Nat King Cole featured in new book

Posted December 29th, 2014 by

A new book, “Driving the King” by Ravi Howard, offers a glimpse into the struggles of the early civil rights movement through the eyes of Nat King Cole and his fictitious best friend, Nat Weary. Although the novel is set among the backdrop of real events, such as the Montgomery bus boycotts, the specifics of Mr. Cole’s experiences during the 1950s are admittedly made up. A reviewer in the New York Times points out, “But even this book’s distortions suggest a man whose story remains barely told, while few white singers of his day are without up-to-date biographers.” While Nat King Cole may be lacking the recognition an authentic biography affords, suggesting perhaps the racial barriers he faced in his career and reflected in the novel still linger today, his popularity is hardly forgotten. Timuel Black, an interviewee in The Rosenwald Schools, fondly remembers Nat King Cole as one of the many illustrious African American celebrities who visited the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments. Cole is pictured in the film along with other Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartment visitors Langston Hughes and Marian Anderson.
Read more about the book here

Powerful new dramatic Civil Rights film to open on Christmas

Posted December 23rd, 2014 by

Selma is a dramatic film about a courageous chapter of the Civil Rights movement in Alabama when Rev. Martin Luther King led the march for voting rights. Starring Giovanni Ribisi, David Oyelowo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey and Cuba Gooding Jr., Selma will open this week in a limited theatrical run. I got a chance to see an advance screening of this powerful and moving film last night and I highly recommend you see it when it plays at a theater near you. The film includes the brave story of Civil Rights icon John Lewis, played by Stephan James, who risked his life fighting for Civil Rights in Selma in 1965 to obtain our most basic voting rights for African Americans.

Rep. Lewis was interviewed and will appear in our upcoming film The Rosenwald Schools.

Rosenwald fellow’s mural a touchstone in historical representation of the Amistad

Posted December 23rd, 2014 by

The “Talladega Murals,” completed by future Rosenwald fellow Hale Woodruff in 1938, have been on tour since 2012 in galleries all over the country. This traveling exhibit is an amazing chance to see these great works, and we’ve reported on their progress here on this blog over the past couple years.

One of Woodruff’s mural on display in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: The Washington Post

Michael E. Ruane, writing for the Washington Post, recently reviewed the exhibit in its current location, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The article, which includes quotes from National Museum of African American History and Culture experts like Jacquelyn D. Serwer and Kinshasha Holman Conwill (both of whom were interviewed for our upcoming documentary, The Rosenwald Schools), is well worth a read. Ruane tells the story of the Amistad slave ship revolt and explains how Woodruff’s paintings of it revived interest and became an important historical touchstone for representation of the unique and powerful event. As Conwill puts it in the article, the murals depict “the rarest of moments in 19th-century history […] the triumph of Africans over their enslavement that is a success.”

You can read more about the exhibit, Woodruff and the Amistad at the Washington Post.

Strong words from John Lewis on the “Other America” and from Charlene Drew Jarvis on the “narrative about race”

Posted December 22nd, 2014 by

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia wrote about the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases in The Atlantic on Monday.

There is a growing discontent in this country. And if the fires of frustration and discontent continue to grow without redress, I fear for the future of this country. There will not be peace in America. I do not condone violence under any circumstance. It does not lead to lasting change. I do not condone either public rioting or state-sponsored terrorism. “True peace,” King would tell us, “is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Rep. John Lewis, who attended a Rosenwald School as a child, will appear in our upcoming documentary The Rosenwald Schools.

Rep. John Lewis during our 2013 interview with him
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

Charlene Drew Jarvis, the daughter of Rosenwald Fund fellow Dr. Charles Drew, also shared her insights on the troubling current events recently, in an address to the Metropolitan Chapter of the Links Inc. Here’s an excerpt of her speech, which was published in The Washington Post:

The narrative about race is changing. Witness the CBS national news just last night in which two young whites acknowledged that they never had to think about race as they went about their daily lives, but they understood that the African Americans on the panel think about race all-of-the-time. Their ability to empathize, to put themselves in the shoes of African Americans, is a very important part of better communication between the races.

Jarvis was also interviewed for The Rosenwald Schools on the Rosenwald Fund’s timely assistance of her father Dr. Drew’s graduate study and his later innovations in banked blood.

Charlene Drew Jarvis during our 2012 interview with her
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 2012

Rosenwald Fund fellows Kenneth and Mamie Clark fought segregation

Posted December 15th, 2014 by

In November, The Rosenwald Schools work in progress screened in Sarasota, Florida. We blogged about the event, which was attended by Kate Harris, the daughter of two famous Rosenwald Fund grant recipients. Kate’s parents, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, were psychologists who worked together to provide evidence for the crucial case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Kate recently reached out to us through email. She understands the importance of the Rosenwald Fund grants, affirming that they “had a major impact on the education of generations of children… just as the Rosenwald Schools did.” Kate also sent these great photos of her parents over the years:


Photos courtesy of Kate Harris

Rosenwald profiled in Chicago Tribune

Posted December 12th, 2014 by

Eve Mangurten, project archivist at the Highland Park Historical Society, writes today about Julius Rosenwald for the suburban section of the Chicago Tribune.

As Rosenwald’s wealth increased, so did his philanthropy. He said, “I believe in giving when I am alive.” Rabbi Emil Hirsch of Chicago Sinai Congregation inspired Rosenwald to value an essential aspect of Judaism, giving charity.

Click here (“From humble clothier to running Sears”) to read more.

