Black Creativity and the Julius Rosenwald Fund

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1929

Philanthropic giant Julius Rosenwald (president of Sears, Roebuck) started the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1917 “for the well-being of mankind,” but devoted much of its philanthropic power to improving the welfare of black Americans. The fund’s directors operated with a sense of urgency, as Rosenwald had directed that the fund be liquidated within 25 years of his death. When the fund was reorganized in 1929 it was one of the largest philanthropies in the country.

One of the fund’s several high-profile achievements was a fellowship program that supported artists, writers, and historians, most of them black, to take year-long breaks to further their education or pursue projects. The fund’s list of recipients includes most of the greatest names in African-American art and literature in the 1930s and ’40s: Jacob Lawrence, Marian Anderson, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Ralph Bunche, John Hope Franklin, Franklin Frazier, W. E. B. DuBois, and others. Ralph Ellison wrote The Invisible Man on a Rosenwald fellowship. When the fund closed in 1948 as Rosenwald had instructed, it had provided fellowships to nearly 600 black artists.