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Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish immigrant and president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., became interested in improving rural Black schools in the South while serving on the board of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute.
In 1913, Rosenwald began informally giving funds to Booker T. Washington to improve schools in Alabama. In 1917, Rosenwald incorporated the Rosenwald Fund, which provided grants to build schools throughout the South.
Although grants from the Rosenwald Fund came to an end in 1932, many Rosenwald schools remained open until the 1960s and 1970s, when the Supreme Court upheld and enforced Brown vs The Board of Education, which found the practice of states to create separate White and Black schools unconstitutional.
In the early 20th century, segregation in the rural South denied Black children access to formal education. To bring education to these children, countless individuals worked together to build Rosenwald Schools.
Two leaders in this movement were Booker T. Washington, an educator and principal of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist. From 1913 to 1932, they teamed up with local communities across the South to build thousands of Rosenwald Schools.
It was truly a community effort: “Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund contributed more than 4.3 million dollars, and African-American communities raised more than 4.7 million dollars.”1
The school was named for one of the major neighborhood supporters, Thomas Russell. Built in 1926, it continued to operate until its closure in 1945.
While the school was open, hundreds of children were educated, bringing to fruition the vision and dedication of those who believed that high-quality education should be available to everyone.
The two-room school was equipped to have two teachers. It has high windows, hardwood floors, two cloakrooms (one in each room), and a small kitchen facing the front of the building.
The original chalkboards survive, as does one of the desks.
1. Mary Hoffschwelle. 2012. Preserving Rosenwald Schools. National Trust for Historic Preservation: Washington D.C.
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