Rosenwald Schools director Aviva Kempner appears at Jewish Folk Arts Festival

Posted December 10th, 2014 by

On Saturday, Aviva Kempner, director of upcoming documentary The Rosenwald Schools, joined an excellent list of workshop presenters at the 2014 Jewish Folk Arts Festival in Rockville, Maryland. A great audience packed the room to see Aviva present the work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools, and gave the screening a warm reception. Other than a little mishap on the way there (Aviva and our editor, Marian Hunter got lost) it was a great day. Thanks to the Jewish Folk Arts Festival for putting on a great event!

Another ‘parlor party’ for The Rosenwald Schools

Posted December 9th, 2014 by

Last Saturday night, Josh Levin and Debra Fried Levin generously hosted a parlor party for me to help fundraise for The Rosenwald Schools, The Ciesla Foundation’s upcoming documentary that is now in post-production.

Photo credit: Adina Kole

I interviewed Debra last year along with her husband Josh for The Rosenwald Schools. Debra and Josh went on an unusual first date. Knowing that she had written her master’s thesis on Julius Rosenwald, Josh took Debra to various sites around Chicago related to Rosenwald’s life: his Kenwood home, the Sears plant he built on the west side and even his grave in Rosehill Cemetery.

Photo courtesy of Debra Fried Levin

I had a great time meeting all of the people the Levins invited. It was good to hear feedback on the work in progress, which screened at the party. One of the attendees, Wayne Firestone, had this to say on Facebook:

After a week of uniformly disturbing news in our country, last night we saw a documentary in progress by dc filmmaker Aviva Kempner about Julius Rosenwald who helped finance 5000 African American schools run by Booker T Washington in the deeply segregated South in the 1920’s. We had a much needed lift of hope as well from speaker Aaron Jenkins who runs DC’s Operation Understanding that promotes ties between blacks and Jews.

Debra Fried Levin and Josh Levin

Thanks to all who attended. If you would like to hold a fundraising parlor party, please contact We would be most grateful for help in finishing the film and you would be listed among the end credits. The Ciesla Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and all contributions are tax-deductible.

“The Knick”‘s Medical Racism Issues Evoke Story of Rosenwald Fellow Dr. Charles Drew

Posted December 4th, 2014 by

The New York Times, and their writer Brent Staples are to be commended for shedding light on racism in health care. Discrimination in health care practice, against both practitioners and recipients, has been an undercurrent of overall racism in U.S. history. The new “Showtime” tv series “The Knick” features a controversially innovative New York City hospital at the turn of the 20th century, where an accomplished African American physician encounters prejudice and the hospital’s acerbic chief of surgery Dr. Thackery, portrayed by Clive Owen. Andre Holland plays the gifted Black surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards, who is assigned menial tasks, discreetly treats Black patients in the hospital’s basement, and lives in a flophouse in a rundown section of the city. Edwards’ fictional plight recalls the real life challenges faced by medical pioneer Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950), whose development of blood plasma banks saved the lives of thousands, including Allied soldiers during World War Two. Drew’s daughter, former D.C. City Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis, is interviewed in the film “The Rosenwald Schools”. Dr. Drew finished Howard University because of a Rosenwald Fellowship that allowed him to complete his studies. In the 1930’s Drew assumed a clandestine residency at Harlem’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, under the tutelage of a doctor far more supportive than “The Knick”‘s Thackery.

New York Times writer Brent Staples’ October 13 column addresses medical racism vis-a-vis “The Knick”, and Dr. Drew:

First Page News: Rosenwald Schools Interviewee Clarence Page Visits Politics & Prose to Reflect on 30 Years of Chicago Tribune Columns

Posted December 4th, 2014 by

Award winning veteran journalist and news panelist Clarence Page is an interviewee in The Rosenwald Schools. At 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 26,, 2014, Page will read from a thirty year compilation of his columns, at Politics & Prose Bookstore at 5015 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. in Washington, D.C.

Page has long been associated with Chicago, where Julius Rosenwald lived, and helped build the Wabash Avenue YMCA. One of the nation’s most recognized columnists and broadcast commentators, Page has earned a Pulitzer Prize and a National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been a regular panelist on The McLaughlin Group. His new book Culture Worrier: Selected Columns 1984-2014: Reflections on Race, Politics and Social Change marks the 30th anniversary of Page’s print debut in The Chicago Tribune. The collection represents the impressive range and depth of his commentary on social issues, foreign policy, and politics.

Aviva Kempner to appear at Jewish Folk Arts Festival in Rockville, MD

Posted December 3rd, 2014 by

From The Washington Post:

Jewish Folk Arts Festival The festival continues Sunday with an excerpt from Aviva Kempner’s latest historical documentary, synagogue choirs and cantors, Klezmer bands, art exhibits, university and youth a cappella groups, children’s craft activities, a teen lounge and music jam, Israeli dancing, kosher food and workshops. 1-6 p.m. Sunday at the Universities at Shady Grove, 9630 Gudelsky Dr., Rockville. 301-587-1739. $10, seniors and students $5, preschoolers free, family maximum $4

Is this building a Rosenwald teacherage?

Posted December 2nd, 2014 by

The Orangeburg, South Carolina Times and Democrat reports that research is underway to determine if a building on the campus of South Carolina State College was the teacherage for a Rosenwald School that once stood on the campus. The Felton County Training School was built in 1925 and, like many Rosenwald Schools, was accompanied by a teacher’s home. Although the school itself was demolished long ago, local historians believe that the building which today houses the student services center once housed the Rosenwald School’s teachers.

Felton County Training School has a famous alumnus. Eugene Robinson, one of our first interviewees for The Rosenwald Schools, attended Felton as a child. In our film, Robinson talks about the carefully considered architecture of the school which allowed for plenty of light and “useful space” for the students.

Read more at the Times and Democrat.

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