A Rosenwald school in Seminole County, Oklahoma.

Rosenwald Hall in Seminole County, Okla. A Rosenwald School built in 1921 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Credit: Andrew Feiler

Monday on Political Rewind, a conversation with author and photographer Andrew Feiler about his new book, A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools That Changed America.

The cover for A Better Life For Their Children.
Credit: Andrew Feiler

The book tells the story of the unique partnership between business executive Julius Rosenwald and educator and public intellectual Booker T. Washington. Together, the pair would help build an abiding institution of public education in Black communities across the South.

Rosenwald grew up in a Jewish family and became the leader of one of the largest retailers in the world at the time, Sears, Roebuck and Company. A friendship and partnership with Booker T. Washington led the pair to raise money and support for the building of almost 5,000 schools for African American children between 1917 and 1937.

Of the original 4,978 Rosenwald Schools across 15 southern and border states, only about 500 survive. While some have been repurposed and a handful remain active schools, many remain unrestored and at risk of collapse. To tell this story visually, Andrew Feiler drove more than 25,000 miles, photographed 105 schools, and interviewed dozens of former students, teachers, preservationists, and community leaders in all 15 of the program states.

Feiler, a fifth-generation Georgian, tells the stories of some of the students who went to the schools, including civil rights icon John Lewis and Maya Angelou.

Two women stand in a Rosenwald school holding history artifacts from the school's history.

Valerie Coleman and Marian Coleman, two curators behind the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center in Cassville, Ga. Marian is a descendant of Webster Wheeler, who built the Noble Hill Rosenwald School.

Credit: Andrew Feiler

Beyond the photographic documentation, A Better Life for Their Children includes essays from three voices. Congressman Lewis, who attended a Rosenwald school in Alabama, provides an introduction; historian and preservationist Jeanne Cyriaque pens a history of the Rosenwald program; and Brent Leggs, director of African American Cultural Heritage at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, writes an afterword calling for the preservation of iconic history.


Andrew Feiler — Author, Photographer "A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools That Changed America."

Jim Galloway — Former Politics Writer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution