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Extraordinary Story Of Cooperation To Build Schools For Black Children In The Segregated South

Allan C. Brownfeld

Fall 2021

You Need A Schoolhouse:  
Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the  
Segregated South  
By Stephanie Deutsch,  
Northwestern University Press,  
218 Pages, $16.95  
Allan C. Brownfeld  
At a time when we are hearing a great deal about racial division, it is  
important to remember the important collaboration one hundred years ago of  
Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald,  
the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. The two men first met in 1911 at a  
Chicago luncheon. In the book “You Need a Schoolhouse” (Northwestern University  
Press), Stephanie Deutsch offers a fascinating look into the partnership that  
would bring thousands of modern schoolhouses to African American communities in  
the rural South.  
The son of German Jewish immigrants, Rosenwald was born in 1862 in  
Springfield, Illinois, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. He entered the  
clothing business as an apprentice to his uncles in New York City. He opened  
his own successful clothing store and then returned to Illinois to manufacture  
garments in Chicago. In 1895 the 33-year-old Rosenwald bought a one-quarter  
interest in the newly-established mail-order firm of Sears, Roebuck and company  
for $37,500 and became its Vice President. He quickly established higher  
standards of quality control that enhanced the firm’s reputation and  
profitability. Rosenwald originated the then-radical policy of “Your money back  
if you’re not satisfied.” By 1909 he was company president, and by 1925  
chairman of the board.  
Julius Rosenwald became one of America’s wealthiest men and was  
committed to philanthropy. He was influenced by the Reform Jewish tradition of  
seeking to improve and repair the world. Active in Chicago Sinai Congregation,  
he was close to its rabbi, Emil G. Hirsch, who advised him to use part of his  
wealth to help build schools for black students in the segregated South.  
Emil Gustav Hirsch  
Emil Gustav Hirsch was born in Luxembourg, a son of the rabbi and  
philosopher Samuel Hirsch on May 22, 1851. He later married the daughter of  
Rabbi David Einhorn. For 42 years (1880-1923) he served as rabbi of Chicago  
Sinai Congregation. He became well known for his emphasis on social justice and  
delivered rousing sermons on the social issues of the day. Many Chicagoans of  
all religious backgrounds were in attendance.  
Appointed professor of rabbinical literature and philosophy at the  
University of Chicago in 1892, he wrote studies of the historic relations  
between Judaism and Christianity, including appreciations of its founding  
figures, Jesus and Paul. He edited the Reform Advocate, a weekly journal, for  
thirty years. It was Rabbi Hirsch who advised Julius Rosenwald, his congregant,  
to use a portion of his wealth to help build public schools for black students  
in the segregated South.  
Rabbi Hirsch was strongly influenced by one of Reform Judaism’s early  
leaders, Rabbi Abraham Geiger. For Reform Jews, the idea of Zionism, which was  
emerging in late 19th century Europe, contradicted almost completely their  
belief in a universal prophetic Judaism. The first Reform prayerbook eliminated  
references to Jews being in exile and to a Messiah who would miraculously  
restore Jews throughout the world to the historic land of Israel and would  
rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The prayerbook eliminated all prayers for a  
return to Zion. Rabbi Geiger argued that Judaism developed through an  
evolutionary process that had begun with God’s revelation to the Hebrew  
prophets. That revelation was progressive; new truth became available to every  
generation. The underlying and unchangeable essence of Judaism was ethical  
monotheism. The Jewish people were a religious community destined to carry on  
the mission to “serve as a light to the nations,” to bear witness to God and His  
moral law. The dispersion of the Jews was not a punishment for their sins, but  
part of God’s plan whereby they were to disseminate the universal message of  
ethical monotheism.  
Rejection of Zionism  
The Reform Judaism embraced by Rabbi Hirsch and Julius Rosenwald made  
clear its rejection of the new emerging Zionist philosophy. In 1885, Reform  
rabbis meeting in Pittsburgh wrote an eight-point platform that one participant  
called “the most succinct expression of the theology of the Reform movement ever  
published in the world.” The platform emphasized that Reform Judaism denied  
nationalism of any variety. It stated: “We recognize in the era of universal  
culture of heart and intellect, the approaching realization of Israel’s great  
Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace  
among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious  
community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial  
worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws  
concerning the Jewish state.”  
