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National Civil Rights Museum exhibit honors schools that changed education for Black Americans

A new exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum offers the history of Rosenwald schools and how they revolutionized education in the segregated South.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The National Civil Rights Museum debuted an exhibit on Rosenwald schools, the schools that transformed education for Black Americans in the segregated South.

The Rosenwald School Project was a collaboration between Booker T. Washington, a civil rights advocate, education leader and founder of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, a part-owner and leader of Sears, Roebuck and Company, which would eventually become Sears. The pair partnered with Black communities to build 4,978 schools across the South and bordering states for African American children from 1912 to 1937.

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Rosenwald created the Rosenwald Fund in 1917. After moving to Fisk University in 1920, the grants stipulated that communities had to match the funds donated to build schools.

As one of the earliest collaborations between Jewish and African Americans, the Rosenwald schools educated the generation who would become leaders and advocates in the civil rights movement. The match was meant to encourage communities to come together to raise money with events like fish frys, bake sales and other fundraising events. This, in turn, helped establish financial independence for the schools.

Of the 4,978, only 500 Rosenwald schools stand today; being used as churches, community centers and museums, among other things. The exhibit examines the history of the schools and their impact on education in Black communities.

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The National Civil Rights Museum exhibit on Rosenwald schools opened August 18 and will be on display until January 2, 2023. 

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