series,…. thank you ,….

  8. Vivian Harris on March 30, 2014 at 1:26 AM

    Reading the History of the Rosenwald School
    has given me the courage to rebuild the
    The African-American School that I attended
    in the early 1950’s. In Oxford GA.30054
    The education, social adjustment and pride that I received there, prepared me for the long journey that I traveled after I left in the early fifties. I am 74 years of age
    and I would like to gain all the knowledge and resources to help me continued this journey.
    I feel I have come to far to “Turn Around”
    vahalh@aol.com

  9. Janet DeVries on April 23, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    Thank you for this well laid out informative site of the Rosenwald Schools. I wrote a paper chronicling the Rosenwald Schools of Palm Beach County. I’d like to use your model to create a blog page for the Palm Beach County Rosenwald Schools.

    • dr_fran on April 27, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      We appreciate the compliment. Please send us the link to your blog and paper.

  10. Mary G. Martin on June 16, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    Looking for a picture of the Rosenwald (renamed St. Clair county Training School) that was location in Pell City, AL in the African-America (Black)Community of Glenn City.

  11. Rita Cruise on June 20, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Looking for anything related to Madison Colored School, Virginia Dare Scales,
    Madison, NC
    Any pictures, documents, Alumanae, etc. We are in the process of restoring the school to a community school. Please send to me:

    rgalecruise@yahoo.com

  12. Brooke Stewart on April 19, 2015 at 2:49 PM

    Can you advise if there was a Rosenwald school in Leesburg, FL? Thanks

  13. DONALD PARLER on June 28, 2015 at 8:09 PM

    I WENT TO A ROSENWALD SCHOOL IN 1946-1950
    IN DENMARK SC , THE BUILDING IS STILL STANDING , IS COLLAPSING BUT WE ARE TRYING TO RESTORE IT TO ITS ORIGINAL 1931 CONDITION. THERE WERE THREE ROSENWALD SCHOOLS IN BAMBERG COUNTY, THIS THE LAST ONE.

  14. Tom Lassiter on July 31, 2015 at 12:50 PM

    Dr. Kaplan, I would also like to get a high-resolution copy of the schools map. Please advise! Thanks very much.

    • dr_fran on August 4, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      Tom, most of our images are taken from other websites and used under the Fair Use Doctrine on our nonprofit site. If you search for Rosenwald schools map, you’ll probably find it and be able to track its origins, and be able to get permission, if needed for commercial purposes, from its licenser.

  15. Zenobia White Scott on April 2, 2016 at 8:22 PM

    I am a 1955 graduate of Virginia Union University. My first year teaching was at Union Grove School(a Rosenwald School), in Chesterfield County, Va. The Principal was Elizabeth Jasper. I would like to be in contact with anyone who was in attendance during the 1955-1956 school year. (804) 262-5421 Thanks

  16. Letha Deck on April 17, 2016 at 12:29 PM

    I see so much white supremacy in the sub-text of this website. Definitely NOT an authentic African American point of view. Consider the writing on the Sears and Roebuck Rosenwald School article. It fails to recognize that the colored townspeople raised over 50% of the money. How much went to Sears and Roebucks isnt even considered. Such racially damaging representations appear throughout your website. It is doing damage to the true history in so many small rhetorical moments. It is a shame that this white supremacist point of view lives online, too. The new history is as flawed as the old.

  17. Nathaniel Harpe on May 2, 2016 at 10:48 PM

    Hello, we are attempting to save the Remington School which is located in Remington, Va also known as Piney Ridge School. Any advice you can share on fund raising and restoration is appreciated. I hope to announce the finished work and re-dedication in a few years.

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