Memories & Stories

Throughout his life, Julius Rosenwald was generous with his philanthropic contributions. From the Rosenwald schools and the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments to the Museum of Science and Industry and the African American YMCAs, his generosity certainly continues to positively affect people to this day. This page aims to allow people to share memories and photographs of those whose lives his work has impacted.

If you have any personal stories or photos that describe Julius Rosenwald, the Rosenwald schools, or any of Rosenwald’s other contributions and how they have affected you, please write us with the subject line, “Memories”, at

Letter from a Rosenwald school graduate:

I attend WEB DuBois High School from 1945 graduating in 1957. From first grade through Twelfth. The elementary building was the original Rosenwald Building that was built in 1928 according to written history,Messrs Joseph Massenburg, Stephen Taylor, Willis Taylor and Caleb Winston raised $1,100 and the Rosenwald Fund contributed $1,800 according to written history.Seventeen years later and because of Julius Rosenwald I was able to attend a well constructed school building. The first was a little rough for me personally because I got a spanking because I wanted to leave when my mother left. Prior to that time I had spent everyday of my life with my mother, I went with her everywhere she went. My mother and I did days work people in the town. My first grade teacker
Mrs, Sula Alston solved the problem by spanking me lightly in front my mother and of the class to let me know who was in charge. Mrs. Alston also was a cousin.When I Started school Mr. L. R. Best was the principal. He demanded that students that lived in Wake Forest be to school on time and be in your class when the bell rung. Students were not allowed in the halls between classes unless they had a written note from the teachers In the high school building there were a person that monitored the hall. Mr. Best was a disciplinarian. One did not participated on basketball team with a D on their report card.School’s Motto:”THE DUTY OF W.E.B. DUBOIS SCHOOL IS TO TEACH CHILDREN TO DO BETTER THE DESIRABLE THINGS WHICH THEY ARE LIKELY TO DO ANYWAY, AND TO REVEAL HIGH ACTIVITIES AND MAKE THEM BOTH DESIRED AND MAXIMALLY POSSIBLE.”WHAT DID I GET AT DUBOIS?l LEARNED TO RESPECT AUTHORITY

This incredible speech was shared with us by a fan:

