A Better Life for Their Children

Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America

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Discover how Rosenwald schools built and uplifted communities, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Born to Jewish immigrants, Julius Rosenwald rose to lead Sears, Roebuck & Company and turned it into the world’s largest retailer of its time. Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington became the founding principal of the Tuskegee Institute. In 1912 these two men launched an ambitious program to partner with Black communities across the segregated South to build public schools for African American children. This watershed moment in the history of philanthropy drove dramatic improvement in African American educational achievement and fostered the generation who became leaders of the civil rights movement.

Andrew Feiler’s photographs and stories bring us into the heart of the passion for education in Black communities: the passion of teachers who taught multiple grades and dozens of students in a single classroom; the passion of parents and neighbors who helped to raise the money to build our schools and then each year continued to dig deep to purchase school supplies; the passion of students like me who craved learning, worked hard, and read as many books as we could put our hands on. John Lewis, Former Congressman and Rosenwald Student

Of the original 4,978 Rosenwald schools built between 1912 and 1937 across 15 southern and border states, only about 500 survive. While some have been repurposed or remain active schools, many remain unrestored and at risk of collapse. To tell the story of Rosenwald schools, photographer Andrew Feiler drove more than 25,000 miles, photographed 105 schools, and interviewed dozens of former students and teachers, preservationists, and community leaders in the school’s home states, including here in Texas. A Better Life for Their Children includes images that capture these schools as they are today, and through portraits and stories, sheds light on the people who have unique and compelling connections to them.

Inside the Exhibition

The exhibition features 23 black and white photographs of Rosenwald Schools across the country as they exist today. Brief narratives written by Feiler accompany each photograph, telling the stories of Rosenwald schools’ connections to the Trail of Tears, the Great Migration, the Tuskegee Airmen, Brown v. Board of Education, and more. Together, photographs and narratives from cities and towns from Texas and throughout the South show the schoolhouses and the people for whom they meant so much.


A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America

Photographs and Stories by Andrew Feiler

The Bullock Museum, a division of the Texas State Preservation Board, is funded by Museum members, donors, and patrons, the Texas State History Museum Foundation, and the State of Texas.