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Schools of Hope: How Julius Rosenwald Helped…
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Schools of Hope: How Julius Rosenwald Helped Change African American…

by Norman H. Finkelstein

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Great story about how the wealthy president of Sears, Roebuck and Company and noted philanthropist, heavily influenced by Booker T. Washington, spent millions of his fortune to help build thousands of well-designed and fully equipped schools for black children. His philanthropy also extended to funding black colleges and fellowships to students pursuing higher education. Accessibly written and handsomely designed. I wish the author the author discussed more in the detail the differing education philosophies of Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
Well done story of how, Julius Rosenwald, a self made industrialist, the head of the Sears, Roebuck department stores, led the battle for improved educational opportunities for the African American communities across the South by helping to fund the building of new schools and hiring qualified teachers. ( )
  erosenbe | Jun 18, 2014 |
Schools of Hope: How Julius Rosenwald Helped Change African American Education by Norman H. Finkelstein is a nonfiction book which this reader would classify in “The documents, journals, diaries, and albums” category of the nonfiction genre as defined by Bamford & Kristo. I classified this book as such because it complies with most of the characteristics of this category. For example, the text is laden with quotes from primary sources. Much of the book includes archival photographs that assist the reader in understanding the impact of rural schools. Several illustrations that include photographs of the school that was replaced as an inset or alongside photographs of the schools built with Rosenwald Fund grants. For example, two pages were devoted to full page images of the old and new schools in Beinville Parish, Louisiana (p. 38-39).
The author provides an extensive list of sources and bibliographical data, as well. This book may also be classified as an “Informational picture storybook.” A narrative style of writing is present with characteristics of conflict and resolution. However, the historical nature of the subject matter, the extensive research, and the use of primary sources in text and photography were the deciding factors in choosing a category.
In terms of accuracy, this book raises several red flags and causes for concern. First, the author’s qualifications come into question as the book does not provide his field of study or specific expertise. According to the book’s back flap, Norman H. Finkelstein is a teacher, former librarian and author of eighteen nonfiction books ranging in topics from Jewish experiences in America and the civil rights movement to the trans-Atlantic air race in 1927. The author’s website, normfinkelstein.com, is listed as reference for more information. However, this website was no longer available when checked on March 29, 2014. Curiously, this book was published in 2014. Any reader should be weary of a text if the author’s website becomes defunct within three months of the earliest possible publication date.
Then, as one examines the scholarship of the text, additional questions are raised. The amount of research documented by the author seems impressive until the sources are closely scrutinized. Most of the books listed in the bibliography are from reputable and/or university publishing houses. Several books are dated, reaching back as far as 1912, but these sources would be considered primary documents with perspectives of the time. Other books dated during the 1960’s are relevant as well if used to site evidence of the civil rights era. Overall, the books display a significant level of scholarship. However, the bibliography list of journals and newspapers cite only the name and occasionally the city of the publication. The author does not list issue, date, article title, or any other identifying information to source his information. Additionally, the list of websites does not furnish the copyright date, access date, title of web page, or any information other than the site name. The page header is marked with an asterisk noting that the websites were active at the time of publication. However, one site is clearly noted as being discontinued. (This discontinuity is evidenced in greater detail below in regards to the source notes.) Furthermore, the “Source Notes,” beginning on page 70, are organized by chapter which appears to create ease in locating sources. For example, the page heading is marked with an asterisk. The footnote reads, “Websites active at time of publication.” However upon further investigation, several quotes are listed with website sources that include the parenthetical note “site discontinued.” These quotes are located as follows; sixth source in chapter two, sixth source under chapter three, seventh source under chapter four (p. 70-71). Unfortunately, the misleading information follows through to the paragraph introducing the source notes. It states, “The source of each quotation in this book is found below…Almost all the sources are listed in the bibliography. Complete citations are provided for those sources not in the bibliography.” As a teacher, I question the exclusion of quoted text from the bibliography given that exclusion may be intentionally misleading. This leads to further questioning of information used that was sourced from knowingly defunct websites which cannot be verified.
