"Pleasant Plains School in Hertford County" [Photo by Andrew Feiler]

New Exhibit to Open at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience

07:00 November 01, 2023
By: Presley Tyler

New Exhibit at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience

A new exhibition is to open at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience on November 17, and will be open until April 21, 2024.

This new exhibit is titled A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America and will showcase the South's Rosenwald Schools and highlight the Progressive Era partnership of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington.

This collection will tell the fascinating history of how Sears Roebuck President Julius Rosenwald and Tuskegee Institute Principal Booker T. Washington developed and enacted a plan that would provide better education opportunities for Black children. Rosenwald and Washington created a network of schools that spanned across the South in the early 20th century.

The museum exhibit will display photographs and stories that were collected by photographer Andrew Feiler, who is a fifth-generation Jewish Georgian. Feiler traveled across 15 Southern states to track down and photograph over 100 of the 500 Rosenwald Schools that are still standing today.

[Photo by Andrew Feiler]

Julius Rosenwald & Booker T. Washington

The partnership between Rosenwald and Washington is one of the earliest partnerships between the Jewish and Black communities. The two man faced the challenges of institutionalized segregation with innovation and managed to establish one of the first public-private partnerships among local communities, donors, and the state.

4,977 Rosenwald schoolhouses were built between 1917 and 1932. The schoolhouses were supported by many donors, including the Rosenwald Fund, local school boards, and local Black communities. By doing this, Rosenwald and Washington promoted the collaboration between Black and white communities. The program also established a high standard for Black-Jewish relations, and these relations were carried into the Civil Rights era. The ever-present Black-white education gap that plagued the South between World War I and World War II narrowed greatly, due mostly to Rosenwald Schools.

Among the thousands of African American graduates of Rosenwald schools include poet Maya Angelou, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, Little Rock Nine pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier and Congressman John Lewis.

[Photo by Andrew Feiler/The Filson Historical Society]

Feiler believes the story of the Rosenwald schools is especially resonant now. "In deeply segregated 1912 America, Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington reached across divides of race, religions, and region and fundamentally changed this nation for the better," said Feiler in a press release.

"It's especially fitting that these photographs and stories that bring people into this history are being hosted by the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience," said Feiler.

"MSJE is proud to be part of bringing this story in front of the public eye. The history of the Rosenwald schools is also the history of the South and the many diverse people and actors who have shaped it," said Kenneth Hoffman, executive director of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, in a press release.

More Info for the Exhibit

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience will host a full program of events centered around the exhibit. These events include a talk by Feiler, multiple screenings of the documentary film Rosenwald by producer Aviva Kempner, a lecture by author Stephanie Deutch who wrote You Need a Schoolhouse, as well as a panel discussion with Rosenwald School graduates. Additionally, a field trip has been outlined with the intention of introducing students to this important part of American history. A full list of the event schedule can be found on the museum's website.

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