April 19th was a good date in Dayton

Posted April 21st, 2016 by

On April 19th, Aviva attended the closing of the 2016 Dayton Jewish Film Fest with a screening of Rosenwald. This is the third time she has been in Dayton with her films as previously speaking with her movies on Hank Greenberg and Gertrude Berg.

The screening was in honor of the memory of Carole Rabinowitz who, with her husband Bernard, funded Ciesla’s past films. Her memory will live on in her many philanthropic contributions to the Jewish community of Dayton.

After the screening, Aviva attended a discussion on the film with Film Fest Chair Martin Gottlieb.

The 2016 Dayton Jewish Film Fest was presented by the JCC of Greater Dayton. Below is a a picture of Aviva with members of the Rabinowitz family members.


Aviva with the Rabinowitz family

On the road again

Posted April 15th, 2016 by

On March 31st, Reverend Donrico Colden, who organized the showing of the film in Harrisburg after seeing it in Philadelphia, drove Aviva to Harrisburg, PA for a packed screening of Rosenwald. Rev. Colden and Julie Sherman, Chair of the Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival, introduced Aviva before the film. Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse was in attendance. The next morning, Aviva showed the film for the students at SciTech High as well as some students visiting from The Nativity School of Harrisburg who had come to listen.


Chair Julie Sherman, Mayor Papenfuse, Aviva Kempner, and Rev. Colden

After the Harrisburg screening, Aviva flew out to Washington state for the Seattle Jewish Film Festival on April 3rd, where Rosenwald screened to a warm reception. Aviva was honored with a REAL/REEL Difference Award from the festival, along with the festival’s founder, Deborah Rosen.

Afterwards she flew back to the east coast to Boston, MA for a special event screening on April 5th at Brandeis University. Peter Ascoli, Rosenald’s biographer and grandson, also spoke after the film. Brandeis is also home to the National Center of Jewish Film, who distribute the Rosenwald film and all the films produced by the Ciesla Foundation.


From left to right: Peter Ascoli, Lisa Rivo, Aviva Kempner, Sharon Rivo

PEEPILTON THE MUSICAL places third!

Posted March 30th, 2016 by

Peepilton the Musical comes in third in The Washington Post Peeps Contest

         Actress Sara Chase, presently appearing in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and her cousin documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Yoo-Hoo, Mrs Goldberg, and Rosenwald) submission of  Peepilton the Musical came in third in The Washington Post annual peeps contest.

Their entry, named Peepilton the Musical, is based on the Broadway hit Hamilton, was judged a third place winner in the contest.  The announcement of the award appeared Sunday in TheWashington Post magazine.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/peeps-2016-the-10th-anniversary-edition/2016/03/16/30a86d56-e172-11e5-8d98-4b3d9215ade1_gallery.html

It was Kempner’s thespian cousin who had the insights  how to construct a theatre based diorama because she stared on Broadway in First Date the Musical. Chase also saw Hamilton. Inspired by the musical she came up with the concept and executed it, and Kempner just delivered it.

Unlike her cousin, Kempner is  just hoping to see Hamilton. And who knows since First Lady Michelle Obama loved the show  so much and invited the cast to present at the White House, maybe she will invite them to present Peepilton the Musical to another group of  students.

Peepilton the Musical!

Created by Aviva Kempner, 69, Washington, and Sara Chase, 32 , New York

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 11.52.27 AM
Photos by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post.

A miniaturized version of Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre may be the closest either maker of this diorama gets to seeing “Hamilton.” The hit musical is effectively sold out for months to come, with prime seats going for more than $1,000 on secondary-sales sites.

Created by D.C. documentarian Aviva Kempner (“Rosenwald,” “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”) and her cousin, actress Sara Chase (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), “Peepilton the Musical!” captures a tableau of marshmallow bunnies in five of the show’s big roles: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and, along a catwalk in the back, sisters Peggy and Angelica Schuyler, as well as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, who was Hamilton’s wife. (Onstage, the singing trio, dressed in bustled gowns, has been likened to an early America version of Destiny’s Child.) Two lucky theatergoers, holding copies of Peepbill magazine, look on from the side.