50th Class Reunion Speech 2015 –Frink High School Class of 1965Janet:We are here today to reminisce and share stories about our childhood education, to remember the good times in LaGrange, and to raise money for college scholarships for our youth, and also to raise money for the upkeep of this wonderful building. Our foundation was built in the schools we attended. For some of us that foundation was built at Banks Chapel School in Falling Creek. Now, let me share with you some history; the early years as I remember them. After today, some of you will probably say, Janet did not share some other important things and you will begin to think about your own experiences at Banks Chapel.Banks Chapel was one of the many Julius Rosenwald schools the president of Sears and Roebuck had built; he was also a dear friend of Dr. Booker T. Washington. Mr. Rosenwald was aware of the poor education Negroes in the rural south were receiving. There were 4,977 Rosenwald schools, located in 15 states, from Maryland to Texas. Banks Chapel was a very small Rosenwald school with approximately six or seven teachers, 130 students and a custodian. We had a very small library which consisted of a few books, a set of encyclopedias, a globe, and a soda machine. We did not have running water, or a cafeteria. Our toilets were outside, (when I was teaching in Maryland I would always write “to the toilet” on the hall pass as a reminder of Banks Chapel). My students insisted that I write bathroom; they had the nerve to complain to the principal about the use of the word “toilet”, and I would say to them “do you want this hall pass or not”; the word “toilet” was a reminder of my humble beginning. The building was heated with coal and wood stoves. Mrs. Smith, our fifth grade teacher, would come in the classroom in the mornings and say “boys, perk up the fire, perk up the fire”. After a few years, another building was built on the grounds at Banks Chapel, and for a while this building did not have electricity.At Banks Chapel, our teachers were Mrs. Penia Sutton, Mrs. Verna Jones, Mrs. Erma Smith, Mrs. Helen Lee, Mr. Bertram Hubbard, and Mrs. Alice Hubbard. Mr. Matt Croom, our custodian, was like a protector and big brother. Miss Battle, our music teacher joined the staff at a later date and married the Reverend Clarence Sutton. That was an exciting time when her fiancé would bring her to school and get out opening her car door. He was a real gentleman and this was our introduction to adult courtship! The girls wanted to dress like the teachers who had pretty clothes, and especially the very high heel shoes which Mrs. Hubbard wore.Our education consisted of reading, writing, and arithmetic with special emphasis on the arts. I am sure many of you remember the Spring Art’s festival in Kinston at the tobacco warehouse where Banks Chapel would display the crafts we made during the school year. We made dog houses, rabbit boxes, water color paintings, scarves, and we embroidered designs on pillow cases and aprons. We made macramé using grit boxes and crepe paper.We had a glee club for boys and girls; in fact, we had music appreciation. The only music appreciation class I had during my education was at Banks Chapel. We learned the history of George Frederick Handel, Braham and Beethoven; the music scales, and equally important, we learned Negro Spirituals such as “Lord I Want To Be a Christian”, “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me”; and Mrs. Smith, our first music teacher, loved to sing “Every Time I feel the Spirit”. Morning devotion was part of our daily schedule, with the teacher reading from the Bible and the students reciting a prayer. I guess we could say that we had a faith based education.Every Friday, we had “Chapel”. We would share our talents and sometimes we would have a movie and refreshments. We had plays such as “Little Red Riding Hood”; Mrs. Penia Sutton would make our costumes out of crepe paper. We always had the Christmas play, and at the end of the school year, we had the Spring Festival.We had science field trips where we would walk (nature walks) through the woods looking for different leaves, trees, insects, and anything else we found of interest. We had recess every day. We had recess in the morning before school after the buses dropped us off while waiting for the teachers to arrive; we had recess at lunch time, recess after school while waiting for the buses to return. As a teacher, I now realize we had a very good Liberal Arts education.During recess time, we played jump rope. When I moved to Howard County, Maryland, I learned there was a formal group called the Kangaroo Kids, and they jumped rope as a competitive sport. They have buses to travel throughout the state and other locations, and a coach. They have won many prizes, and I am proud to say we knew how to Double Dutch at Banks Chapel. We played marbles; the girls had four little holes to roll the marble into the hole, “now as I think about it”, it is a form of playing golf. The same skills are used to play golf– you just use a club instead of getting down on the ground. I remember tearing the front of my dress one day because girls did not wear pants. Boy was my mama mad when she saw the torn dress. The boys drew a triangle on the ground to see how close they could shoot the marble into the triangle. The students also learned leadership skills; there was always some one in charge of the games–such as the keeper of the marbles. We did not have any Special Education classes for the students. The classes were so small the students had every opportunity for individual instruction.We also learned the meaning of giving and appreciating. Each year we would assemble little boxes to send to the Red Cross for the people who were less fortunate than we were. Our education was indeed a gift. The most important gift we received as students was the ability to read and think! We were nurtured and told early, to reach high, and do your very best. We also learned about grief when one of our classmates died suddenly.Graduation was an exciting time, we wore caps and gowns and the Baccalaureate Service was held in the Banks Chapel Church across the road in front of the school. When we graduated from Banks Chapel, in fact, this class was the first class to graduate from the new Banks Chapel, which has become Banks Elementary School.Our teachers prepared us for a rigorous high school schedule. We were ready to blend with the new students who eventually became our friends and family. Little did we know at the time, what a wonderful, well rounded education we received at Banks Chapel?Now, we have some really fond memories of our days at Frink High School. We can quietly talk about the dances we attended, the basketball games, homecoming, drivers education, the glee club field trips, the drama club– where we traveled to Raleigh to present a play and we won the regional award, the Library Club with Mrs. Frink driving us to Durham for a Library Conference, the prom, and the after prom party and the relationships with our classmates. Frink High School has been the gift that keeps on giving in our lives. Without the good education we received, there is no telling how different our lives would be today. I want to acknowledge our teachers, and some of you have good memories of your teachers. I have several good memories. I can remember the day I went to Dr. Mewborn and asked him if I could drop typing, typing was a little hard. I missed one or two of the lessons during the fall “working on the farm”, and if you missed a day or two it was hard to catch up with the keyboard. Well, Dr. Mewborn asked me “What do you plan to do when you graduate,”? I thought for a second, I wanted to say “I do not know,” but I said “I plan to become a nurse”. “He said, “if you plan to become a nurse you will need to know how to type,” that was the end of the discussion. I can still remember the frame of his body as he walked away. I often wonder how my life would have been if he had said okay and signed the paper, and guess what I became a typing teacher.Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, we need to continue to work with our children; they need guidance and support. Encourage the youth. We had the right people in our lives, — our teachers, parents and the community. They believed and nurtured us. We need to continue to teach our youth the importance of a good education; Remember there are many trades you can study which will help you to make a comfortable living and you will become financially secured. Do you know an electrician will charge you $150.00 to come to your house–just for a service call, or a service call for a plumber, or welder– we cannot give up on them. We need to remind our youth there is hope and a future. Most important teach them love, how to be a team player, read the newspaper, be respectful, honest, and always help someone in need. My favorite two words to say to people are “thank you” and I thank our principal, Dr. Mewborn and our teachers.

