Harris Barrett School

History came full circle when descendants of Julius Rosenwald met a granddaughter of Harris Barrett. The video gives the background story concerning the little school that makes the meeting significant.

Julius Rosenwald was born in 1862 while Abraham Lincoln was president. Rosenwald was the son of German immigrants. He dropped out of high school to apprentice with his uncles who were major clothing manufacturers in New York City. By the time he was 30, he had his own business specializing in ready-to-wear men’s suits.

He partnered with Richard Sears, who was struggling to fill mail orders at his business, which was named Sears, Roebuck.  By 1908, largely due to Rosenwald’s innovations, Sears was was among the leading businesses in this country with thousands of employees and millions of customers, this company was the “Amazon dot com”  of its day.

Rosenwald became very wealthy and very generous to charitable causes. In 1912, Rosenwald set aside $700,000 (equivalent to $16 million in current value) and encouraged his wealthy peers to also support worthy projects of their own choosing. Rosenwald’s slogan was “Give While You Live.”

A portion of Rosenwald’s charitable fund was donated to Booker T. Washington, a prominent educator who was principle at Tuskegee Institute, a college established to train former slaves. Washington dreamed of expanding education to young children in impoverished black communities in the South. A collaboration between Rosenwald and Washington gave birth to the Rosenwald Schools. Their project trained teachers and funded libraries. This energy created an energy that spilled over into civic pride manifested by improved roads and newly painted homes in the Tuskegee community.

By 1932, the year of Rosenwald’s death, there were 4,977 Rosenwald Schools throughout the South. He insisted that local communities also have skin in the game and locals dug into their meager resources to contribute to the school project.  Washington secured additional funding from Harris Barrett, founder of a savings and loan association in Virginia, which was among the first black-owned banking institutions in this country. Washington named the elementary school after its benefactor and forevermore this little one-room building has been known as the Harris Barrett School.

Inside Harris Barrett School

Now a museum,  the location in Tuskegee is one of the few Rosenwald Schools that have been preserved.

Submitted by contributing producer, Karin Hopkins, “Connected by History” is a virtual tour of the Harris Barrett School. Artifacts include vintage items and also materials that celebrate the accomplishments of black people, who have progressed against the odds.

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