Last year, the preservation community celebrated a pivotal step towards the further protection of Rosenwald Schools with enactment of the Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools Study Act (H.R. 3250). The legislation, signed into law in January 2019, authorized a National Park Service (NPS) special resource study (SRS) to evaluate a select list of Rosenwald Schools and sites associated with the life and legacy of American businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald for potential inclusion in the National Park System.
This significant moment in the ongoing preservation effort of Rosenwald Schools further demonstrated the strong support for protecting these historic places and helped highlight the incredible stories of this chapter of American history. Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, built state-of-the art schools for Black children across the South—an initiative so transformative that it helped shape the educational and economic futures for an entire generation of children.
Between 1917 and 1932, there were nearly 5,000 schoolhouses that were known as the Rosenwald Schools, and research estimates less than 500 of these structures survive, making preservation of the remaining structures essential for continuing to share their legacy of shaping American education.
The National Trust has worked closely with the Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park Campaign, National Parks Conservation Association, and other partners as part of a multi-year campaign with the goal of establishing a National Historical Park to celebrate the remarkable legacy of Julius Rosenwald and his partnership with Booker T. Washington to establish Rosenwald Schools throughout the segregated South. The National Trust has a long history working to save Rosenwald Schools, including placing the schools on the 2002 America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places List, funding the preservation of Rosenwald Schools, and submitting testimony to Congress.
Launching the Special Resource Study Process
Recently the NPS launched the special resource study (SRS) process, which provides an opportunity for the public to weigh-in on this important step towards the creation of a National Historical Park. As part of this multi-year effort, the NPS launched a website providing background information and a place for the public to learn more about the SRS effort, while giving options for submitting feedback for the ongoing study.
The National Trust, our partners, and many others supporting Rosenwald Schools joined a series of virtual, public town hall meetings hosted by the NPS in early July. Each session featured presentations by the NPS, followed by a question and answer session where participants inquired about the SRS timeline, approach, and scope of work.
The first session on July 6 focused on four Illinois sites mentioned in the enacted legislation that are associated with Julius Rosenwald’s life and philanthropy, which was followed by a second virtual meeting on July 7 for a discussion on ten Rosenwald Schools also mentioned in the bill. For those unable to attend the sessions, video recordings prior to the open discussion are available on the NPS website.
Add Your Voice and Support for Rosenwald Schools
We hope you will join the National Trust and our partners in this crucial effort to help support future preservation and protection of these sites by advocating for their inclusion in the National Park System. The NPS is accepting comments from the general public about a list of sites they will research and explore in the coming months. Background information on these historic places, along with instructions on how to submit comments before the July 31 deadline, are provided on a NPS portal that hosts a series of links and documents as this work continues.
For more information on this campaign and many others, subscribe to the National Trust’s government relations newsletter to receive future updates and other opportunities to engage in this work.