We recently received this letter from a fan, telling us about how Julius Rosenwald inspired and impacted her friends and family:

Aviva,Rosenwald was a “Source of Achievement” (Billingsley) for LOTS of African Americans. My friend’s father was Dean at Morgan State. She’s an accomplished academician living now in Memphis.Miriam:Flashback Friday: When my family moved to Orangeburg, SC, I entered the 8th grade at Felton Training School, located on the campus of S. C. State College. A four-room school, with eight grades, Felton was founded in 1925 and partially funded by the Rosenwald Fund. Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., created the Rosenwald Fund in 1917, to build hundreds of schools throughout the South for Black children. There were only four of us in the eighth grade and, of those four, three earned Ph.D. degrees and one became president of Tuskegee Institute. That’s how good it was, even with one teacher for two grades.

“Building strong children is easier than repairing broken adults.” 
– Frederick Douglass

Amy T. Billingsley, M.A., M.B.A.

Black families in white America by Andrew Billingsley (Book):
A social systems approach to the study of Negro family life — Historical backgrounds of the Negro family — Shadows of the plantation: contemporary social forrces affecting Negro family life — Screens of opportunity: sources of achievement in Negro families — Social status in the Black community — The agony and the promise of social change — Strategies of social reform.

This was a letter sent to us by Martin:

My father who passed in 2009, Lt. Colonel Maurice (817th), was a highly decorated [Distinguished Flying Cross] veteran of World War II, having flown 50 combat missions in 1944 as lead pilot of a B-17. He served as part of the 483rd Bomber Group located in the area of Foggia, Italy. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and stayed in the reserves into the 1980s. My wife and I went to see the movie Red Tails in 2012 or 2013, I believe, in part because my father talked about the wonderful support he and his bomber colleagues received from the Tuskegee Airmen in their P-51 fighter planes. Of course, there is a scene in the movie when an all white group of bomber crew members encounter a group of the Tuskegee Airmen in Foggia. The Airmen anticipate being harassed, as they were by other white soldiers previously in the movie. But, instead, the bomber crew offers to buy them drinks in appreciation for their great flying over Ploesti. My father had a number of missions over Ploesti, the site of major Nazi oil refineries, which was a dreaded target because of the heavy anti-aircraft fire and numerous German fighters guarding it. It was like seeing my father on the screen, and I turned to my wife, with tears in my eyes, and said “I have to find an Airman and buy him a drink for Dad.” It took me some time to get information about a few of the remaining Tuskegee Airmen. Among a 5 couple of others, I was given the name and telephone number for Col. Charles in Bethesda, Maryland. I called the Colonel and explained my objective, which was, per Red Tails, to buy him a drink on behalf of my father. He also flew from Foggia in 1944, and I said that it might even be possible that they flew missions together. He graciously took out his missions’ log. I had my father’s in front of me. And sure enough, they had flown a number of missions together, including two to Ploesti. So, it really was right out of the movie, although I was my father’s surrogate. Last Saturday, January 17, my family and I invited the Colonel and his daughter Yvonne to be our guests at his favorite Bethesda restaurant. Coincidentally, it was a beautiful Italian restaurant, with large painted scenes of Italy throughout, and the owner, Luigi, mentioned that his son happens to be an Air Force colonel who flies the latest and most sophisticated fighter planes. Talk about everything coming together! We were together for well over two hours, with the Colonel, a soft-spoken and consummate gentleman, sharing stories about his experiences during and after World War II, especially the daunting challenges facing African Americans who wanted to serve their country. Old enough to have lived through the civil rights era, I was not surprised by what we heard. But I especially wanted my children, in their 20s, to hear about an America that is far from their reality. It was clear that the Colonel and Yvonne were genuinely moved by this gesture, especially when we brought out the cake with icing pictures of a B-17 and P-51 along with an inscription of thanks from Lt. Colonel Maurice to the Colonel. Afterwards, I told my children that they were just privileged to directly learn from a real American hero — the pilot who holds the Tuskegee Airmen record for combat missions/ 409 in WWII, Korea and Vietnam– about an important chapter in our nation’s history and in the history of the African American community. What better way to begin the MLK holiday weekend?