In 1897, the Central Conference of American rabbis adopted a resolution  
disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution  
declared, “Zion was a precious possession of the past…as such it is a holy  
memory, but it is not our hope of the future. America is our Zion.”  
Rabbi Hirsch identified the primary Jewish mission as making the world a  
better place by promoting social justice for men and women of every race,  
religion and ethnic background. He championed the rights of organized labor and  
supported pioneering welfare reform in Chicago. He believed the Jewish mission  
was to bring people in all lands to the ideals of justice and righteousness. He  
was particularly concerned with the plight of black Americans in the post-Civil  
War South, particularly the lack of education available to black children in the  
segregated South. He shared these concerns with Julius Rosenwald and urged him  
to help in correcting this injustice.  
Joining With Booker T. Washington  
With Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald entered into a massive project  
based on the use of matching funds from local communities. In this book,  
Stephanie Deutsch offers a fascinating study of the circumstances that would  
bring thousands of modern schoolhouses to African American communities across  
the rural South in the era leading up to the civil rights movement.  
Washington leapt onto the national scene following the nationwide  
publication of his speech at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. This was the same  
year that respected abolitionist Frederick Douglass died. Douglass, one of  
Washington’s personal heroes, had been black America’s leader and spokesman for  
50 years. Washington inherited Douglass’ firm belief in the strength and  
capability of his black brethren. When asked by a white journalist, “What do  
you blacks want from white people?” Douglass replied, “Just leave us alone and  
we can take care of ourselves.” It was Washington’s firm belief that former  
slaves could stand on their own feet and achieve prosperity in American society.  
The most important theme for Washington was education. A second theme,  
closely tied to education, was self-reliance. Tuskegee began as a Normal School  
and focused on training black men and women to become skilled at building,  
farming, and other occupations so they could earn their way into mainstream  
American society. A third Washington theme was entrepreneurship. Living at a  
time of racism and segregation, Washington encouraged black men and women to  
look at the need for goods and services in their communities as an opportunity  
to start their own businesses. In 1900, Washington founded the first black  
businessman’s association, the National Negro Business League. He personally  
helped many black businesses get started by introducing black entrepreneurs to  
white investors.  
Criticism of Washington  
In some circles in recent days, Booker T. Washington has come under  
criticism. Professor Anne Wortham of Illinois State University declares that,  
“As a member of the Tuskegee Institute class of 1963, I was the beneficiary of  
Booker T. Washington’s legacy…One of Washington’s well known metaphors was ‘Cast  
down your bucket where you are’…Washington’s critics have distorted the metaphor  
to suggest that his words were those of an appeaser of white racism..It is  
wrongly used to suggest that. Washington believed the best approach to race  
relations was that blacks should not protest the system of white supremacy that  
blocked their striving. But if Washington actually believed that blacks should  
not protest the state of their community, why did he devote all of his life to  
promoting industrial education, economic self-sufficiency, self-responsibility  
and self-cultivation? ’Cast down your bucket’ was the advocacy, not of  
resignation or passive accommodation, but of self-initiated and self-responsible  
In 1901, Washington published his autobiography, “Up From Slavery,”  
which became the best-selling book ever written by an African American. It was  
eventually translated into seven languages and was as popular in Europe as it  
was in Africa. It was more than an autobiography. It was an explication of  
Washington’s major themes: education, self-reliance and entrepreneurship.  
In 1910, the Chicago Tribune asked several prominent Chicagoans which  
books had most influenced them. Julius Rosenwald, identified as one of  
Chicago’s leading citizens, named two. They were “An American Citizen: The  
Life of William Henry Baldwin, Jr.” and Booker T. Washington’s “Up From  
Slavery.” The book about Baldwin, writes Stephanie Deutsch, “…did not describe  
the exciting events of an adventurous life, but, rather, the way one man  
answered a question he himself found vital, a question of great interest to  
Rosenwald: is it possible to succeed in business without sacrificing personal  
morality and idealism? Baldwin, president of the Southern Railway, made it his  
stated goal to use his influence and his wealth for the good of his workers…A  
large part of the book dealt with a subject especially dear to Baldwin—-his work  
as a member of the board of Tuskegee and his relationship with Booker T.  
