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School Days

Plus, a "Super Gala" for Literacy; the Bible recast.

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Booker T. Washington needs no introduction. Who, though, was Julius Rosenwald? And how did Washington and Rosenwald join forces in 1912 to create a system of schools for underserved African-American children throughout the Jim Crow South? Those are two basic questions that journalist Stephanie Deutsch asks in You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South (Northwestern University Press).

The author needed no introduction to philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. Her husband is one of Rosenwald's great-grandsons. Still, Deutsch realized that she needed to know more, and in the course of her research, she did learn more about the man largely responsible for building Sears, Roebuck and Co. into a retail and mail-order giant.

Same goes for the author's own understanding of Booker T. Washington, whose reputation as a racial accommodationist proved questionable even during his lifetime. No question, however, about the pivotal role Washington played in improving the education of America's black population, especially in the South.

The Rosenwald Schools that Washington and Rosenwald established before the advent of court-ordered desegregation would eventually number more than 5,000. But these often one-room structures scattered throughout the rural South served as more than schoolhouses. They were sources of pride. And black populations, which helped to fund and build the schools, benefited enormously.

Fewer than 15 percent of the Rosenwald Schools still stand. One of them, in Memphis' Orange Mound neighborhood, was leveled decades ago. But one in Braden, Tennessee, in Fayette County, took on new life when local photographer Ann Smithwick and her husband converted it into a house for their growing family.

That converted school still serves as a source of pride for the Smithwick neighbors who attended it, and it will surely be on the itinerary when Stephanie Deutsch is in Memphis this week. She'll be discussing and signing copies of You Need a Schoolhouse at the Booksellers at Laurelwood on Saturday, October 20th, at 1 p.m. And for more on Deutsch and her book, along with the former Rosenwald School in Braden, see the October issue of Memphis magazine.

Superheroes for a super cause: That's the idea behind the second annual Super Gala, a Halloween-timed fund-raiser for Literacy Mid-South. So, here's your chance to dress the part as your favorite comic-book hero (or villain).

The party's at Literacy Mid-South's offices at 902 S. Cooper on Friday, October 19th, from 7 to 11 p.m., and tickets are $35 per person or $50 per couple. That includes two free drinks (additional alcoholic beverages available) and food from Celtic Crossing, a silent auction, a costume contest, and sounds by DJ Lil' Egg Roll. Your participation will help fund the agency's literacy programs. Go to literacymidsouth.org for tickets.

Can't make it to the Super Gala? Double-down to improve the area's literacy rate. Last month, an anonymous friend of Literacy Mid-South made the challenge: Raise $100,000 from new donors or from donors who haven't contributed to Literacy Mid-South in the past three years, and that anonymous friend will match the $100,000 raised. That's a good bargain. Again, go to Literacy Mid-South's website or call 327-6000.

How did sacred scripture "inscribe" black women as a "curse"? How, in return, have African-American women writers recast the Bible as a "blessing"? That's the topic for examination by Katherine Bassard of Virginia Commonwealth University in Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible.

That will also be Bassard's lecture topic when she visits the University of Memphis as the latest in this fall's calendar of speakers hosted by the university's Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities. Bassard will lecture on Transforming Scriptures on Thursday, October 18th, at 6:30 p.m. inside the University Center Theater at the U of M. Booksigning to follow. As with all the Orr lectures, Bassard's is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Aram Goudsouzian at 678-2520 or agoudszn@memphis.edu.

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