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Rosenwald then and now - getting things done working together

Two men: a remarkable partnership!!! The recent work days by community members and the fish fry to raise money for supplies to preserve the Flatwoods School is really in keeping with Rosenwald’s plan to get things done by working together.

By Vonnie Kolbenschlag

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (1856-1915) and JULIUS ROSENWALD (1862-1932) devised a plan to build 4977 new schools and 380 complementary buildings in 15 segregated southern states for children of color.

WASHINGTON, born a slave, badly wanted to learn to read and go to school. He got that chance at the Hamilton Institute and used his education to help establish the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, by fund raising and donations from Rosenwald.

ROSENWALD, wealthy president of Sears, was a very generous and innovative philanthropist, donating toward many worthy causes. His Jewish religion taught that if a person had wealth, it should be used to help others.


After funding for Tuskegee, another great need was to build schools for Negro children throughout the segregated states.

THE PLAN: Rosenwald’s money donation (only about 15% of the total cost – but a huge sum considering all the schools built) was to be matched by local residents helping to build, clearing land, contributing funds that were raised by selling things they made or saved and/or providing materials etc. Local and state governments had to participate. (This was the start of the matching grant concept.)

The local white population was encouraged to help, and did.

Rosenwald opposed handouts and believed the only lasting help was self-help. Rosenwald did not want his name on the buildings – wanted the beneficiaries to take ownership of a project – it should belong to the people. He provided follow up evaluation and accountability by demanding carefully kept financial records and proof of completed projects. The “Rosenwald” schools were built from 1913-1932.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2002 placed the Rosenwald schools as a group on that year’s list of most endangered historic site in America.

The above information and much more comes from a book available at our Adair County Library: “You Need a Schoolhouse” by Stephanie Deutsch, whose husband is a great-grandson of Julius Rosenwald.

The recent work days by community members and the fish fry to raise money for supplies to preserve the Flatwoods School is really in keeping with Rosenwald’s plan to get things done by working together.


This story was posted on 2019-11-03 09:02:17
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