Julius Rosenwald was a man ahead of his time, and now — almost 100 years after his good deeds — he's being recognized for his kind heart.
In 1895, the Jewish philanthropist headed down a road to success when he partnered with Richard Sears, most known for his still-popular chain of department stores. Rosenwald helped Sears become one of the largest retailers in the country, and eventually rose to President of the company. But perhaps most importantly was the fact he was influenced by the writing of Booker T. Washington.
In the early 1900s, at a time when most white southerners saw educated blacks as a danger and tried their best to keep education away from black communities, Rosenwald did the opposite. He helped start the Rosenwald Fund, which was used to help build thousands of schools for African-Americans in a racist South. It's for his courageous actions that he's the subject of a new Aviva Kempner documentary called Rosenwald.
"Julius Rosenwald had two personalities," one man says in the film. "He was a tough businessman, and then of course this other side... this civil rights champion. Someone who really saw the disgrace in this country of African Americans being treated poorly."
Many didn't know about Rosenwald's influence until recently.
"Julius Rosenwald had a great impact on my life, and I didn't even know it," Alex Bethea, a vice principal in New Jersey, told The Times Of Israel. "This helps me put the pieces of the puzzle of my life together."
Some assign Rosenwald's giving nature to his Jewish background, citing the tradition of tzedakah, an obligation of charity.
Working together, Rosenwald and Washington helped build 5,357 schools throughout the southern region of the United States.
"The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race," Rosenwald said in 1911. "On account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer."
But who exactly benefited from the fund's money? The familiar names may surprise you...
Poet and activist Langston Hughes
Sociologist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois
Celebrated singer Marian Anderson
Painter Jacob Lawrence
Novelist and social critic James Baldwin
Photographer, musician, and film director Gordon Parks
The story of Rosenwald is just another reminder that money in the right hands can do unimaginable good. Today we celebrate a man who changed the lives of many without being asked to, and watch on as his work continues to shape the America we live in.