Aviva Kempner presented her documentary “Rosenwald” to students and Newton County residents Wednesday.
The documentary focused on the story of Julius Rosenwald, who joined forces with African American communities during the Jim Crow era to build more than 5,300 schools throughout the South during the early part of the 20th century, one of which was located in Oxford in Newton County.
Pieces of the local school can still be seen to this day, Rev. Lyn Pace, the college chaplain whose office sponsored the documentary screening, said. Located on Mitchell Street, pieces of the foundation are still visible alongside the school’s historic marker.
According to the sign on the Oxford School property, the Newton County Rosenwald school was built at the cost of $3,300. Funding for the school was from the local black community, the county and the Rosenwald Fund. It was used as a school until 1957.
Rosenwald was the son of an immigrant peddler. He never finished high school, but rose through the ranks to become the president of Sears. He was inspired by the writings of Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee University that he set out to create schools as well.
At the time, rural black schools were run-down buildings with little-to-no amenities. If the county did not provide a building, children were left to learn in churches and houses. Rosenwald would challenge each of the communities to help raise the funds to help build a proper school for the African American students. He would provide the community with a large portion of the funds only after the community was able to raise money on its own as well.
Kempner plans to spend another year working on the film and conducting screenings at schools and universities throughout the country before producing a DVD copy of the film. She hopes the showing of the film inspires philanthropy and unity in communities.