Congress Recognizes Julius Rosenwald’s Philanthropy

In the last weeks of December 2020, Congress managed to come together to pass a piece of legislation that likely escaped the attention of most Americans busy celebrating the holidays.

At at time when the news is dominated by Congress’ inability to come together on many issues, both the House and the Senate quietly passed HR 3250 and S 1863. What was so important about these bills? They pay homage to the incredible philanthropic legacy of Julius Rosenwald, who appears in the Roundtable’s Philanthropy Hall of Fame. 

Rosenwald earned his wealth building the Sears, Roebuck and Company. His philanthropic work, done through the Rosenwald Fund, was a major source of support for investing in the education of Black children in the Southern states. The so-called Rosenwald Schools, about 5,000 in number, are a little-known success story. This article describes research that demonstrates the major positive impact of these schools on key data markers such as school attendance, literacy, and cognitive test scores. Notably, the late Congressman John Lewis and author Toni Morrison are among the students who attended a Rosenwald School.  

The newly passed legislation calls for the National Park Service to review the historical sites, especially the Rosenwald Schools, as the first step toward creating a National Historical Park that honors the invaluable contributions Rosenwald made to build stronger communities and close economic gaps. At a time when there is much debate about who can do what to help, it is encouraging to hear that we will remember the legacy of one man whose actions spoke louder than his words. Fittingly, John Lewis was one of the lead sponsors of the legislation, and his name will appear as part of the final law’s moniker. 

What a lovely way to honor the contributions of two men who, in very different ways, fought for civil rights at a time when it was risky and difficult to do so.