Before schools were integrated, many Black students attended Rosenwald Schools. The Rosenwald School project—a collaboration between Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist and leader of the mail-order company Sears, Roebuck, and Co., and Booker T. Washington, educator, orator, and community leader—built more than 5,000 schools, shops, and teachers' homes throughout the South. At the time Rosenwald and Washington met, many African American children in the rural South did not have access to education, and those who did attended schools in poor condition. They received outdated textbooks previously used by white children whose schools' budgets were at least five times that of African American school budgets. Additionally, local governments dictated that Black children be taught a limited curriculum with a focus on trade skills.
The Rosenwald Schools were created to combat the chronic underfunding of Black public schools and educated around one-third of all African American children in the South. Schools were built across the rural South between 1917 and 1932. Partial funding was provided to Black communities and local governments that committed to raise matching funds and provide land and labor. The program further demonstrated African American philanthropic efforts to build and sustain their communities. The schools provided job opportunities for Black educators. Architects from Tuskegee Institute, the historically Black college founded by Booker T. Washington, designed the schoolhouses, which were between one and three rooms. Before the schools were closed, they improved school attendance, literacy, level of education, and cognitive test scores; they uplifted entire communities and left a lasting impact on Black education. Alumni of the schools included Maya Angelou and United States Congressman John Lewis.