Born to Jewish immigrants, Julius Rosenwald rose to lead Sears, Roebuck and Co. and turned it into the world’s largest retailer. Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington became the founder of the Tuskegee Institute.
In 1912, the two men launched an ambitious program to partner with Black communities across the segregated South in building public schools for African American children. From 1912 to 1937, when few such schools existed, the program built 4,978 schools for Black children across fifteen Southern and border states. This watershed moment in the history of philanthropy drove dramatic improvement in African American educational attainment—educating the generation who became leaders and foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.
Of the original 4,978 Rosenwald schools, about 500 survive. In creating a photographic account of the program, Andrew Feiler drove 25,000 miles and photographed 105 schools in all fifteen states. The work includes interiors and exteriors, schools restored and yet-to-be restored, and portraits of people with compelling connections to the schools. These photographs tell of diverse Americans coming together across divisions of race, religion, and region. It is a story that demonstrates that our individual actions can, indeed, make a difference.