Julius Rosenwald, a wealthy philanthropist from Illinois whose charitable interests ranged from health care to colleges and museums, concentrated his efforts in the early twentieth century on improving opportunities for African Americans in the rural South. Inspired by Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald became a trustee of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where Washington's philosophy of self-reliance was stressed through a program of industrial education. In 1912, on Rosenwald's fiftieth birthday, the philanthropist gave the Tuskegee Institute $25,000 to be distributed as grants for other African American schools that followed the Tuskegee model. Washington persuaded Rosenwald to use approximately $2,000 of this money to begin an experiment in building elementary schools for blacks in rural communities. Several small schools in rural Alabama were funded in part from the initial $2,000, and over the next four years Rosenwald contributed private funds for the construction of more than 300 rural school buildings in southern states.
In 1915 he hired a building supervisor to oversee the school construction program, and in 1917 the Julius Rosenwald Fund was incorporated. Fund officials recognized a number of shortcomings in education for blacks in the South: a lack of adequately paid, trained teachers; the absence of high schools segregation was a way of life, Rosenwald placed certain conditions on his grants. Funds and maintenance agreements from state and county school authorities, and contributions of money, land, and labor from both black and white communities were meant to facilitate such partnerships. Furthermore, grant amounts were based on the number of teachers to be employed.
The Rosenwald Fund intended for schools receiving grant assistance to serve as models of modern rural-school
The Rosenwald Fund began to shift its focus away from school construction in 1928, as it moved toward funding other projects in education, medicine, and race relations. In 1932, the year of Julius Rosenwald's death, the fund president announced that the Rural School Building Program would end with the close of that year. One last Rosenwald school was built in 1937 in Warm Springs to carry out an agreement made earlier between Rosenwald and U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In all, more Bartow County, Hiram Colored School in Paulding County, T. J. Elder High and Industrial School in Washington County, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Vocational School in Warm Springs. Records preserved in the Julius Rosenwald Fund Archives at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, may help communities discover others.
Media Gallery: Rosenwald Schools