Durbin, Davis Introduce Bill To Study Possible National Park For Julius Rosenwald

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL-07) today introduced a bill that honors Julius Rosenwald—the former part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company—for his work in establishing Rosenwald Schools to promote African American education in the rural South.  The Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools Study Act would require the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resources study of the sites associated with the life and legacy of Julius Rosenwald to determine the best ways to commemorate this incredible part of American history focusing on his efforts to promote African American education.

“Julius Rosenwald was a Springfield native and influential in building and establishing schools in African American communities throughout the South.  His commitment to African American education forever changed the lives of many across the rural south.  His contributions merit a study from the Department of Interior for a possible national historic park designation,” Durbin said.

“Julius Rosenwald was an astute business executive, philanthropist, leader, and humanitarian.  I know the importance of the work that he did with education in the rural South. Many of the small towns where African Americans lived during his time had no school at all and, if they had one, it only went to the sixth or eighth grade I began school in a one room schoolhouse with one teacher. Although I did not attend a Rosenwald school, I know the impact of their presence.  As one who has lived in and represents the area where Sears Roebuck was headquartered, I understand the importance of his influence on the cultural and economic development of his presence in Chicago and throughout the world,” Davis said.

In the early 20th century, Rosenwald worked with the Tuskegee Institute on a pilot program to build six schools in rural Alabama for African American children who were receiving little to no education.  The program expanded and eventually led to the construction of more than 5,300 Rosenwald Schools and related buildings in fifteen states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia).   

The schools were constructed and maintained through partnership between the Julius Rosenwald Fund and local communities, which contributed land, labor, materials, and money to build and maintain the schools.   These schools played a significant role in narrowing the gap between the educational levels of black and white students in the South, educating one-third of black students in the south.  A 2011 study by Federal Reserve economist concluded that these schools played a significant role in narrowing the gap between education levels of black and white students in the South.