Stage lights, above and below, set everything off to glorious dramatic effect, using key-ring mini flashlights whose lenses have been colored with Sharpie pens. The costumes were created with wide cloth ribbon — a secret Chase says she picked up over four years of submitting to Peeps contests with Kempner.

Chase, who worked on Broadway (“First Date the Musical”) before moving to television, brought her knowledge of stagecraft to the construction of the scene. But she says it’s something more ineffable than lights, sets and costumes that completes the transformation of humble confections into the cast of a hot Broadway musical.

In a word, she says, the secret to a good Peeps diorama is magic. “Isn’t that what theater is all about?”

See the other winners here!

Aviva Up the Coast

Posted March 25th, 2016 by

It’s been quite the month for Rosenwald, as screenings continue at film festivals and Community Centers along the coast! On March 13th, Aviva returned to the Maine Jewish Film Festvial, where she had shown The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, to a warm reception. Rachel Talbot Ross, president of NAACP of Portland served as MC for the screening, as well as an encore screening the following night. Rachel Talbot Ross also plans to run for Maine state office and is the daughter of Representative Gerald Talbot, a man who reorganized NAACP in Maine and became the first president of NAACP chapter in Portland.


The Maine Jewish Film Festival screenings were also accompanied by a panel of women film makers. Joining Aviva were two amazing Israeli film makers: Shirly Berkovitz (The Good Son, Dir.) and Hilla Medalia (Censored Voices, Prod.).


Left to right: Aviva Kempner, Shirly Berkovitz, Hilla Medalia

On March 19th, Aviva attended a screening at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington DC. At the screening were Doris A. Dearing Johnson, Vyllorya Andrette Evans, and Thelma D. Jones.
All three ladies have their own Rosenwald school connection- Doris attended Higison-Rosenwald in Aberdeen, Mississippi where her mother Ora Lee James Bailey was the principal and where Vyllorya’s mother also taught. Thelma attended the Greene County Training School-South Greene High School in Snow Hill, NC. Before the screening, the women talked about their experiences with the schools.


Left to right: Doris A. Dearing Johnson, Vyllorya Andrette Evans, Aviva Kempner, Thelma D. Jones

March 22nd was a big day- beginning with this screening at the US Department of Agriculture Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in Washington DC. She was joined at the screening by Charles Smith, Gladys Gary Vaughn, and David Leon King.


Left to right: Charles Smith, Aviva Kempner, Gladys Gary Vaughn, David Leon King

Aviva ended the day with a trip to north for the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival where the filmed screened for a packed house of over 500 people at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts.

LEO FRANK CASE AND LYNCHING REMEMBERED AND WILL BE ON THE ROSENWALD DVD

Posted March 17th, 2016 by

High profile court cases have a way of capturing the collective attention of the public and dominating news cycles. Think Rodney King, OJ Simpson and Timothy McVeigh, to name a few vastly different circumstances and outcomes. However, despite their differences all these cases shaped — or in many cases brought to the forefront– a major national conversation that extended beyond the courthouse and throughout the nation. While the names listed above may be more familiar to us today, Leo Frank rang just as many bells in the mid 1910s. The quick story of Frank is that he was a young Jew from Brooklyn who relocated to Georgia and became the superintendent of a pencil factory where a young woman was murdered. Frank was quickly suspected, convicted on scant evidence, given a life sentence, then dragged from his cell by a mob and lynched from an oak tree in 1915. You can find a picture of his limp frame hanging from the branch while surrounded at knee level by stone faced white men defiantly staring into the camera, unmasked and indignant. The extrajudicial act was met with both fervent accolades and outrage. The Leo Frank trial and murder served as an indicator of the dripping antisemitism of the American South as well as economic insecurity throughout the region in the post Civil War era. Today, as groups such as the KKK and other fringe elements make more headlines than they have had in years it is highly important to remember past lessons.

The Rosenwald DVD will have an extra feature on Julius Rosenwald’s reaction to the Leo Frank trial and his support of the condemned. Rosenwald had every reason to be fearful of building the schools in the South after this case, but maybe because he was from the North he remained undeterred.

