Schools of Hope

schoolshopeSchools of Hope: How Julius Rosenwald Helped Change African American Education
by Norman H. Finkelstein
80 pages; ages 10-16
Calkins Creek, 2014

Jacket flap intro: “Julius Rosenwald’s life was forever changed when he met Booker T. Washington, the well-known black educator. Washington introduced the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company to the deplorable conditions of African American schools in the South…” and, as they say, the rest is history.

In the early 1900s, Rosenwald led Sears to become the largest retail establishment in the world. He became a wealthy man, but felt that people should share their wealth during their lifetime. In addition to charities, Rosenwald became involved in the education of blacks – from offering college fellowships to matching funding for building schools in communities for their children.

The schools that black children attended during that time, 1895 – 1914, were deplorable. Courts had held that education could be separate but equal – but there was little equal about the quality of the education black children received. Rosenwald was inspired by Booker T. Washington’s book, Up from Slavery, and more than that, Washington’s philosophy of self-help. When he got to meet the great man, they talked about the need for better schools.

The first school Rosenwald helped build was in Loachapoka, Alabama in 1913. It wasn’t far from Tuskegee. Rosenwald donated $300 towards the cost of the school. The entire cost to build it was just under $950. Rosenwald insisted that communities be part of the building projects, raising funds and maintaining the schools so they had ownership. Families, both black and white, contributed.

In this book, Finkelstein weaves together a story about two men with vision – Washington and Rosenwald – and a time of great change. He also includes a neat section on how to build a school, from site selection to construction. He talks about fundraising, and the sacrifices families made to see their children educated towards a better future.

Where did the graduates from these schools end up? They were the parents of the generation who marched and sang and pushed this country towards civil rights.

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