The Two Races Must Occupy One Country  
Rosenwald would later say, “Whether it is because I belong to a people  
who have known centuries of persecution, or whether it is because I am naturally  
inclined to sympathize with the oppressed, I have always felt keenly for the  
colored race. I…am particularly impressed with Baldwin’s contention…that the  
two races must occupy one country. They have to learn probably the highest and  
hardest of all arts, the art of living together with decency and forbearance.”  
Describing how the connection between Rosenwald and Washington began,  
Deutsch notes that, “It was a chance encounter on a train and their mutual  
connection to the YMCA movement that led to the meeting, which later seemed so  
inevitable, between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald. On one of his  
northern trips, Washington fell into conversation with Wilber Messer, a white  
minister and general Secretary of Chicago’s YMCA. He asked Messer if he could  
suggest a wealthy person from Chicago who might have an interest in serving on  
the board of Tuskegee. Messer named Julius Rosenwald. He then ensured that the  
two men would meet by inviting both to speak at the annual YMCA dinner in  
Chicago in May 1911.”  
Rosenwald praised Washington for his emphasis on reconciliation between  
blacks and whites and the need for self-help strategies among African Americans.  
He said that Washington “is helping the white race to learn that opportunity and  
obligation go hand in hand and that there is no enduring superiority save that  
which comes from the result of serving.”  
Building a Black YMCA in Chicago  
Earlier, in December 1910, sitting in Rosenwald’s Sears office, Messer  
along with William Parker, another YMCA official, and Jesse Moreland, the  
coordinator of black YMCAs——-the YMCA was segregated at that time——Rosenwald was  
asked if he would consider a contribution of $25,000 for a black YMCA building  
in Chicago. Yes, Rosenwald said, he would make the donation, provided that  
$75,000 more could be raised from the local community, both black and white. He  
added that he wanted to extend the challenge to any large city in the country  
that could meet these conditions. “well, I guess you can’t build more than one  
a month,” he joked, “but I hope you can.”  
Deutsch points out that, “Rosenwald’s willingness to overlook the YMCA’s  
occasionally anti-Semitic practices was typical of his pragmatic approach and,  
perhaps, an indication of the fact that he himself had personally experienced  
very little prejudice. When he moved beyond his own almost exclusively Jewish  
social world , his prominence in business gave him special entree. His own  
focus was always less on what he and others could not do than on what they  
On a snowy New Year’s Day, 1911, Rosenwald was at the Odd Fellows’ hall  
in downtown Chicago to kick off the ten-day drive to raise money for a black  
YMCA building. Five hundred black volunteer fund-raisers jammed the hall and  
cheered the speakers. In his talk, Rosenwald pointed to the conditions of  
persecution Jews faced in Russia and declared, “I belong to a race that in times  
gone by did not have a fair chance in life. I feel a peculiar sympathy with a  
race that does not have a fair chance under the existing conditions of American  
life.” The audience registered their approval with loud applause. Individuals  
came forward to give their contributions. One elderly man said that the  
donation he was making were the savings of his lifetime’s work as a janitor. It  
was $1,000.  
First Visit to Tuskegee  
Julius Rosenwald visited Tuskegee with his family for the first time in  
October 1911. Joining him were Rabbi Emil Hirsch, Dr. E.G. Cooley, a former  
superintendent of Chicago schools, Wilbur Messer of the YMCA, and Graham Taylor,  
a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, who ran a settlement  
house, Chicago Commons, to which Rosenwald made major contributions.  
The rest, of course, is history. Julius Rosenwald was asked to join the  
board of Tuskegee. Visiting Tuskegee, writes Deutsch, “…introduced Rosenwald to  
some of the less pleasing aspects of life for blacks in the South. On one of  
the early visits , driving in the countryside not far from Tuskegee, Rosenwald  
and Washington passed a dilapidated wooden shack with just one window. That,  
Booker T. Washington told Rosenwald, was a typical state-run primary school for  
black children in Alabama. He explained that thanks to two northern donors——  
Anna Jeans, a Quaker woman who had given $1 million to aid black teachers in a  
fund administered through the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board, and  
Henry Rogers, an executive of the Standard Oil Company—-some new schools had  
been built. But Jeans and Rogers had both recently died, and there was a huge  
need throughout the state and the entire South for more and better schoolhouses  
for black children.”  