To read more about Leo Frank check out this article on The Tablet here.

Augusta Savage gets nod in NYT Style Magazine

Posted March 11th, 2016 by

In a brief column titled “The Writer’s Room”, Darryl Pinckney mentions Augusta Savage while reflecting on the room in which he wrote his recent novel. The room was part of what was once the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, founded by Savage, and later became the Harlem Community Art Center. Augusta Savage was awarded money from the Rosenwald Fund.

Read the full article in the NYTimes, here.

Throwback to 1984

Posted March 4th, 2016 by

Fauquier Now posted this throwback picture to a 1948 Junior Class at a Rosenwald school!



Get more information about the picture, here.

Aviva in Virginia

Posted February 29th, 2016 by

On February 20th, Aviva turned out to a screening of Rosenwald at Northumberland High School in Heathsville, Virginia. The screening was teeming with excited individuals, including a large group of Rosenwald school alumni.


A group of Rosenwald school alumni


Members of the Julius Rosenwald School Foundation of Northumberland County at the screening of Rosenwald.

However, this was not an average screening. The Heathville event was organized by the Julius Rosenwald School Foundation of Northumberland County- a group that is currently working to repurposed an original Rosenwald school. Before the screening, Aviva received a short tour of the school.


Aviva and the Foundation members stand before the Rosenwald school


A fascinating, two-story Rosenwald school, the Northumberland collective still has a long way to go in terms of restoration.






You can find out more about how to support the Julius Rosenwald School Foundation of Northumberland County by following them on their Facebook page.

Come see “A Lecture on the Life and Times of Julius Rosenwald”

Posted February 25th, 2016 by

A LECTURE ON THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MR. JULIUS ROSENWALD
“The Man – The Moments – The Movement”
Building an Educational Legacy in Anne Arundel County

Event Sponsored by:
Presented by:

You are invited to a free public lecture on the life and times of Mr. Julius Rosenwald. History’s foremost leaders in African American education include such celebrated names as Douglas, Washington, Du Bois, and The Little Rock Nine, but also the almost forgotten name of Rosenwald. Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) amassed a fortune serving as president and part owner of Sears Roebuck Company. After becoming friends with famed Tuskegee educator, Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald established a fund to build new, state-of-the-art school buildings for African American children living in the rural South. Between 1917 and 1932, the Julius Rosenwald Fund was responsible for the construction of more than 5,000 new schools in states. In 1940, 23 of Anne Arundel County’s 32 black schools were Rosenwald buildings. The Rosenwald School Building Program advanced African American education in a level unmatched until Brown vs. Board of Education and the subsequent end of segregation.

Guest Speaker: Sherri Marsh Johns

Sherri Marsh Johns has more than 20 years of experience in the fields of architectural research and historic preservation. Her interest in Rosenwald Schools began with her work at Anne Arundel County, Department of Cultural Resources. While there, she researched the County’s Rosenwald Schools and was involved in restoring four of them. In 2006, she founded Retrospect Architectural Research, LLC a consulting firm specializing in historic preservation and cultural resource management issues. Ms. Johns enjoys volunteering her services to nonprofit organizations, and currently serves as executive director of the Smith Island Cultural Center, president of the Lost Towns Project, and is on the board of directors of the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation, Inc.

Great DOOR PRIZES and GIVEAWAYS in the name of Mr. Rosenwald.

RSVP to Lisa Craig, Historic Preservation Division Chief, HistPres@annapolis.gov.
For more information, please contact Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles at aldpindellcharles@annapolis.gov or
410-266-6857 / 410-266-5809
The Life and Times of Mr. Julius
Rosenwald is one in a series of lectures
scheduled for 2016 in celebration of
Preservation50,which recognizes the
50th Anniversary of the National Historic
Preservation Act of 1966, and is the
reason we have a federally-certified
historic preservation program in Annapolis.
Walter S. Mills-Parole Elementary School PTA
City of Annapolis, Department of Planing and Zoning, Historic
Preservation Division
Retrospect Architectural Research, LLC
Greater Parole Community Association, Historic Preservation
Committee, Co-Chairperson and Consultant, Mrs. Pearl C. Swann

Married for 64 years and still going strong

Posted February 23rd, 2016 by

Marriage is difficult, complicated and, unfortunately, they often fail. But the failure of marriage is not a rule and many do last for the long run. David and Thelma Driskell have been married for an impressive 64 years *Applause*. They mention responsibility, dedication and an understanding that marriage isn’t all about romance as the keys to their duration. David is a world recognized leading authority on African American art. He is both a professor and an artist, has curated dozens of shows of his own work and other artists. If you would like to hear David speak, although on a different topic, he is interviewed in the Rosenwald film!

