The emotion of Marian Anderson’s 1939 triumph in singing the national anthem at the Lincoln Memorial is the opening scene used to pull readers into the book Schools of Hope: How Julius Rosenwald Helped Change African American Education. Rosenwald was the very successful president of the Sears & Roebuck Company who befriended Booker T. Washington, the former slave who went on to head the Tuskegee Institute. Rosenwald was a philanthropist who was inspired to give generously by his rabbi and by Washington’s philosophy of self-help. These ideas motivated Rosenwald to partially fund over 5,000 schools for black children in the South. He believed that people did not appreciate having things handed to them, so he required the communities to raise half of the funds. He also funded black scholars, including Marian Anderson. Norman H. Finkelstein’s book is full of historical documents and photographs depicting the history of this era and the population deprived of sufficient educational facilities because of their race. Rosenwald’s story is an example of responsible business leadership. Children who read this book will learn of a wealthy pioneer who looked beyond his own comfort and society’s oppressive norms and took the reins to address a societal problem. The book shows tzedaka put into practice on a grand scale. Rosenwald said, “Having made money, my problem now is how to use it so as to give and get happiness out of it.” He urged other wealthy industrialists to join him in philanthropy, organizing convincing train trips to the Tuskegee Institute. Rosenwald’s fund’s by-laws benefited people well-beyond his immediate circle. They were for “the well-being of mankind.”
The book is clearly written and illustrated with black-and-white photographs. Both the text and the illustration give an excellent sense of time and place. Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.
Dina Weinstein is a Richmond, Virginia-based writer.