Educational conditions among rural blacks at this time were shocking.  
School buildings were often ramshackle huts. In Alabama alone, where blacks  
were half the population, only 20 per cent of the black children were enrolled  
in schools, as compared with 60 per cent of the white children. No black rural  
schools operated for more than five months during the year; the average was  
about four months, as compared with a seven-month term for white children.  
Booker T. Washington pointedly remarked, “The Negro boy is smart, but white  
folks expect too much of him if they think he can learn as much in three months  
of school as their boys can in eight.”  
A Program to Build Schools Across the South  
Rosenwald and Washington embarked upon a program to help build schools  
for black children across the South. Rosenwald began by providing funds to  
build six small schools in rural Alabama which were constructed and opened in  
1913 and 1914. In the end, more than 5,000 schools were constructed across the  
South, with Rosenwald providing a portion of the funds and local communities  
raising the remainder. By 1932, there was a “Rosenwald school,” as they became  
known, in every county with significant black population in the South. A third  
of all black children in the South were attending Rosenwald schools. John D.  
Rockefeller, Jr. once said that he would donate to anything Rosenwald did  
because he had complete trust in his philanthropy.  
Poor rural communities made great sacrifices. Money was raised by  
selling eggs, hens, corn, cotton, berries and other produce. Some people  
pledged their cows and calves, and children pledged their saved pennies. In one  
village farmers called one section of a cotton field “The Rosenwald Patch,” and  
donated the proceeds to the school fund. In another Alabama town , a former  
slave donated his life’s savings of $38 ($567 in today’s dollars) in nickels,  
dimes and pennies.  
One of the towering figures of the civil rights movement, the late Rep.  
John Lewis, grew up on an Alabama farm south of Tuskegee. The elementary  
school he attended was a Rosenwald school. In his memoir, “Walking With The  
Wind,” Lewis recalls the fish fries, picnics and carnivals that neighbors would  
organize to raise money for supplies for the school. He wrote that to his  
parents, “Education represented an almost mythical key to the kingdom of  
America’s riches, the kingdom so long denied to our race.” In the years of  
slavery it was illegal to even teach black children to read.  
Married to Rosenwald’s Great-grandson  
Stephanie Deutsch, who is married to the great-grandson of Julius  
Rosenwald, declares: “Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald were men who  
judged each other not by the color of their skin but the content of their  
character. Certainly each had something the other wanted—-Julius had wealth and  
influence that Booker needed to further his work; Washington was connected to a  
segment of society Rosenwald wished to encourage but knew little about. But  
each judged—-correctly——that the other had goals larger than himself…the schools  
they built assured people in otherwise forgotten corners of the rural South that  
they could offer their children opportunities they themselves had been denied.  
The Rosenwald schools provided for the children who attended them not just book  
learning but also a personal legacy from Booker T. Washington and Julius  
Rosenwald of faith in democracy, optimism, confidence and hope.”  
Julius Rosenwald’s commitment to Judaism and its humane moral and  
ethical tradition caused him to be skeptical of the claims of the emerging  
Zionist movement. In February 1914, he telegraphed the Tuskegee board that he  
was sorry to miss his usual visit but in the words of his favorite of the  
spirituals he loved hearing there, he was “Walking in Jerusalem, Just Like  
John.” He and his wife were on an extended trip to Europe, Egypt and Palestine.  
They traveled in Egypt and Palestine with his friend, Aaron Aaronsohn.  
Aaronsohn’s parents had migrated to Palestine from Romania after his  
grandfather had been killed by an anti-Jewish mob. In 1909, Aaronsohn, an  
agronomist, came to the U.S. to raise money for his experiments in modern  
farming methods. Later, Aaronsohn founded a technical college in Haifa and  
Rosenwald agreed to contribute to it and serve on its board. On one occasion,  
Aaronsohn was in Chicago at the same time as Booker T. Washington and the two  
men met.  
