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4,978 reasons to visit VMHC’s newest exhibit

Learn about the history of Rosenwald schools with a visit to “A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools That Changed America,” now on display at VMHC.

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A GIF showcasing black and white photos taken by photographer Andrew Feiler

The Rosenwald program helped educate Black children during the Jim Crow era.

Photos by Andrew Feiler

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Did you know? A meeting in 1911 between famous educator Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company (once the world’s largest department store), helped pave the way for educational opportunities for Black children.

The Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) is celebrating the legacy of this unique school program with its newest exhibit, “A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools That Changed America,” on view now through April 20, 2025.

The impact, by the numbers

Washington and Rosenwald established the Rosenwald program, which provided initial funding to build schools in predominantly-Black communities. They partnered with local governments and community members, who contributed money, land, materials, and labor to bring each project to life.

Between 1912 and 1937, the Rosenwald program helped build 5,357 structures across 15 Southern states, including 4,978 schools + shop buildings and teacher housing.

Inspired by this story, Atlanta-based photographer Andrew Feiler embarked on a three-year journey across the South to document the remaining school buildings and their alumni. His work turned into an award-winning book and a traveling exhibit — yes, the one currently being showcased at VMHC.

A black and white image of a restored classroom from Pine Grove School in Richland County, SC.

A restored classroom at Pine Grove School in Richland County, South Carolina, dating from 1923 to 1950.

Photo by Andrew Feiler

Feiler captures the essence of Rosenwald schools and their communities through 26 photographs and stories on display throughout the exhibit.

Additionally, VMHC teamed up with the Bray School Lab at William & Mary + various Rosenwald school community groups across the Commonwealth to curate a special section of the exhibit, focusing on the history of Virginia’s Rosenwald schools. Guests can immerse themselves in history through historical artifacts, images, oral interviews with alumni, and even a recreated classroom.

Plan your visit

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