White House screens ‘Rosenwald’ for Jewish American Heritage Month
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White House screens ‘Rosenwald’ for Jewish American Heritage Month

Julius Rosenwald with students from a Rosenwald School (Courtesy of Fisk University, John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library)

Julius Rosenwald with students from a Rosenwald school (Courtesy of Fisk University, John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House screened the documentary “Rosenwald,” about the Jewish philanthropist who worked with blacks to build schools throughout the South, to mark Jewish American Heritage Month.

More than a hundred invitees attended the screening Monday of the documentary about Julius Rosenwald at the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. Aviva Kempner, the Washington, D.C., documentarian who made a film about Jewish baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, directed “Rosenwald.”

Speaking at the event was Valerie Jarrett, a top aide to President Barack Obama whose great-grandfather, Robert Robinson Taylor, designed the schools.

“My goodness, how much did he give back to our country!” said Jarrett, who is African American.

Rosenwald, the CEO of Sears Roebuck, joined with black educators and community leaders to build more than 5,000 schools during the first part of the 20th century, when Southern blacks were often consigned to rundown, one-room schools, if they were availed of any schooling at all.

It is estimated that more than 600,000 children graduated from the schools, forming the core of the African-American middle class that led the struggle for civil rights. Rosenwald also established a fund that dispensed grants to young artists, including names that came to dominate American arts in the latter half of the century like authors James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison, contralto Marian Anderson, and photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks.

Obama, marking Jewish American Heritage Month each May, has consistently heralded the black-Jewish alliance that spurred civil rights reforms.

The president in his first term threw major parties marking heritage month, but rolled back these and other celebrations after Congress limited government funding.