Rosenwald’s Visit to Palestine  
Discussing Rosenwald’s visit to Palestine, Deutsch writes: “After nine  
days of desert exploration via camel, the Rosenwalds and Aaronsohn traveled from  
Egypt to Palestine , where they saw the Haifa technical college; visited the  
Agricultural Experimental Station at Athlit, near Mt. Carmel; went rowing on  
the River Jordan; saw Jericho and Jerusalem; and then drove via Nazareth to  
the ancient city of Damascus. Although he had agreed to donate to the technical  
college and was personally fond of Aaronsohn, Rosenwald had doubts about whether  
the new settlements could ever become genuinely self-sufficient. Unlike many of  
his friends, he was not a Zionist; he totally rejected the idea that the  
biblical account of God’s gift of the land to Abraham meant there was or should  
be a Jewish ‘homeland’ in Palestine.”  
The idea of Zionism sharply divided American Jews. “The migration to  
Palestine of Jews from Europe,” writes Deutsch, “…was a subject on which  
American Jews disagreed. The movement had begun in the nineteenth century and  
had gained momentum as European and Russian Jews fled repeated state-sanctioned  
violence against them. Some Zionists…were even considering the possibility of  
a Jewish state in Palestine. At the same time, though, Palestinians were  
expressing reservations about the settlements, and by 1914 there was organized  
resistance to them…Reflecting views he had discussed with his friend and mentor  
Rabbi Hirsch, Rosenwald saw no need for American Jews to support a new Jewish  
state there. Hirsch felt, and Rosenwald agreed, that Jews had already found a  
secure place to live and thrive. In their view the promised land for Jews…was  
not and would never be in Palestine. It was America.”  
Lessing Rosenwald and the American Council for Judaism  
The view of Judaism espoused by Rabbi Hirsch and embraced by Julius  
Rosenwald, was carried on by Rosenwald’s oldest son, Lessing J. Rosenwald, who  
followed in his father’s footsteps as a notable philanthropist and in 1943  
became the first president of the American Council for Judaism. I had the  
opportunity to get to know him in my early years of association with the  
Council. After World War II, he urged creation in Palestine of a state composed  
of all its residents, both Arab and Jewish. He opposed any dispossession of the  
indigenous Arab population or the creation of a solely “Jewish” state. In  
testimony before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946, he urged  
creation of a joint Jewish-Arab state and called for more Jewish immigrants to  
be admitted to the U.S. and other Western countries. Rosenwald also met with  
President Harry S. Truman at the White House and stressed that American Jews  
were American by nationality and Jews by religion, just as other Americans were  
Protestant or Catholic. A state based exclusively on one religion, he argued,  
was contrary to American principles of religious freedom and separation of  
church and state.  
In June 1914, shortly before the assassination of Archduke Franz  
Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary unleashed the fury of World War 1, Booker T.  
Washington sent Julius Rosenwald an enthusiastic account of a visit to the  
schools they were seeing built: “Yesterday I spent one of the most interesting  
days in all my work in the South…a trip was planned that enabled me to visit  
four of these communities where schoolhouses have been completed. We traveled  
all told about 135 miles. At each one of the points visited there was a very  
large gathering averaging I should say about a thousand people of both white and  
black people. It may interest you further to know that two of the state officers  
from the agricultural department accompanied me on the entire trip. It was a  
most intense and interesting day and the people showed in a very acceptable way  
their gratitude to you for what you are helping them to do…I have never met a  
set of people who have changed…from a feeling of almost despair and hopelessness  
to one of encouragement and emancipation.”  
Later that month, he visited Chicago, bringing photographs of newly  
completed schoolhouses. By the end of their meeting, Rosenwald had told  
Washington that he would give $30,000 to help build one hundred more schools.  
Trip to Tuskegee  
On his trip to Tuskegee in February 1915, Rosenwald was joined by a  
number of prominent guests, including his good friend Jane Addams, increasingly  
a figure of national and international stature for her work with Chicago’s poor.  
“The welcoming program,” writes Deutsch, “included reports on the amount of  
money the residents had raised for their school, how long the school term was,  
and how many students were enrolled at each school. They even mentioned the  
number of houses that had been repainted or whitewashed to help convince the  
building agents from Tuskegee that the community was worthy of a new  
schoolhouse. At each stop, Rosenwald spoke to the crowd, telling the people how  
impressed he was by what they had accomplished. Near the close of one of these  
programs, a teacher asked if it was all right for a student to give something to  
Julius. He said it was, and a girl came forward, shyly clutching a scraggly  
bunch of wildflowers tied with a calico string. She said a few words of thanks  
and handed the bouquet to Rosenwald, who, for a moment, lost his usual  
composure. He took them with tears running down his face. Years later he  
remembered the incident and told a companion that this was one of the most  
beautiful experiences he ever had.”  