In addition to scholarship, one must evaluate the author’s use of fact versus opinion. Much of the book is written using quotations from those involved or impacted by the events described within the text. Without prior knowledge of the supporting documentation, a reader may accept the use of primary sources as good information. I believe that the author chose quotes and information that supported the ideas he wished to express while excluding any mention of contradictory information. For example, Booker T. Washington, his book Up from Slavery, and the Tuskegee Institute are mentioned throughout much of the book as many of the first schools were run by Tuskegee Institute staff. I have read Up from Slavery and researched Booker T. Washington’s work at Tuskegee and behind the scenes. He was an avid civil rights advocate who understood the complex web of social division in the United States which must be navigated to further the cause of African Americans’ civil rights. Finkelstein makes no mention of any evidence other than that which supports the views of Julius Rosenwald. Unfortunately, much of the text may be considered tainted by omitting information explaining Washington’s reasoning for his public stance alone but the author includes stark evidence of personal opinion in chapter seven. One statement reads, “Some people then and now consider Rosenwald’s ---- and Booker T. Washington’s ---- educational views as somehow racist because they supported the notion of ‘separate but equal’ instead of challenging it” (p. 64). At first glance, the statement may seem harmless but in context with word choices, from the whole book, the word “somehow” strikes this reader as offensive. In most perspectives, the support of separate but equal can be viewed as racist, absolutely. However, the statement would have had the same meaning without the word “somehow” which leads the reader to relate the author’s views to those of Rosenwald in relation to segregation.
When I chose this book, I had hoped to read in uplifting account of philanthropy contributing to the building of schools to educate the underprivileged African-American population in an era considered the late gilded-age and World War I era when the country began to move ever so slightly toward civil rights movements. Regrettably, I found the text riddled with generalizations about the poor rural African Americans in the South and the differences in the North and the South in a post-Civil War United States. For example, the author suggests that Rosenwald researched the reasoning behind a monetary request by Booker T. Washington. “He found that in white schools there was one teacher for thirty students, while in the black community one teacher was responsible for more than two hundred students. Macon County, home of Tuskegee Institute, spent $14 for the education of each white child and only 20¢ for each black child” (p.30). Where this information may be true in some areas of the South, I find it difficult to believe that on average in even the rural “white” South that there was a thirty to one teacher student ratio. The ratio is higher in many modern southern schools. In regards to funding from Macon County, the author seems to expect the reader to assume this as the standard across the South as he provides no other comparable information. Again, some if not many modern districts in the South do not spend $14 per child.
In addition to generalizations, I believe the author deviated from the main topic of the book, African American schools in the South, to sensationalize the Civil War. Most readers should have some background knowledge as to the Civil War and the conditions immediately following the war. The Civil War era was a difficult era in the history of the country. However, the author’s constant references to this war and references to the North or to the South in regards to financial and educational information illustrates extreme bias and prejudiced undertones. A book on this topic has the potential to illustrate an attempt of equality at such an early date becomes a proponent of the division that has plagued American society for generation upon generation. A short summary of the war and reconstruction should have been sufficient, if anything at all, to bring the reader to the time period in which the schools were built. Any further mention was extraneous and likely included to sensationalize the emotional reaction caused by the division of the country during the war. Additionally, I believe the credit that is given to Rosenwald in the book for donations to the school is extremely sensationalized. Throughout the book, the author mentions the multiple philanthropic donations or grants given by Julius Rosenwald. Yet, the total number of dollars spent on rural schools for African Americans in the South was never provided. I fear that it was intentionally omitted because the author would be forced to face the drastic inequality in the donations. Let’s do the math. The text mentions that over 5,300 schools were built through financial donations from the Rosenwald Fund (front flap). On page 48, a photograph is captioned, “The four-teacher Barbee School in Bolivar County, Mississippi, built in 1927-1928. It was funded by $2,600 contributed by blacks, $900 by whites, $1,000 by public taxes, and $1,000 by the Rosenwald Fund.” This school cost a total of $5,500 of which Rosenwald contributed 18.18%. On the adjacent page, another school in Mississippi is pictured with the financial breakdown as follows,”$5,200 from blacks, $1,100 from whites, $2,000 from public taxes, and $1,500 from the Rosenwald Fund” (p. 49). The Bogue Chitto School cost $9,800 of which Rosenwald contributed 15.3%. These grants seem quite charitable until a comparison is made to other causes mentioned in the same book. “Julius Rosenwald contributed $250,000 to the University of Chicago…with the stipulation that the school first raise two-thirds of the necessary funds” (p. 28). On the same page with no stipulation mentioned, “Julius