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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  
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  
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. Washington.”  
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  
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  
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  
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  
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  
“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.