Rosenwald Fund helped educate Black students

Founder of the Rosenwald Fund, Julius Rosenwald (left) is shown with educator and author Booker T. Washington. (Special to The Commercial/

Julius Rosenwald designed the Rosenwald Fund to create more equitable opportunities for African Americans in the South. The fund contributed more than $300,000 to developing 389 Rosenwald Schools in Arkansas and helped fund the building of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's current campus.

Rosenwald contributed greatly to the creating better educational opportunities and facilities for Arkansas' African American population. Rosenwald was born on Aug. 12, 1862, in Springfield, Ill. Though he never finished high school or went to college, he became immensely successful in the clothing industry in 1878.

In 1895, he invested $35,000 in the stock of Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Thirty years later, his investment had grown to $150,000,000. In 1908, he became the chairman of Sears, Roebuck, and Co. and in 1922, he became the company's president.

His success in the clothing industry allowed him the financial resources to pursue his passion for philanthropy. He started by supporting Jewish immigrants, then quickly expanded to include African Americans after being influenced by Booker T. Washington's autobiography, "Up From Slavery."

In 1911, the two met at a Chicago luncheon Rosenwald hosted for Washington after their mutual friend L. Wilbur Messer recommended Rosenwald as a new board member at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Rosenwald joined the board of trustees after a visit to the Tuskegee campus.

He helped Washington achieve his goal of building safe, school buildings for African Americans in their communities that would lead to higher numbers of Black students pursuing advanced degrees at Tuskegee Institute. Rosenwald provided half of the funds used to build six rural schools, while the local African American community matched his contribution. The construction of each school cost approximately $600, approximately $19,038.49 today.

As the child of Jewish immigrants, Rosenwald felt a strong connection to the struggles of African Americans as compared to the difficulties Jews faced in Europe. He was also deeply saddened by the poverty in African American communities.

"Whether it is because I belong to a people who have known centuries of persecution, or whether it is because I am naturally inclined to sympathize with the oppressed, I have always felt keenly for the colored race," Rosenwald once stated.

In 1917, Rosenwald established the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which attracted more money for Black education. The fund, though founded for the betterment of mankind, was specifically designed to create more equitable opportunities for African Americans in the South.

The Rosenwald Fund only helped a school if the local community raised some of the money themselves, as it showed the communities' commitment to each school's success. The fund started by building rural schools, then moved toward building high schools and colleges, and finally toward providing grants and fellowships to enable outstanding Black and white individuals to advance their careers.

The managers of the fund believed that education in vocational skills; math, reading, and writing skills; an understanding of biological processes and farming; and knowledge of the fundamentals of sanitation and health were all necessary.

In 1873, Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) became Arkansas' only institution of higher learning for African Americans.

It was founded in Pine Bluff because it was a major economic center in south-central Arkansas with a large African American population. In 1927, a 50-acre campus expansion plan was made possible by a state appropriation and supplemented by the Rosenwald Fund. Caldwell Hall was one of the first buildings constructed when Arkansas AM&N moved to its new campus on U.S. 79.

It occupied the most prominent position at the center of the campus and housed classrooms, offices, and a 700-seat auditorium. Caldwell Hall and seven other buildings were erected at a total cost of $925,800 by J.L. Leveck & Sons. The General Board of New York donated $150,000, while the Rosenwald Fund contributed $33,000 to building and equipping the new campus for additional students. On Dec. 5, 1929, the college moved into its new facilities.

On Jan. 6, 1932, Rosenwald died at his home in Chicago. As a result, the school building portion of the Rosenwald Fund stopped.

Fortunately, by that time the fund had contributed more than $300,000 to Arkansas. State records indicate that the fund had aided in the building of 389 school buildings, including schools, shops, and teachers' homes, in 45 counties in Arkansas.

Most of the Rosenwald Schools were built in the southeastern half of the state, where there was a greater need for school facilities for African American students. Today, 18 of the 389 Rosenwald School buildings still remain intact.

This article is from, a program of the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission. Sources: -- A Historic Meeting; -- Rosenwald Schools; -- University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College [AM&N]); Leslie, J. W. (1981). Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, A Pictorial History. Pages 168-169. Image Credit:

Ninfa O. Barnard wrote this article for