Rosenwald, Sears & Roebuck, and Booker T. Washington

Chances are that you’ve all heard of the Sears  Roebuck Company and Booker T. Washington. But, there’s a greater chance you’ve never heard of Julius Rosenwald, a Chicago businessman born to German-Jewish immigrants.

Rosenwald was a businessman with a concern for the education of Black children in America, especially those in the segregated South. He was both the president of Sears and a member of the Board of Trustees of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. In 1912 Booker T. Washington approached him with the idea of building schools in which to educate Black children.

At the time most Southern states provided little to no funds for Black education and Washington believed both traditional education along with vocational education was the key to uplifting the Negro race. Between 1917 and 1932 over 5,000 Rosenwald schools were built in fifteen Southern states and by the late 1920s over a third of all Southern Black students were attending a Rosenwald school.

The need for such schools lessened with time, especially following the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka, ordering the desegregation of America’s schools. Many of the schools have fallen to neglect but in many places efforts exist to restore and preserve both the buildings and the history.

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