A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund publication
Born to Jewish immigrants, Julius Rosenwald rose to lead Sears, Roebuck & Company and turn it into the world's largest retailer. Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington became the founding principal of Tuskegee Institute. In 1912 the 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--one of the earliest collaborations between Jews and African Americans--drove dramatic improvement in African American educational attainment and fostered the generation who became the leaders and foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.
Of the original 4,978 Rosenwald schools built between 1917 and 1937 across fifteen 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 twenty-five thousand miles, photographed 105 schools, and interviewed dozens of former students, teachers, preservationists, and community leaders in all fifteen of the program states.
A Better Life for their Children includes eighty-five duotone images that capture interiors and exteriors, schools restored and yet-to-be restored, and portraits of people with unique, compelling connections to these schools. 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, embezzlement, murder, and more.
Beyond the photographic documentation, A Better Life for Their Children includes essays from three prominent voices. Congressman John Lewis, who attended a Rosenwald school in Alabama, provides an introduction; preservationist Jeanne Cyriaque has penned a history of the Rosenwald program; and Brent Leggs, director of African American Cultural Heritage at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has written a plea for preservation that serves as an afterword.
"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 reach 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." --Congressman John Lewis
"Andrew Feiler's photographs preserve an essential civil rights history with the inspiring story of the Rosenwald schools. And this history continued through the descendants of the schools and their creators, including the late John Lewis, Medgar Evers, and Maya Angelou. At a time when racial inequity in education remains a scourge, Feiler's book provides context and hope."--Jill Savitt, President and CEO, National Center for Civil and Human Rights
About the Speakers
Andrew Feiler, a fifth-generation Georgian, is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in museums, galleries, and magazines and is in a number of private collections. His photography is focused on the contemporary complexities of the American South. More of his photography can be seen at andrewfeiler.com.
Lauren Tate Baeza joined the High Museum of Art in November 2020 as the Fred and Rita Richman Curator of African Art. Baeza oversees the African art collection of more than one thousand objects, including extraordinary examples of masks and sculpture, exceptionally fine textiles, beadwork, metalwork, and ceramics. The collection’s holdings reflect the continent’s deep, rich history, as well as contemporary innovations.
An Atlanta native, Baeza is a curator and Africanist with a background in international aid organizations and museums. As a scholar, she has researched African political and economic phenomena through the lens of cultural geography, specifically examining the spatial history of food culture and artistic practices within the continent and across the Atlantic.
Prior to joining the High, Baeza served as director of exhibitions at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights from 2018 to 2020. During her tenure there, Baeza maintained the Center’s two ongoing installations in its American Civil Rights Movement and Global Human Rights Movement galleries and organized sixteen temporary exhibitions and installations, including Fragments, a collaboration with celebrated designer Paula Scher, featuring passages from Dr. King’s handwritten speeches and letters.
Concurrent with her position at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Baeza also curated the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, featuring approximately ten thousand items, and managed the James Allen and John Littlefield Collection. Previously, she served as executive director of the APEX Museum in Atlanta, which interprets, presents, and celebrates Black history.
In addition to her curatorial and museum work, Baeza led and consulted with environmental and community development initiatives in Kenya and Uganda. She has also lectured and taught seminars at the Nafasi Academy in Tanzania, the University of California, Los Angeles, Georgia State University, and California State University and published articles with ART PAPERS and the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First). In 2018, Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine selected her as a “Women of Excellence.”
Baeza holds a Master of Arts in African studies from the University of California, Los Angeles; a Bachelor of Arts in Africana studies with a cultural studies concentration from California State University, Northridge; and a certification in curatorial studies from Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
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