Rosenwald contributed $3 million to establish the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.” The book mentions several donations to Jewish establishments with no stipulations but all others were required to raise two-thirds except African American causes. He donated $25,000 to an African American YMCA in Chicago only after three-fourths of the funds were raised (p.22). Additionally, the author makes great strides to praise Rosenwald for making charitable donations for his fiftieth birthday. He gave $250,000 each to Jewish Charities of Chicago and the University of Chicago but donated $25,000 for Booker T. Washington to build elementary schools around the Tuskegee Institute (p. 29). These contrasts and higher standard of requirements for an underprivileged group is offensive. However, I was awestruck by the amounts of money raised by the African Americans given the impoverished conditions of so many rural Southern communities. In evidence provided by the author, many African Americans sold parts of farms, ate “even less than their usual meager diet,” and “In one town, a former slave contributed his life savings ----$36 in pennies----‘so that his great-grandchildren might have a chance to be educated’” (p.46). I was entirely disheartened by Rosenwald requiring African Americans to raise a larger portion of the required funds than other groups, especially given that African Americans did not have equal access to employment or financial resources needed to raise the funds. It seems that this requirement may have created a greater hardship on struggling communities rather than be the philanthropic notion expressed by the author. My African American students would definitely pick understand the inequality in the grants and question the books’ integrity.
As a southerner but mostly as a teacher of southern African American students, I found many of the author’s comments and use of stereotyping offensive. As one flips through the beginning pages, an “Author’s Note” is on the page adjacent to the table of contents. It reads, “Various terms (Negro, black, and colored) identify African Americans in this book according to the time period and the documents and quotations in which the words appear.” Given the tensions over politically correct speech, this note may have been a wise move on the part of the author if the book had used the mentioned terms in the quotations alone. Unfortunately, the author refers to African Americans as “black” throughout the book when commenting on rural life, poor conditions, or in comparison to the North. Yet, he uses the term African American at several points in the text when explaining the successes of the Rosenwald Fund but not all. For example, the front cover flap states, “six hundred thousand black children in the South had attended a Rosenwald school. The disparity and stereotypical images begin early in the book, “Some black children attended school for only three months of the year since they had to help their parents work on the land during planting and harvesting seasons…” Further down the page, “Fortunately, educational opportunities for Southern African Americans were about to improve thanks to Julius Rosenwald” (p. 17). It is as though one should have the image of Rosenwald as a superhero figure saving poor destitute “black” communities. Yet given evidence provided by the text, the communities received much less funding from Rosenwald than they had raised themselves. As for other characteristics of accuracy, this book has no evidence of anthropomorphism or teleology.
In evaluating the content, I find myself referring to information previously covered. Yet, I will clarify any necessary information as pertaining to scope, depth, and focus. The scope of the book is rather random and lacking in the beginning as the author introduces various African American beneficiaries of Rosenwald grants and fellowships then moves on to describe the successes and life of Rosenwald himself. Not until chapter three does the author begin to describe philanthropic efforts made which benefitted rural southern African Americans. Chapter four makes the first mention of schools built through grants from the Rosenwald grants. Only three of the seven chapters, four through six, focus on the African American schools built in the rural South. Given the title of the book and quote on the back cover, one would assume that the focus of the book would be the Rosenwald schools. However, the majority of the book’s focus is a posthumous pat on the back for Rosenwald. One may be left to wonder why the author did not focus on writing a biography, instead. For example, a large portion of the photographs in the book are of Julius Rosenwald. Many of which demonstrate through displays of lavish wealth, clothing, furs, marble topped tables, the inequality experienced by southern African Americans. Images of such extravagance were not necessary in a book about inequality and poverty. In terms of depth, the book uses generalizations about the life and conditions of rural people in the South rather than citing a range of evidence. Additionally, he accepts excerpt of Washington’s Up from Slavery as confirmation of Rosenwald’s ideals rather than including any of the extensively available scholarship that suggests Washington only wrote the book as a tool to generate fund from wealthy whites who support segregation. Yet, a quote in this book illustrates how well Washington’s plan worked. “Washington believed that blacks first needed to focus on practical education to establish themselves as good, industrious citizens before the goal of complete equality could be reached. His belief in black self-help appealed to white philanthropists who built the Tuskegee Institute into an important educational center” (p.26). However, the statement that white philanthropists built Tuskegee is condescending and may demonstrate a lack in depth of knowledge on the subject as the students created trade goods which were sold to generate much of the necessary funding.
