Congressional act celebrating Julius Rosenwald’s ‘tzedakah’ would enshrine his memory in a national park


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Congress passed an act that launches the path toward a national park being named for Julius Rosenwald, the Jewish philanthropist who established thousands of schools for African-Americans neglected by their public school systems.

The Senate approved the legislation on Monday. It passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The text of the legislation calls Rosenwald, the president of the Sears, Roebuck department store chain who died in 1932, “the embodiment of the Jewish concept of ‘tzedakah,’ righteousness and charity, Rosenwald used his fortune for numerous philanthropic activities, particularly to enhance the lives of African Americans.”

Among his many philanthropic endeavors, Rosenwald along with Booker T. Washington helped establish 5,300 of what became known as Rosenwald Schools in 15 states in the American South. The schools sought to redress the neglect that segregated schools suffered under Jim Crow.

The bill, which has the backing of the independent National Parks Conservation Association, requires the Interior secretary to study Rosenwald’s legacy and establish where a national park commemorating him would be appropriate. The association, which for a century has advocated for the expansion and preservation of national parks, said it would be the first park named for a Jewish American.

Initiating the legislation were Sen. Dick Durbin in the Senate and Rep. Danny Davis in the House, both Democrats from Illinois, where Rosenwald lived, and Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish Democrat from Tennessee, where a number of the Rosenwald Schools were situated.

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