Stephanie Deutsch is the author of “You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South.”
“Sears chairman Eddie Lampert’s ESL hedge fund staved off, at least temporarily, the company’s liquidation with a $5.2 billion bid at a bankruptcy auction last week in New York. Creditors of the former department store colossus are challenging the sale in court. The fate of the company’s 425 stores, and with it the jobs of 45,000 employees, is likely to be determined in early February.
Sears’s bankruptcy declaration in October prompted a wave of media coverage focusing on Sears’s mid-20th-century glory days and its roots in a mail-order watch business operated by Richard W. Sears with the help of watch repairer Alvah C. Roebuck. Often overlooked in those nostalgic chronicles was the man who bore much of the responsibility for building the company into a paragon of U.S. retailing. With Sears’s future hanging in the balance, this seems like a good moment to give Julius Rosenwald his due, not least because of how he put his Sears fortune to philanthropic use: partnering with African American communities across the segregated South to build schools.”
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