You Need a School­house: Book­er T. Wash­ing­ton, Julius Rosen­wald, and the Build­ing of Schools for the Seg­re­gat­ed South

Stephanie Deutsch
  • Review
By – June 28, 2012

A bright, quick-paced work that art­ful­ly com­bines social and eco­nom­ic his­to­ry, Jew­ish his­to­ry, African-Amer­i­can his­to­ry, and moral edu­ca­tion, You Need a School­house illu­mi­nates pow­er­ful trends in twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can life. A dou­ble biog­ra­phy, this book charts the phil­an­thropic and edu­ca­tion­al part­ner­ship between Book­er T. Wash­ing­ton, who was born a slave and who became a found­ing leader of the Tuskegee Insti­tute in Alaba­ma, and the Ger­man-Jew­ish busi­ness­man Julius Rosen­wald, who became an own­er of Sears, Roe­buck in Chica­go and who became a trustee of the Tuskegee Insti­tute. Wash­ing­ton and Rosen­wald worked togeth­er to com­bat pover­ty and igno­rance in the era of Jim Crow; respond­ing to Book­er T. Washington’s 1895 sum­mons, You need a school­house,” Rosen­wald worked with Wash­ing­ton and oth­ers to build hun­dreds of long-remem­bered well-con­struct­ed school build­ings for African-Amer­i­can boys and girls in the deep South. By 1932, the near­ly 5,000 schools had become havens from prej­u­dice where stu­dents acquired knowl­edge and skills for adult­hood and cit­i­zen­ship.

In describ­ing the part­ner­ship between Wash­ing­ton and Rosen­wald and the hur­dles that the two had to over­come, the author, a dis­tant rel­a­tive of Rosenwald’s by mar­riage, han­dles that era’s racist lan­guage and atti­tudes skill­ful­ly, fram­ing mean-spir­it­ed and degrad­ing remarks in their twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry con­text. The read­er of this com­pelling nar­ra­tive soon grasps how the two men, in spite of hav­ing been vic­tims of the hor­rors of race prej­u­dice,” held out the hope that the Unit­ed States could pro­vide them with a true home where they could pur­sue aca­d­e­m­ic excel­lence, live by the high­est ideals of char­ac­ter, and go on to pro­vide a rich life for oth­ers. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

Judd Kruger Lev­ingston, Ph.D. and rab­bi, serves as Direc­tor of Jew­ish Stud­ies at Jack M. Bar­rack Hebrew Acad­e­my in the Philadel­phia area. Lev­ingston is the author of Sow­ing the Seeds of Char­ac­ter: The Moral Edu­ca­tion of Ado­les­cents in Pub­lic and Pri­vate Schools (Praeger, 2009).

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