Photo courtesy of Ciesla Foundation

“Rosenwald” is a documentary about a remarkable man, Julius Rosenwald, and his effect on African -Americans living in the Deep South. Rosenwald was the son of an immigrant Jewish peddler. Rosenwald’s father, knowing very little English, went to town to town, door to door, selling men’s clothing. He eventually married and settled down to run a family store in Springfield, Illinois. Julius grew up in a house across from the Abraham Lincoln family home, and he admired the assassinated President. Julius never finished high school and went into the family business of selling men’s clothing, eventually setting up a clothing manufacturing plant. Through luck, good fortune and business smarts, he rose to not only run Sears but eventually own it (eventually ousting out Roebuck and Sears, the founders of the company, in the process). Through his leadership, Sears turned into the biggest mail-order business in the world.

Rosenwald lived by the Jewish ideals of Tzedakah (charity) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world with your good deeds). Julius had always admired the works of the legendary educator Booker T. Washington. After meeting Washington, Julius became a major contributor to Washington’s Tuskegee Normal College, just starting up as a place for higher learning for blacks. Julius had long been concerned about the lack of educational opportunities for blacks in the South. Washington and Rosenwald came up with a plan to create and build rural schools using one-third of funds from Rosenwald himself and then the other two thirds to be contributed by the people within the community that the school would serve. This created pride in the schools that were built and involvement with the upkeep and expansion of the schools. The project was so successful that eventually over 5,300 “Rosenwald schools” were established. This profoundly changed the lives of black families, whose children were finally getting a good education, with the hope that they would go on to better lives.


Photo courtesy of Ciesla Foundation

Besides building schools, Rosewood also set up a foundation that gave grants to artists, dancers, musicians, writers and just about anyone trying to further their adult education. Recipients included such noteworthy African-American artists such as photographer Gordon Parks, Jr. singer Marian Anderson, and writers W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes. Rosenwald gave away over $62 million during his lifetime.

Aviva Kempner is the award-winning writer/director the documentary films “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” and “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” which have played before packed houses at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. She now brings us another stunning and informative film in “Rosenwald.” Kempner uses old photographs combined with interviews with a diverse group of people including Julian Bond, Maya Angelou, Rep. John Lewis and Rita Dove. Bond and the others give background on just what the profound effect of Rosenwald and his schools had on the communities (most interviewees attended a Rosenwald school). One of the highlights of the film is when Maya Angelou talks with pride about her Rosenwald school, and how much it affected her community. The community she lived in was so proud of the schools that when children got “A’s” they were paraded around from church to church to receive recognition and praise.


Photo courtesy of Ciesla Foundation

Kempner keeps the story moving, as it never lags, and your admiration of Rosenwald continues to build as the film lays out this remarkable story. The film does an incredible job of giving us background on Julius and his rise to power while also giving us insight into a story that very few know anything about. It’s a warm, inspirational film that makes you proud of how one man had an idea that would change so many lives. One of the former students who attended a Rosenwald school as a young boy had always wondered about the old man in the photo in his classroom. Just who was this man and why was he on display in his classroom? Now we all know it was the remarkable Julius Rosenwald.    My Rating: Full Price

My movie rating system from Best to Worst:  1). I Would Pay to See it Again  2). Full Price  3). Bargain Matinee  4). Cable  5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again

“Rosenwald” is playing exclusivelyin Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art

“Rosenwald” Website

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