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Julius Rosenwald Schools

In my memoir "Primary Lessons," I wrote about Lincoln, the school in Sumter, SC that I attended from grades 7 thru 12. After "P/L" was released, I discovered that Lincoln was one of thousands of schools that Julius Rosenwald (a Jewish philanthropist who was a partner in the Sears and Roebuck Company), helped to build in the south during the Jim Crow era to give "Colored" children decent schools. Rosenbaum died in 1932. Two years ago, a local film center (Jacob Burns) ran a documentary ...about Julius Rosenbaum and his legacy of supporting schools, and YM& YWCAs, that offered help to "Colored" people. (He also supported Tuskeegee Institute. Booker T. Washington was an early influence on Rosenbaum's philanthropy.)

 Unfortunately, I missed the film's limited engagement. Recently, in a Scarsdale newspaper, I saw a news story about the film, and two scheduled viewings at the JCC of Mid-Westchester. The news story said a member of the Rosenbaum family would be in the audience, so I wrote a short piece about Lincoln, and its effect on kids who went to Lincoln, hoping to give it to whichever family member was there.

Last night, after the film ended, during the Q&A, I identified myself as a graduate of a Rosenwald School. His grand-daughter, Elizabeth, invited me to come on stage, and tell the audience about my experience. I read what I had written. Liat Altman, JCC’s Director of Adult Programs, took this video of my speech. Liat also invited me to come back to the showing this morning, which I did. This time, since no relative was present; so, I was given lots of time to talk, answer questions, and plug “Primary Lessons.” On a side note, I’ve been asked to come back to the Bendheim Theater at JCC and do a full presentation about “Primary Lessons!”

                                                        My "Thank You" Talk (1-18-2017) at Mid Westchester JCC

My name is Sarah Bracey White. I am a published author, motivational speaker, and Greenburgh’s long-time executive director of arts and culture. From 1958 until 1963, I attended Lincoln - what is now hailed as a Rosenwald school – in Sumter, S.C. Lincoln was a two story brick building that almost covered an entire city block. It had central heat, indoor bathrooms, bright windows in each classroom, an auditorium, a band room, a gymnasium with showers, a language lab, science labs, fully equipped, home-ec classrooms, a woodworking and mechanic’s shop, a cafeteria, and enough separate classrooms to carry students from the seventh to the 12th grades. During my years at Lincoln, like most beneficiaries of privilege, I had no idea how I came to have such a wonderful school. I just benefitted from it. “Colored” children from the city of Sumter walked to school; those who lived outside the city limits were bussed each day to Lincoln. There were over 100 kids in my graduating class alone! Best of all, Lincoln had a library that was open year-round. It was the only library where children who shared my skin color could find books that broadened their horizons beyond the confines of the Jim Crow south. We were banned from the public library.

When I graduated from Lincoln, I was the fourth of my parent’s daughters to do so. Along with many of my classmates, I went to college and graduate school. Many became teachers, like two of my sisters. Some became doctors, religious leaders, lawyers, politicians, and farmers. Others joined the armed forces, and traveled the world. Some entered careers in government, sales, and manufacturing - in cities far away from Sumter. But all of us had one thing in common: we had each been given an opportunity to learn, and discover our potential, under conditions that encouraged it. We each had Julius Rosenwald to thank for that. My school only lacked one thing: a commemoration of Julius Rosenwald’s legacy and largess. I first heard the name Rosenwald school when this documentary was released. I did some research and found Lincoln listed among its registry. I’m grateful to finally be able to tell a member of his family of my personal gratitude that I didn’t have to learn my lessons sitting on a splintery desk in a cold, rickety shack that was the only school available for me.

I am here tonight as a witness to speak for those “Colored” children who benefitted from Julius Rosenwald’s gift. And for his recognition in the dark days of Jim Crow regulations that education was the only way to change the world.