The American Library Association recently endorsed the creation of Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park. Last year, Congress passed a law directing the National Park Service to study the creation of the park.
Rosenwald was one of the nation’s most significant benefactors of libraries and librarianship, particularly for Black Americans. The Rosenwald Fund operated a library program that “established more than 10,000 school, college, and public libraries” and “funded library science programs that trained African American librarians,” according to a The African American Struggle for Library Equality: The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program. By endorsing the proposal to create a National Historical Park, we are making the case that Rosenwald’s support for libraries is an important part of his legacy that should be recognized in the park.
The Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park Campaign website has more information about the effort to create a National Historical Park. Rosenwald was one of the owners of Sears and a philanthropist. Most famously, he donated the funds to build thousands of schools for Black children in the then-segregated South, which became known as Rosenwald Schools. But his legacy is also important for libraries.
Edwin Embree, Rosenwald Fund director, was a general session speaker at ALA’s 1932 Annual Conference, which is transcribed in the conference proceedings (starting on p. 18 of the PDF).
Another interesting example of Rosenwald’s library support and its impact can be seen in the Chicago Public Library’s George C. Hall Branch in Bronzeville. George C. Hall had been Booker T. Washington’s physician and friend, head of the Chicago Urban League among other civic activities, and the second Black member of Chicago Public Library’s Board of Directors. Hall connected to Rosenwald through Washington – Rosenwald was a supporter of Washington’s and served for two decades on the board of directors of Washington’s Tuskegee Institute – and consequently Rosenwald donated the land for the new branch library. When it opened in 1932, Hall was the first CPL branch with a Black manager, Vivian G. Harsh; Harsh had previously received a fellowship from the Rosenwald Fund. In addition, the Rosenwald Fund also supported the collection for the new branch. In 2000, ALA’s United for Libraries named the Hall Branch a Literary Landmark in recognition of its promotion of Black literary culture by serving as a meeting place for such writers as Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Richard Wright – arising from a program that Harsh had established.
In response to the new law, the National Park Service is expected to study the feasibility of establishing a new National Historical Park and to report back to Congress within a few years. Congress would ultimately have to pass a law to establish the new park. We hope that Congress will do so, and that the new park will include interpretive materials that highlight Rosenwald’s contributions to library history.
Deputy Director, Public Policy & Government Relations
American Library Association