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Wednesday, Sep 9 2015

Aviva Kempner's documentaryRosenwaldlooks at the life and philanthropy of Julius Rosenwald. A co-owner of Sears, Roebuck & Co., he donated tens of millions of dollars toward building schools for African-Americans, and provided grants to artists. The son of Jewish immigrants, he recognized the treatment of black people in the South at the hands of the KKK and institutionalized racism was much like what happened to his own people back in Europe during the pogroms. (Let that sink in for a moment: a millionaire industrialist expressing empathy for underprivileged people of another ethnicity.) There are interesting stories that can be expanded upon, particularly the cultural impact of the Sears catalog on rural people, but the picture is ultimately less about Rosenwald and more about early-to-mid 20th-century African-American life, and how he did what he could to improve it.Rosenwalddoes veer into hagiography, and there's a sense his darker moments are glossed over — nobody becomes that rich without doing some bad things along the way — but the good works he did should be celebrated, and they're all the more meaningful now that the Voting Rights Act is under attack. The struggle hasn't ended.


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Sherilyn Connelly


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