Stephanie Deutsch’s new book, You Need a Schoolhouse, is unconventionally and unintentionally controversial. Mind you, there is no revelation about some sly, hidden political agenda practiced by powerful men. Nor is there any disclosure of some long hidden corruption. No, the problem with this beautifully written book is that it makes heroes of two men whom historians more often cast as suspect, even villainous.
To this day, most Americans are taught that Booker T. Washington was a prominent black man, but a pawn of white elites. The black educator encouraged black people—recently freed from slavery—to cooperate with segregationist white America. He is widely disparaged as advocating black appeasement of white, racist southerners during the Reconstruction era. Washington’s posture is often contrasted with the outspoken, even confrontational, approach of another educator, W. E. B. DuBois, whose reputation history celebrates for the organization he helped to found, the NAACP.
Few Americans are taught much about Julius Rosenwald. Some may know that his success in business made him one of the richest men in the country. At the turn of the 20th century, his wealth put him in the company of monopolists and so-called “robber barons,” men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. As a grace note, students of history are sometimes taught that Rosenwald, the co-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, was the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany, who donated tens of millions of dollars of his own fortune to philanthropic causes.
Now comes Deutsch’s book, which gives life to the story of the unlikely, in fact amazing, collaboration between the two men. The former slave and the Jewish businessman built more than 5,300 one-room schoolhouses across America’s segregated South—stretching from Maryland to Florida to Texas—in the early 1900s. During that time, the Rosenwald schools educated one-third of the South’s black children.
Whole thing here.