To read an interview with the Driskells in the Washington Post, click here.

Also, you can check out the David C. Driskell Center at UMDs website here.

Granddaughter of Jesse Owens remembers a story of brotherhood

Posted February 22nd, 2016 by

One of the highest symbols of athletic victory is surely the Olympic gold medal. Many know the story of how Jesse Owens, an African American track athlete, won this prestigious icon in front of Hitler and a Germany mobilizing for the most destructive war in human history. The film “Race,” which stars Stephan James as Owens, shows the athletic feats of the man, but also conveys a lesser known facet of the story: the feelings of human brotherhood between Owens and his primary competitor, Germany’s Lutz Long.

Marlene Dortch, granddaughter of Owens, commented on this relationship after a screening of the film and forum in Bowie, Maryland. She tells of how the two men pushed past the (racial) politics and tensions surrounding the 1936 Games and competed to the best of their abilities. Long and Owens wrote letters to each other after the games and kept in touch, including a heartfelt letter from Long right before he was deployed as a soldier in Germany’s army. He died of wounds in a British hospital after the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.


The film expresses the bonds that all humans have, despite what the feeling of the moment, political anxieties and even war may try to sever. Dortch sees her grandfather and grandmother as being examples of how to face challenges and maneuver with grace past adversity.

Owens was also a resident of the Michigan Garden Apartments created by Julius Rosenwald that were featured in the film.

Read more in the Washington Post article, here.

The Woodville School to be rehabilitated by T.C. Walker-Woodville Rosenwald School Foundation

Posted February 16th, 2016 by

The Woodville School is one of the few remaining Rosenwald schools. Erected in 1923, the building is found off of Route 17 in Ordinary, Gloucester County, Virginia. The school Woodville School, contrasts with most remaining Rosenwald schools due to remaining in fairly good condition. This is in part because the school has never been completely abandoned, serving as both a home and storage house for antiques since the school’s closing. Wes Wilson, of the T.C. Walker-Woodville Rosenwald School Foundation, hopes not to restore the school, but to rehabilitate it, saying, “Restoration is to take it back to the way it looked at a point in time. Rehabilitation would be to make it a usable product while retaining as much a historical presence as you could.” The foundation plans to add bathrooms, air conditioning, electricity, and other modern conveniences to allow the building to serve as a center for the community.

Read more in the Daily Press article, here.

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Posted February 16th, 2016 by

On February 8th, Aviva Kempner was invited by Valaida Fullwood to attend a special screening of Rosenwald at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, NC. After the screening, Aviva took part in a Q&A session with the guests at the Gantt Center. The screening was part of the Black History Month celebration, and was in part a promotion for the Levine Museum exhibit, “The Soul of Philanthropy”. The exhibit will remain open until February 28th.

The event was hosted by the New Generation of African American Philanthropists in collaboration with the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

Additionally, it is interesting to note that the Center also recently played host to a great exhibit called, “Art of a New Deal: African-American Artists in the WPA,” the displayed art from Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, and Hale Woodruff, who all also received a Rosenwald fund.


Native Son finally sees a complete and unedited release

Posted February 11th, 2016 by

Thanks to the Library of Congress, the film based on the best selling novel, Native Son, will finally be screened uncensored and in its entirety at Museum of Modern Art. The film, which features dialogue written by the novel’s author, Richard Wright, also places him in the lead role of Bigger. Richard Wright was also the recipient of a Rosenwald fund.

You can read more about the story in the New York Times article, here.