We just received another email from Tracy, whose family has a connection to the Rosenwald name:

A coworker informed me about the movie via a newspaper article. When I saw the name Rosenwald I instantly knew there had to be a connection to my family.My father in law, born in 1932 in North Carolina, was given the middle name Rosenwald.Prior to giving birth to my son I wanted to know more about the Rosenwald name. When I asked my father in law he told me there was a Jewish man, who’s last name was Rosenwald, who built “a” school in North Carolina. He said his mother gave him the name because this man was doing great things in North Carolina.My father in law attended Long Elementary School which was located in Warrenton North Carolina. He later attended John R. Hawkins High School which was a lodge school.My father in law, husband and son are all named Joseph Rosenwald.It was an honor meeting you [Aviva] and I was in awe of Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropic work. I did not know that it was more than “a” school built. What a great film. I hope it is shown throughout the world. It is great history that needs to be told.

Recently, a fan of the Rosenwald film, Christine Clark, reached out to us with information about a ship named after Julius Rosenwald. Christine writes;

“I don’t have information on the Rosenwald schools, but I have often wondered who Julius Rosenwald was. My father, Francis Clark, was a Merchant Marine and during WWII (when the Coast Guard commissioned the Merchant Marines into service), my Dad was on the liberty ship, Julius Rosenwald. … [Rosenwald] touched more lives than we can imagine”

Francis Clark (left) aboard the SS Julius Rosenwald
Photo courtesy of Christine Clark

“I am pretty sure that photo is from World War II. My Dad enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1941 and stayed with them until his retirement in 1969. He died in 1984 and I never knew which liberty ships he was on during the War. My Mom died in 2014 but had dementia so I was never able to get details from her. I found this photo after we cleaned out Mom’s home. I just did some research via the Net to find out who Julius Rosenwald was because I was curious as to why a ship was named after him.”

Between 1941 and 1945, the United States produced 2,710 Liberty ships for use by the U.S. fleet and for delivering war materials to Britain and the Soviet Union. The first Liberty ship constructed, the SS John Henry, set a precedent for naming the ships after prominent American figures. The cargo ship design was chosen for its low-cost construction. Surprisingly, many of the ships outlived their 5 year life expectancy with over 2,400 surviving World War II.On the note of surviving Liberty ships, Christine also shares this information with us:

“… only two that I know of remain, one is the Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco and the other is John W. Brown (not sure where that is located)”

image from

“This Liberty Ship was built by J.A. Jones Constr. Co., Panama City, Florida, Hull #1533. It was at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
It was scrapped in March 1963.
Hope this information helps some.Best regards,
Christine Clark”

The ship was laid in the Panama City shipyard on July 7th, 1943, and launched on September 13th of the same year. Throughout the next year, the ship spent a total of 84 days on ways and in the water. During this time it was badly damaged during an enemy attack. It was sold to a private seller in 1947, and as we’ve learned from Christine, scrapped in March of 1963.Additional Sources:

Here’s a great anecdote shared with us by Peter Lomhoff:

You asked for recollections or items to add to the known history of JR.My grandfather on my mother’s side was Walter Hammerslough, I believe first cousin to JR. Walter was not a remarkable man in any way, and I have nothing interesting to add from that connection.I have the following tidbit, the best I can do. It was said in our family that some ancestor was in the clothing business and sold a pair of pants to Abraham Lincoln, who appreciated the pants and sent a sort thank you note, or signed a receipt, but my ancestor did not like Lincoln at all, and angrily tore up the signature and tossed it away, so we do not have the precious autograph. After seeing the film perhaps the ancestor was JR’s father, but I do not know.

Rosenwald Film Bonus: Teaching Guide