Throughout the book, the text is generally clear and would be easily understood by the targeted age group. With this being said, some exceptions will distort the clarity of the book. The choice of page breaks and insertion of full photograph pages in the middle of an idea have the potential to confuse many young readers. A few confusing sentences are included in the book. For example, the last line on page 36 states, “The book provided specific details, some described on pages 40-43, on all aspects of a building project.” With a footnote that reads, “continued on page 40”. The preceding sentences mention Community School Plans which were distributed by the Rosenwald Fund. Yet, in the specified sentence the inclusion of “some described on pages 40-43” may lead a young reader to question which book the author is referencing. This phrase could have been left out of the text without any loss to the subject matter.
The language level of this text would be appropriate for a middle school student. Most words that would not be easily identifiable by a middle school student are decodeable using context. Much of the same type of information is repeated in a way that allows accessibility for several reading levels. The reader is not expected to have a significance amount of background knowledge as the author provides information on the Civil War and the inequality of education for southern rural African Americans. However, considerable background knowledge will lead the reader to question the opinions and prejudices of the author.
As evidenced through much of the previous examination of this text, the author’s tone in the book is condescending. Perhaps, a reader from the Northern United States may not find the text as disdainful but as a Southerner, I find a considerable about of contempt for the South in text. As a teacher of African American students, I genuinely believe my students would immediately notice the prejudiced overtones that I detected in word choice and comparison of text. For example, the author describes how the Tuskegee Institute staff and Rosenwald continued to build schools after Booker T. Washington had passed away. Yet, “the fast-growing number of schools and the amount of work needed to build, staff and supervise them overwhelmed the few Tuskegee employees…Concerned with the situation, Rosenwald assumed direct responsibly from the Tuskegee staff to oversee all school construction projects” (p. 35). I found the entire paragraph condescending toward the Tuskegee staff and African American readers. Rosenwald could do what an entire staff of African Americans could not?
The overall structure of the book appears to be chronological to any reader that simply thumbs through the book. Chapters three through seven do generally follow though time from the meeting of Rosenwald and Washington to the last philanthropic efforts of the Fund after Rosenwald’s death. However, chapters one, two, and the beginning of three are inconsistent with chronological structure. Chapter one exhibits successful beneficiaries of Rosenwald fellowships and former students before being introduced to Julius Rosenwald’s life in chapter two. The beginning of chapter three sets Rosenwald’s character up as a generous benefactor to various establishments before the focus shifts to Booker T. Washington’s interactions with him. Given these discrepancies, I would categorize the book as a story narrative.
In consideration of the access features not previously mentioned, several topics should be addressed. This book does not include a glossary as the context of unknown words should be sufficient to define them. The table of contents is attractively printed on the photographic background of a new rural southern school. All chapters and access features are listed in order of appearance in the book which creates ease in locating information, the index, and bibliographical matter. The chapter titles are worded creatively to intrigue the reader about the contents. Subheadings are not listed in the table of contents but on the first page of the chapter under the title. Each subheading is a quote that is found later in the chapter. I find that this may cause a closer read in the content as the reader crossed the highlighted quote a second time. I was delighted to see quotes from students used as chapter subheadings and disenchanted by the quotes from Rosenwald. So much of the text was touted as a tribute to him that the quotes seemed excessive. Of all the access features and format, I was most impressed by the index. For such a short book, the index is quite extensive; including detailed breakdowns under main subjects. The author included photographs and caption information and differentiated it by boldface text in the index, as well.