ROSENWALD screening at the National Archives

Posted February 10th, 2016 by


the National Archives’ William G. McGowan Theater

On February 4th, David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, opened up the evening at the National Archives with a warm introduction for the film, Rosenwald, as well as for Aviva Kempner and author, journalist, and president of the National Archives Foundation A’Lelia Bundles. Bundles also appears in the film.


Archivist David S. Ferriero

The showing saw a large turnout as many enthusiastic viewers stayed for a chance to listen to Aviva and A’Lelia discuss the film after the screening.


A’Lelia Bundles

Photos by Bruce Guthrie.

¡Aviva Las Vegas!

Posted February 3rd, 2016 by

On January 24th, Aviva Kempner headed out to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 14th Annual Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival. Aviva spoke at the screening with Leslie Smith Rosen, the Head of Upper School for AEC, and drew a very enthusiastic crowd.


Aviva Kempner with Joshua Abbey, director of the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival

Upon her return to Washington DC, Aviva attended a screening held by George Washington University’s Department of Religion. Aviva was joined by Stephanie Deutsch, who was interviewed in the film.


Stephanie Deutsch (left) and Aviva Kempner (right)

Also attending the screening was Lawrence Perry, who had attended a Rosenwald School. He was greatly appreciative of the films creation and loved seeing it.


Lawrence Perry and Aviva Kempner

Rosenwald to be screened as part of Montclair Civil Rights film series

Posted February 3rd, 2016 by

We’re proud to announce that Rosenwald will be screened March 23rd at the Montclair Public Library as part of the Montclair Historical Society’s film series focusing on Civil Rights and the African American experience with a historical perspective. For more information on the film series, read the Montclair Patch article by Eric Kiefer, here.

Old Rosenwald school to get commemorative sign

Posted January 29th, 2016 by

Central Davie Academy is a school that sits in Mocksville, NC, on a site that formerly played host to a Rosenwald school. The school, established in 1933 as Mocksville Colored Grade School, stood for many years- eventually becoming Mocksville Colored High School, Davie County Training School (where teachers were trained). The original Rosenwald school no longer stands, but new efforts are being made to commemorate the school with a historical sign near the current school’s flagpole.

Read the full article here!

ROSENWALD screened as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration

Posted January 21st, 2016 by

On January 18th, as part of a commemoration to Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosenwald was screened before a full house by the JCC Manhattan in New York City. The film was presented by Aviva, who held a small discussion as well. Among the attendees in the crowded JCC event was a woman who was a former teacher at a Rosenwald school.

The next day, Aviva attended another screening of Rosenwald in commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., this time in Washington, DC. Presenting the film with her and joining in on discussion was great civil rights leader, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.


Aviva Kempner with Wade Henderson

Did you miss Aviva’s discussion about ROSENWALD on C-SPAN?

Posted January 19th, 2016 by

You can catch it again online, here!

Rosenwald in DC on February 4th!

Posted January 19th, 2016 by



Rosenwald plays at Longue Vue, home of Julius Rosenwald’s daughter, in New Orleans

Posted January 14th, 2016 by

Last weekend Aviva visited Longue Vue House & Gardens, the New Orleans home of Julius Rosenwald’s daughter Edith Stern, for a special screening of Rosenwald. Edith, like her father, was a gracious philanthropist, humanitarian, civil rights activist, and assisted in the establishment of Dillard University. The home now serves as not only a museum and garden, but a great learning facility for everyone with tours of the estate. While visiting, Aviva was able to join a tour and take some photos of the lovely household.


Gift Shop at the Longue Vue House & Gardens

A view of the garden fountain








A sculpture display of various plants- one of many art pieces found on display at the Longue Vue House

The culture and design of the house even spreads to the door knobs!

Needless to say, with a screening at such a historic place rich with culture and educational resources, the film drew a large crowd and filled the venue.


Aviva talks before a crowd at the Longue Vue screening

Aviva after the screening with Bill Hess (left) and Gilbert Rochon (interviewee, right)

Rosenwald ranked #24 Best film of 2015!