In 1917, the federal government issued the Jones report, a major study  
of black education that the federal government conducted over a period of  
several years. It concluded that, “Inadequacy and poverty are the outstanding  
characteristic of every type and grade of education for Negroes.” Deutsch notes  
that, “Despite the beginnings that the Rosenwald building program had made in  
providing schoolhouses in one Alabama county, the work of educating the mass of  
black children in America , and especially in the rural South, was just  
beginning. The same year the report was published, 1917, Rosenwald approved  
funding for three hundred more schools to be built under the supervision of  
Tuskegee in response to requests from states across the South.”  
In 1928, Rosenwald attended the dedication of the four-thousandth  
Rosenwald school in Method, North Carolina. By 1932, there was a Rosenwald  
school in every county with significant black population in the South. It was  
estimated that a third of all black children in the South were attending  
Rosenwald schools. The Rosenwald Fund also made significant contributions to  
higher education, especially to black institutions—-Howard University in  
Washington, D.C.,the newly created Dillard University in New Orleans; Fisk  
University in Nashville; Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta and Meharry  
Medical School.  
Rosenwald Fund Fellowships  
Deutsch reports that, “The most dramatic new program undertaken by the  
fund began in 1928 and gave fellowships to several hundred individuals of  
promise, most of them black. Many of the recipients went on to exceptional  
careers in education, in the arts and public service—-among them the diplomat  
and 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche; the sociologist Charles  
Johnson; James Weldon Johnson, (author of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often  
called the black national anthem); the educator Horace Mann Bond (father of the  
former NAACP chairman Julian Bond); the sociologist Frazier E. Franklin; the  
medical researcher Charles Drew; the biologist E.E. Just; the singer Marian  
Anderson; the dancer Katherine Dunham; the photographer Gordon Parks…the  
writers Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Anna  
Bontemps…W.E.B. du Bois, and James Baldwin…Among the whites who received  
Rosenwald fellowships were the historian C. Vann Woodward and the folksinger  
Woody Guthrie.”  
Ralph McGill was a white journalist whose career benefited from a  
Rosenwald fellowship that allowed him to travel to and report from Europe in the  
late 1930s. He later won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials in the Atlanta  
Constitution condemning racist policies and attitudes in the South. McGill  
credited “the human and spiritual values created by the Fund” with allowing many  
southerners “to begin acceptance of the United States Supreme Court’s  
desegregation decision without violence.” It was, McGill wrote, one of the  
reasons that “when defiance did appear, there were Southerners ready and willing  
to combat and help defeat it.”  
Julius Rosenwald suffered from heart disease and was secluded and  
bedridden for much of his final year. Deutsch notes that, "His longtime  
chauffeur, Harry Kersey, described in a memoir how he used to wait outside the  
sickroom door at the family’s country home in Ravinia in case anything was  
needed. On the morning of January 6, 1932 he got the nurse on duty to let him  
go in. ‘I walked to Mr. Rosenwald’s bedside,’ he wrote. ‘He was in a coma. I  
took his hand and rubbed it, calling his name; he made no move but was  
breathing hard. I stood there and watched my friend and employer slowly passing  
away.' A few hours later, Rosenwald died. Of the man he had seen almost daily  
since 1914, Kersey, a black man who remembered driving Booker T. Washington and  
Rosenwald, wrote, ‘If there was ever a person who did not suffer from racial  
prejudices, he was that person.'”  
Memorial Service at Tuskegee  
Julius Rosenwald’s funeral in Chicago was a small private affair. But a  
month after his death, writes Deutsch, “there was an emotional memorial service  
for him in the Tuskegee chapel. Students sang ‘Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past’  
and his favorite spiritual, ‘Walking in Jerusalem, Just Like John.’ Robert  
Moton (who then led Tuskegee) praised Julius for his generosity, for his  
personal dedication to Tuskegee and for the serious approach he brought to  
giving away his money. He said that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had told him he  
would donate to anything Rosenwald did because he trusted his philanthropy.  