Many of the illustrations included in this book were of Rosenwald instead of the people who built and/or were educated in the schools. Chapter four describes in some detail the specifications of schools built with Rosenwald Fund grants. The author details how African Americans became building agents who were directly involved with schools and the state education department. The adjacent page is a photograph was captioned, “The first Rosenwald building agents, 1916. Seated is C.J. Calloway, the first general field agent” (p 41.) As a teacher, I teach students to closely examine photographs as primary documents. This image has been altered. A banner in the photograph above the eight men reads, “TEACHERS IN ROSENWALD RURAL SCHOOLS.” However, it appears that the words “TEACHERS IN” were written over in the photograph. The words “Agents of” were written in cursive by hand over the above mentioned words on the photograph. No mention of this alteration is mentioned in the text or photography credits. The use of an altered photograph without explanation, i.e. changed for original printing, is an element that discredits the work as a nonfiction text. Other format features such as drawings, charts, graphs, and maps are not present in the text. However, the author does include the occasional diagram sketch of building plans for the schools.
Publishers of Schools of Hope chose the modern standard of semi-gloss pages with multitudes of photographs. The book does not include any textural, pop-up, or pull-out elements. The layout is set in contrasting colors of black and white throughout the book. White pages with black text are accented with photographs captioned in white text on black textboxes. All quotes not embedded in the text are in white lettering on black background. The size of this book is just larger than a letter size paper in the landscape position. The size presents the opportunity to include larger photographs which would make the book accessible as a read aloud. The type size is approximately a 14pt font with a 1.5 spacing throughout the body of the text. The type size is smaller for all captions and considerably larger for quotes inset as focal points. I found the cover images as quite appealing. The front cover seems to be light sepia to yellowed black and white image of African American men building what we later discover to be a schoolhouse. A red textbox creates contrast for the white letters of the main title and black letters of the subtitle. The back cover is a classroom of what appears to be female African American students and two female African American teachers. Before opening the book, I was excited to read about such advancements in civil rights at the time that not only were schools built but female African American students were educated and were teachers! However, one will learn that this image is not a Rosenwald school nor are the students from these schools but students in a teacher education program in Tallahassee, Florida as the caption states under the same photograph in the book. The caption also makes reference to Rosenwald’s insistence on qualified teachers in the schools. Is the reader to assume that these student teachers are in Rosenwald’s training program? The text on the preceding page states, “The fund created teacher-training programs at traditionally black colleges and established ‘Negro University Centers’ at colleges in Washington, D.C., Nashville, Atlanta, and New Orleans” (p. 58-59). The illustration used seems to be intentionally misleading.
A search of Destiny (read.uno.edu) retrieved only one book that mentioned Rosenwald. Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Boston Weatherford is book targeting the K-3 grade age bracket which tells the story of Ovella’s experiences as her community raises money for a matching grant from Julius Rosenwald for the purpose of building a school. Given the lack of books included in the library, I wish I could have recommended this book for inclusion but I cannot. I find that the many issues in scholarship, poor word choices, author’s opinion, and discrepancies in the bibliographical sources, mainly websites, to be validity issues for which I would not wish to expose students to this text. I would not encourage ta teacher to use this book for Social Studies or any other subject area.
I have attempted to use titlewave.com to search for an alternate book. A search required membership for which I completed the required information. My membership has not been approved as of yet. I will update my review when access to this site becomes available.
UPDATE: A keyword search on titlewave.com only produced adult books,other than Schools of Hope. Given the lack of books on the subject matter, portions of the book may possibly be used but supplemented with information from adult books. ( )
  Jmoreeda | Mar 30, 2014 |
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Tells the story of how wealthy businessman Julius Rosenwald came to financially support the building of 5,300 schools in rural African-American communities that desperately needed them over the course of twenty years.

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