From The New York Times:
Decades earlier, another Sears executive engaged in activism of a different sort. Julius Rosenwald began promoting civil rights causes while he was still president of Sears, before he became its chairman in 1924, leading some to call him the “first social justice philanthropist.” He helped fund fellowships for black artists and academics, including W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin. He worked with Booker T. Washington to open more than 5,300 schools for black children in the Jim Crow South. Some of them were burned down by the Ku Klux Klan.
There’s also this article titled “A Peculiar Alliance: Julius Rosenwald,
the YMCA, and African-Americans,
1910-1933″ from American Jewish Archives that touches on this further. Here’s an excerpt:
“The alliance between Rosenwald, the YMCA, and African-Americans
seems rather peculiar at first glance. Why would a Jew support
the establishment of Christian facilities for African-Americans? David
Levering Lewis, who examined the collaboration between AfricanAmericans
and Jews during the 1910s and 1920s~ has suggested that
some of the wealthy Jews who aided African-Americans had ulterior
motives. According to Lewis, they reasoned that their assistance to
the African-American struggle for racial advancement would spare
Jews “some of the necessity of directly rebutting anti-Semitic stereotypes,”
for white America would perforce conclude that if “blacks
could make good citizens…all other groups [including Jews] could
make better ones.” Yet Lewis’s highly interpretive study offers no
evidence to support this contention.
Julius Rosenwald certainly never said that his support of AfricanAmerican
causes was stimulated by a desire to refute anti-Semitic
stereotypes. On the contrary, Rosenwald claimed that he was motivated
by sympathy for the victims of discrimination. Having experienced
the indignity of anti-Semitism, he felt compassion for those
who suffered from racism.
Sears was also instrumental in getting black people their own houses. Wild as it is to consider, sears used to offer ikea style mail order flat packed houses.
Whole fucking houses, designed to be built by untrained folks in 60 days, I think? No special tools required. Plumbing and electrical wiring all included, which would be impressive today, but was especially so given it was like 1920 so most people had never even seen a house with full electric wiring.
And since Sears was giving out the loans themselves, there were no racist bankers denying you a mortgage.
Of course, as they were the debt holders, the great depression caused Sears a lot of trouble and there’s a special kind of hellishness in people from like Illinois wandering up to evict you from a home you literally built by hand your own self, but yeah.
Sears was responsible for getting black people their own houses for basically the first time ever in a lot of regions.
My family is currently living in a Sears kit house.