Julius Rosenwald, a visionary American businessman and philanthropist, once proclaimed, "Education is the key to unlocking a better future for all." This profound statement encapsulates the transformative power of education on individual lives and society. Rosenwald recognized that education empowers individuals by providing them with knowledge, skills, and opportunities that can break the chains of poverty, ignorance, and inequality. His dedication to the power and impact of education inspired him to partner with the educator, Booker T. Washington, and together they created a movement.
What are commonly referred to as Rosenwald Schools were the result of an initial partnership between Sears, Roebuck, and Co. president Julius Rosenwald, Tuskegee Institute president Booker T. Washington, and Black communities throughout the South. Between 1912-1937, that partnership resulted in the construction of almost 5,000 schools for Black children across 15 southern states, including 354 in Tennessee. Rosenwald schools drove improvement in Black educational attainment and helped educate the generation who became leaders of the Civil Rights movement. (from TN State Museum)
The Tennessee State Museum is currently hosting an exhibit, Building a Bright Future: Black Communities and Rosenwald Schools in Tennessee, which runs until February 25, 2024. The exhibit opens with a quote from Rosenwald in which he shares how his Jewish background, specifically the teaching of Tikun Olam, influenced him and led him toward tireless efforts to improve the world around him.
Rosenwald was greatly inspired by his Jewish faith and the leadership of Emil Hirsch, the legendary progressive rabbi who led the synagogue to which Rosenwald and his family belonged. Hirsch was a "towering intellect" and "unreconstructed Progressive" who had a profound effect on Rosenwald's view of the world and his responsibility to help others. Hirsch co-founded the NAACP* and introduced Rosenwald to the plight of African Americans.
Rosenwald lived his faith and believed that “It is through education that people can enhance their understanding of the world, expand their horizons, and realize their true potential. By investing in education, we open doors to a brighter future, where individuals can pursue their dreams, contribute meaningfully to their communities, and work towards a more equitable and inclusive society.” Rosenwald's quote serves as a timeless reminder of the profound impact education can have, highlighting its pivotal role in shaping a better future for all.
At a time when our public schools are under attack, from book bans to threats of reduced funding, the legacy of Julius Rosenwald is even more timely, urgent, and valuable. How can we reinvigorate his efforts forward in this critical time?
We can begin by visiting the exhibit, and learning more about Rosenwald schools, and how education initiatives can improve the lives, not only those of the students, but of the entire community.
Julius Rosenwald’s quote, "The power of education lies in its ability to transform lives," encapsulates the transformative nature of education. Education is not merely a means of acquiring knowledge; rather, it has the potential to shape individuals, communities, and even societies. By recognizing the power of education to transform lives, Rosenwald highlights the importance of providing equal access to quality education for all, as it holds the key to a brighter future and a more inclusive society.
The Jewish Observer is published by The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville and made possible by funds raised in the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign. Become a supporter today.