Professor Stephen Whitfield on “The Jewish Retail Giant and the Black Community”

Brandeis American Studies Professor Stephen Whitfield’s February 6, 2012 article in Jewish tackles the issue of “The Jewish Retail Giant and the Black Community,” focusing on the anonimity (and philanthropy) of Sears, Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald and the impact of Jewishness on this obscurity.  Whitfield n0tes that Rosenweld expressed concern that antisemitism might hurt rural business, and yet:

Whatever the validity of his concerns, his company did as much as any retail business in the nation to help farmers and their families conquer the burden of solitude.  More than any other business (except for the Ford Motor Company), Sears, Roebuck enabled a predominantly rural nation to connect with the rising influence of industrial and urban ways of life and ultimately with a cosmopolitan modernity.  No wonder then that, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was asked during the Second World War which American book he would like to see distributed in the Soviet Union, he did not nominate the Federalist Papers or Moby-Dick or even his own public papers.  Instead the leader who listed “freedom from want”—as one of the Four Freedoms that the Allies were fighting for—proposed the Sears, Roebuck catalog.

Whitfield holds the Max Richter Chair in American Civilization at Brandeis University.

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