WHC Supports a Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park

40 years after the Civil War, African American communities still found themselves lacking good schools. Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, co-owner of Sears, Roebuck collaborated with Booker T. Washington on an audacious project to build schoolhouses across the country, and by 1932, 5,357 Rosenwald schools and related buildings in 15 states were serving students, and were a source of pride and affection in African American communities.

While many of these schools have since disappeared or fallen into disrepair, there is currently a campaign to create a multi-state National Historical Park for Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools. As a natural outgrowth of our ongoing racial equity work, WHC was one of the first Jewish congregations in the DC area to support the park’s creation.

Rosenwald Schools marked a significant alliance between U.S. Jews and Blacks in the early 1900s. In the years before the legal end to segregation, these schools educated one-third of the African American children of the South, including prominent leaders of the civil rights movement, such as Medgar Evers, Maya Angelou, and the late Congressman John Lewis. There were 153 Rosenwald Schools and ancillary structures in Maryland, with 17 in Montgomery County, and 381 in Virginia. In 2020, WHC’s 8th Grade civil rights trip visited one of the first schools—the Shiloh Rosenwald School in Tuskegee, Alabama—built in 1913.

Recently, local communities from Maryland to East Texas have restored these simple structures familiarly known as “Rosenwald Schools.” Representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Parks Conservation Association, together with other highly dedicated volunteers, established the Rosenwald Park Campaign to create the Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park. In January 2021, bipartisan legislation was signed into law directing the National Park Service to conduct a special resource study to assist in determining which sites should be included. After that study is completed, further legislation will have to be passed to actually create the park.

As envisioned by the Campaign, the park will include a visitor center in Chicago to focus on Rosenwald’s overall contributions, as well as a number of restored schoolhouses in several states to be selected by the National Park Service. Howard Morse, a WHC congregant and Board member of the Rosenwald Park Campaign, notes that “Rosenwald’s funding of schools and partnership with African American communities deserve to be interpreted and celebrated in a National Historical Park.”

side-by-side images of author Andrew Feiler and a photo of the interior of a Rosenwald SchoolWHC is also offering an opportunity to learn more about Rosenwald Schools, as award-winning photographer Andrew Feiler joins us on Sunday, March 27 for our Amram Scholar Series to discuss his latest work, A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools That Changed America. The book is a collection of photographs and essays about the schools and their impact. Register for the event here.

For more Rosenwald Park Campaign information, please contact info@rosenwaldpark.org or visit rosenwaldpark.org.