Preserving Julius Rosenwald’s Profound Story

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, an apt time to share the contributions of Julius Rosenwald, whose challenge grants were pivotal in building nearly 5,000 Rosenwald Schools that educated one-third of African-American children in the South before school integration.

In 2015, I saw D.C. filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s documentary “Rosenwald.” I had never heard of the Jewish philanthropist. It was a transformative experience. Read More

Black Education Before Brown

“It’s a story that touches every pillar of my life,” says Andrew Feiler W’84. “I am Jewish, I am Southern, I am progressive. So, how could I never have heard of it?” 

The Atlanta-based photographer is referring to the history he explores in his latest book, A Better Life for Their Children(University of Georgia Press). The result of a three-and-a-half-year quest that took Feiler to 15 states, the book surveys a small fraction of the 4,977 schools built between 1912 and 1932 (one more school was added in 1937) for Black students across the South. Known as Rosenwald schools, they were the product of a unique partnership between Julius Rosenwald, the Jewish president of Sears Roebuck, and Booker T. Washington, the prominent Black educator.  Read More

Juneteenth and Questioning a President’s Legacy

Today we celebrate Juneteenth, the anniversary of Union Army General, Gordon Granger, announcing that all enslaved people in Texas were free. Texas was the most remote, and the last, state in the Confederacy to officially receive the news.

In honor of the holiday, a vigil was held at DC’s own Woodrow Wilson High School as part of efforts to change the school’s name. The DC History of Justice Collective is heading a grassroots effort to change the school’s name to better reflect the city’s, as well as national, values. President Wilson’s administration is remembered for demoting black workers in the civil service as well as instituting racist policies, including segregation in housing and education, that destroyed the black middle class in Washington, DC.

As highlighted in Ciesla’s “Rosenwald” documentary (the full clip of which can be seen here), Woodrow Wilson saw the film “Birth of a Nation,” by D.W. Griffith, at the White House in 1915. The film borrowed heavily from Wilson’s own work, “A History of the American People”. While the film today is recognized for its vile racist propaganda and the part it played in reviving the KKK in America, at the time Wilson said of the film, “It is all so terribly true.”

Like Rosenwald at the time who, along with the NAACP, helped to get the film banned from playing in Chicago, there is an understanding now that “Birth of a Nation,” is a deeply racist and fictitious portrayal of history. That understanding should extend to President Woodrow Wilson himself. He should no longer be honored with a school that bears his name.