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Imaginative Philanthropy

June 2023
1min read

John Steele Gordon’s otherwise fine sketch of “executive” contributions to the success of Sears, Roebuck & Co. (September) implies that Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropic works didn’t require much more than the ability to write checks. But it was there that his “executive” abilities were at their finest. After all, in setting up the Julius Rosenwald Fund, in 1917, Rosenwald employed some of the most able foundation talent, and the Fund’s stimulus packages were modeled after Rosenwald’s own uncanny way of “giving away” money. The idea was to stir local tax initiatives rather than to make people permanently dependent on charity.

Between 1912 and 1930, Rosenwald money built five thousand schools for African Americans in eleven Southern states, but one of the most salient side effects of the program was that it ameliorated the condition of white schools, since city fathers were determined that white facilities should be at least the equal of Rosenwald schools. Rosenwald, a Jew, understood the segregationist mentality well, and knew how to manipulate it for the betterment of the entire community.

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