Press Release Jun 13, 2024

Report: National Park Service Agrees Rosenwald Story Worth Preserving

Jewish philanthropist and leader Julius Rosenwald partnered with African American communities to build schools across the South. Together, we can ensure their legacy lives on to inspire the next generation of righteous Americans.

WASHINGTON – Today, the National Park Service released the results of the Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools Special Resource Study. The study affirmed that the remarkable story of Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish American philanthropist who partnered with African American communities to build schools across the South, is suitable for inclusion in the National Parks System.

NPCA is a founding member of the Rosenwald Park Campaign, led by longtime national park advocate Dr. Dorothy Canter, which seeks to establish the first national park site to honor a Jewish American: Julius Rosenwald. During the 116th Congress, lawmakers led by Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL-7), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) passed the bipartisan Public Law 116-336, the Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools Act, directing the National Park Service (NPS) to conduct this special resource study examining Julius Rosenwald’s legacy.

The National Park Service’s exhaustive study was undertaken to determine if sites associated with Julius Rosenwald’s legacy are of national historical significance, feasible for the Park Service to protect, suitable for the Park Service to protect, and needed direct Park Service management. Sites studied included at least eleven restored Rosenwald Schools, Rosenwald’s boyhood home in Springfield, Illinois, and the Sears Administration Building in Chicago, among others.

NPS experts outlined the following findings in their report:

• NPS determined that a national historic site could be established to interpret Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools in order to honor and preserve Julius Rosenwald’s important contributions to American history and his philanthropic philosophy and partnership with Booker T. Washington and to tell the story of nearly 5,000 African American communities who were determined to provide for their children the education they had been denied.

• NPS found that the San Domingo Rosenwald School in Wicomico County, Maryland, is the only site studied that meets all four criteria and would be appropriate for the establishment of the Rosenwald Schools National Historic Site as a new national park unit.

• NPS recommends establishment of a Rosenwald School Network Program with grant-making authority. A network could provide an opportunity to empower entities already preserving and promoting Rosenwald Schools to continue to do so. Empowering such a network would be similar to what Rosenwald’s initial challenge grants did to build schools.

NPCA and fellow Rosenwald Park Campaign members are advocating for a multisite national park site that includes a small number of keystone Rosenwald Schools, a network of additional Rosenwald Schools across the South, as well as a visitor center in Chicago dedicated to Rosenwald’s legacy.

Rosenwald, the son of German Jewish immigrants, helped make Sears, Roebuck the retailing powerhouse of the early twentieth century and became an innovative philanthropist motivated by tzedakah, a Hebrew term meaning an obligation or calling to pursue righteousness and social justice. In partnership with Booker T. Washington and Black communities across the South, Rosenwald helped fund the construction of more than 5,300 schools and related buildings for children with little or no access to quality public education.

These “Rosenwald Schools,” provided the first permanent educational facilities for many black people in rural areas, educating one-third of the African American children in the South before the legal end to segregation. Many of the students who graduated from Rosenwald schools — including Congressman John Lewis and poet Maya Angelou — were leaders in the civil rights movement.

“It is long past time for a national park site that tells this story of Jewish and Black leaders coming together to make our country a better place.” Said Alan Spears, National Parks Conservation Association Senior Director of Cultural Resources. “Across fifteen Southern states, Rosenwald schools provided Black Americans with a quality education at a time when separate, but equal was the law of the land. These schools were the beating heart of their communities, helping equip a new generation of Black scholars, entrepreneurs, and future civil rights activists with the tools they needed to succeed in a country where the odds were stacked against them.”

“The Park Service’s study affirms that Julius Rosenwald’s legacy is worthy of protection and preservation as a national park. We are calling on President Biden to invoke his powers under the Antiquities Act to designate a new Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools National Monument, the first national park site to honor the memory of a Jewish American. Together, we can ensure that Julius Rosenwald’s legacy lives on to inspire the next generation of righteous Americans.” Spears finished.

Dr. Dorothy Canter, President of the Rosenwald Park Campaign, and longtime NPCA volunteer, said in a statement: “This is a remarkable American story of how Julius Rosenwald formed partnerships first with Booker T. Washington and then with nearly 5,000 African American communities across the South to build 5,357 school facilities that educated over 600,000 schoolchildren and gave them the opportunity for a much better life. This very positive story of the key value of education and the importance of partnerships among people of different backgrounds is as meaningful today as it was 100 years ago when the Rosenwald Schools were still under construction.”


About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit

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