Moton also told the story of Julius receiving flowers from the little girl at  
one of the first Rosenwald schools. And he recounted a conversation he had with  
him in his office at Tuskegee one rainy afternoon when, he said, Rosenwald told  
him that ‘the greatest joy that I have gotten out of life has been through my  
contact with Tuskegee Institute and colored people.’ In an article for the  
Associated Negro Press, Moton wrote an apt assessment of the relationship  
between Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington. ‘It was the hard common  
sense in each that appealed to the other,’ he said. ‘It was a fortunate day for  
black People’ when the two men ‘met and trusted each other.’”  
In Deutsch’s view, Washington and Rosenwald got along so well at least  
in part because they were both pragmatists , eager to move forward not just with  
ideas and words but also with action: “Both were men well grounded in the  
truths they had learned in their own lives—-the centrality of hard work, self-  
reliance and care for members of the immediate community, values reinforced by  
their families and by the Christian and Jewish religious traditions that  
surrounded them. Confronting the particular challenges of their lives—-sudden,  
extreme wealth for Rosenwald, and personal sadness and the relentless harsh  
reality of segregation and racial hatred for Washington—-each man resisted self-  
interest and kept faith with those values. Neither was much interested in  
religious dogma, yet both were sustained by faith in something beyond self. As  
Washington mentioned in one of his final articles, the fact that he did not  
express bitterness over the injustice he experienced did not mean that he did  
not experience it. But faith in the essential soundness of the course he had  
chosen sustained him.”  
The schools that Washington and Rosenwald created left many of their  
students without the feeling of inferiority or of having attended a second-rate  
place but with a warm sense of pride. One graduate of the Scrabble School in  
Virginia described her sentiment for it as a “home” feeling. Deutsch notes  
that, “Black students often had to walk several miles to their schools,  
sometimes passed on the road by school buses carrying their white neighbors to  
their better-equipped schools, but when the black students arrived, the  
Rosenwald schools were a haven from prejudice. Their black teachers and  
principals were loving and supportive. Many children knew that their parents  
and neighbors had raised money and in some cases had even done the physical work  
of building the schools. The Scrabble School graduate Chris Wallace proudly  
remembers that his uncle, Isaiah Wallace, was one of the people responsible for  
building the school in 1921.”  
“The hub of our community”  
For many years at Scrabble, Friday was “soup day,” with parents  
providing homemade lunch. A graduate in Texas described school as “the hub of  
our community. It’s where everyone went, where everything evolved. That was  
the center of our life.” In his memory of growing up in Mississippi, Ralph  
Eubanks, whose parents met at Tuskegee, writes of the Rosenwald school he  
attended: “Because of segregation …there was no Little League, swimming pool or  
community center. The school was the community center.”  
Stephanie Deutsch concludes that, “Booker T. Washington and Julius  
Rosenwald were men who judged each other not by the color of their skin but by  
the content of their character. Certainly each had something the other wanted—-  
Julius had wealth and influence that Booker needed to further his work;  
Washington was connected to a segment of society Rosenwald wished to encourage  
but knew little about. But each judged—-correctly—-that the other had goals  
larger than himself. From their vastly different families and homes and  
conditions Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald had taken similar lessons—-  
the conviction that there is dignity in work and meaning in service to others,  
that the best way to serve people is to give them tools to help themselves. The  
qualities Washington and Rosenwald learned in their own, often besieged,  
communities ——strength of character, material and spiritual generosity—-they  
encouraged in several generations of adults and children with their own powerful  
personalities and with the program they created to build country schoolhouses.  
Those schools assured people in otherwise forgotten corners of the rural South  
that they could offer their children opportunities they themselves had been  
denied. The Rosenwald schools provided for the children who attended them not  
just book learning but also a personal legacy from Booker T. Washington and  
Julius Rosenwald of faith in democracy, optimism, confidence and hope.”  
There are many lessons for today from the collaboration of Booker T.  
Washington and Julius Rosenwald, if only we would study our history more  
carefully. This inspirational story provides an important link in the  
historical chain that led to the civil rights movement and a more democratic  
chapter in American history. It also shows us the influence of Reform Judaism  
at a time when its focus was on Jewish moral and ethical values and its  
commitment was to creating a more just and humane society. Rabbi Emil Hirsch  
and Julius Rosenwald represented the best of that tradition, and Stephanie  
Deutsch has provided a notable service in making this story available to a new  
generation of Americans. *  

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.