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Gratz College Hosts Hasia Diner For Lecture on Julius Rosenwald
A portrait of Julius Rosenwald

A portrait of Julius Rosenwald

MELROSE PARK - Gratz College will host Dr. Hasia R. Diner on Sunday, October 28, for a Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture about Julius Rosenwald, an American Jew, social activist and philanthropist who took up the cause of African Americans during the Jim Crow era.

Dr. Diner, the Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History and director of the Goren-Goldstein Center for American Jewish History at New York University, has been writing about Rosenwald for four decades. Her latest book, Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World (available for purchase at the lecture), takes an unflinching look at a complicated man who was sympathetic toward the plight of African Americans.
Born in Springfield, Ill., in 1862 to Jewish immigrants from Germany, Rosenwald made his fortune as president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Early on, he began giving his money away to African American causes, most famously establishing the Rosenwald Fund. The fund donated millions in matching dollars for the education of African American children in the South and paid for white principals and superintendents in the South to attend training.
Rosenwald did not, however, use his money to push for integration, Dr. Diner said.

A portrait of Hasia Diner

“Rosenwald believed the real issue was economic equality,” she said. “That would not be attained unless the African American population was literate, educated and economically independent. That is how he defined what was needed and where he put his money.”
As a Jew living in Chicago, Rosenwald was not personally affected by racism or anti-Semitism, Dr. Diner said. But he was concerned about discrimination and worked to end economic inequality.
“It’s important to note that, as a Jew in America, Rosenwald was a beneficiary of white privilege,” Dr. Diner said. “In many ways, he was never personally touched by discrimination, but he dedicated much of his resources to fighting for groups that have been oppressed.”
Rosenwald was deeply committed to communal engagement. A study of his life and philanthropy offers a nuanced understanding not only of African American history during Jim Crow, but also American Jewish life in the early twentieth history.
“What I’m interested in is Rosenwald as a Jew,” Dr. Diner said. “What role did his Jewishness play in his engagement with African Americans? And how did Jews, who found themselves on the outskirts of society, make sense of racism in America?”
Rosenwald died in 1932, but his eldest son, Lessing J. Rosenwald, took over Sears, Roebuck and Company, running the business from Philadelphia. He had an estate in Jenkintown, which he donated to Abington Township and is now the Abington Art Center. He was a member of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel of Elkins Park.
The Shusterman Distinguished Scholar Lecture is free and open to the public, though registration is requested. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28, at Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park, Pa.

For more information, contact Mindy Cohen at 215-635-7300 x155 or