History

What do Anne Arundel County, Sears (rest in peace), and Booker T. Washington have in common? The influence and dedication of a man named Julius Rosenwald.

Julius Rosenwald
Julius Rosenwald, left, and Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1915. Courtesy of The University of Chicago Library/Ciesla Foundation

Julius Rosenwald was known best for being one of the wealthiest men in the country as the president and chairman for Sears, Roebuck and Company, but he was also a philanthropist and civil rights advocate. The Rosenwald Fund, created in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald and his family, donated over $70 million to public schools, colleges, black institutions, and museums..

With the help Booker T. Washington, a prominent leader in the African American community, they helped build over 5,000 one-room schoolhouses all over the Jim Crow South, and three of them sit right here in Anne Arundel County!

Pumphrey Elementary School

Julius Rosenwald
Property of the Maryland Historical Trust

It has since been converted into a private residence, but this marker stands to honor the commitment of not only the Rosenwald Foundation, but also the local community that rallied behind its construction. As part of the founding principles of the Rosenwald Fund, African American communities were given “seed grants” to kickstart the construction of one-room school houses around the south, but the completion of these projects was dependent on the locals – both in matching funds and labor efforts.

Harmans

Julius Rosenwald
Property of the Maryland Historical Trust

Inspired by the schoolhouse efforts of the Rosenwald Foundation, activist groups around Anne Arundel County followed suit. The blueprints for the “Rosenwald Schools” were considered to be the most progressive designs of the time, and were used throughout the southern United States. In Hanover, Maryland, the Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham followed a Rosenwald School design that stayed in use until 1955.

Freetown

Julius Rosenwald
Property of the Maryland Historical Trust

Perhaps the oldest community to be given grant money by the Rosenwald Fund, Freetown was founded on the principles of “self-sufficiency and cooperation typical of African American Communities.” Keeping the momentum going, schools and meeting houses continued to pop up around Freetown, guided by the Freetown Community Association.

When the 1954 Supreme Court ruling against racial segregation (Brown v. Board of Education) was implemented in the 1960’s and 1970’s, many of these schools found new life as living quarters for school teachers, community gathering halls, and even private residences. So, next time you drive past a Sears, make sure to say a little “thank you” to the man who not only gave us a staple in every mall across America, but also helped inspire hundreds of thousands of African American children to rise into positions of power, including famous names such as Maya Angelou and W.E.B. DuBois.

 

Images courtesy of The University of Chicago Library/Ciesla Foundation and the Maryland Historical Trust

Paige Reed

Paige Reed splits her time between the Texas Gulf Coast and the Chesapeake Bay. She spent her childhood summers at Camp Wabanna, just south of Annapolis. Paige fell in love with Annapolis at a very young age, spending her weekends wandering aimlessly through 400 years of historical charm. As a seasoned traveler, she’s got a story for just about every occasion, and she might even have a fun fact or two for you! Since attending Louisiana State University to pursue a degree in Marketing, she has focused her time on writing her first historical fiction novel. If she's not in some library basement, knee-deep in archive documents, you can find her sitting by the water enjoying a good book. If you happen to catch her out and about, say hello! You can follow her adventures at www.PaigeOutOfHistory.com.