Posted January 14th, 2016 by

The results are in! After a “smart rating system” took into account all the ratings and reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Metacritic, and Gracenote, as well as box office results- Rosenwald was determined to be the 24th best film of 2015!

See the full list, here!

Salon 94 in New York now displaying the installation, “Segregation Story: Gordon Parks”

Posted January 14th, 2016 by

In 2012, archivists at the Gordon Parks Foundation uncovered a vast collection of photographs on color slide film. The photographs were taken by Gordon Parks for Life in Alabama in 1956. “The project was to be a counterpoint to misinformation spread by segregationists who claimed that a racially separated, caste-based society was good for everyone.” Only 26 photographs were published in the magazine.

Now, 59 years later, a selection of these photographs are on display at Salon 94 in New York in the installation, “Segregation Story: Gordon Parks”.

Read the full article here.

Fairview School

Posted January 5th, 2016 by

Fairview Brown has been working to preserve the memory of the Fairview and ES Brown Rosenwald Schools in Georgia. Last year, the organization was able to clean up the sites, secure a $15,000 federal grant for Historic Preservation, host a successful fundraiser, and construct a canopy over the roof of Fairview school.

Hopefully, this organization can make more great strides toward historic preservation in 2016. We are excited to preview Rosenwald in Floyd County this year in partnership with the organization.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help preserve the schools, visit their website at http://fairviewbrown.org/.

The Kit Houses of the DC Metro Area

Posted December 22nd, 2015 by


Pictured: A kit house from 1922

For almost a century now, the Washington DC Metro Area has played host to many kit houses of different varieties, from Aladdin to Montgomery Ward- and most prominently: Sears. The houses were simple and modest in nature, meant for the average worker, and shipped by train and wagon in thousands of pieces to the location where they were to be erected. With about 2,000 kit houses in the area constructed over this period, about a quarter of them remain to this day.

Many of the original kit houses stand in historic districts which preserve the houses and prevent them from becoming victim to great changes, practically rendering the homes a living photograph of the ’20s and ’30s. However, some of the kit houses are not located in historic districts and not protected from change- which could lead to an unfortunate demise.

Read on as Audrey Hoffer speaks to the owner of a Washington DC kit house from 1922 in a recent article from The Washington Post by clicking here.

Eldzier Cortor Memorial Service

Posted December 18th, 2015 by

The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery has announced a memorial service for the late Eldzier Cortor.

Eldzier Cortor was a prominent artist and notable recipient of a Rosenwald Grant.

The service will be held on Monday, December 21st at 3:30 PM at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel. The Chapel is located at 1076 Madison Ave (between 81st and 82nd Streets) in New York City.


Eldzier Cortor

Scheduled speakers include:

Ms. Teresa A. Carbone
Ms. Diane Dinkins Carr, SCAC Board Member
Prof. David C. Driskell
Ms. Corrine Jennings
Dr. and Mrs. Harmon and Harriet Kelley
Mr. Mark Pasquale
Mr. Michael Rosenfeld

Visit the Frank E. Campbell Website here.

Visit the Eldzier Cortor Memorial Page here.

View the Eldzier Cortor obituary at the New York Times here.

The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is located at
100 ELEVENTH AVENUE @ 19th
New York, New York 10011.
Visit them online at http://www.michaelrosenfeldart.com/

Carridder Jones talks about James Taylor

Posted December 15th, 2015 by

Carridder Jones, author of Voices: From Historical African American Communities near Louisville, Kentucky, recently sat down with Nancy Stearns Theiss of the Courier-Journal to talk about a segment from her book. Carridder, who graduated from the Chaney Grove Rosenwald school, chose to speak about the James Taylor Subdivision.

She tells all about James Taylor’s efforts to create a residence where African Americans could own land and live in modest country homes. He even bought a bus to drive graduates of the Jacob School (the town’s Rosenwald school), to Central High School.

Read the full story at the Courier-Journal, here.

Coinjock Rosenwald School Rescued

Posted December 15th, 2015 by

The Hampton Roads Show reports that Paul Robinson, owner of in Barco, NC, recently purchased the Coinjock Rosenwald school off of route 168 in order to save it from being demolished by the state. Paul plans to restore the school, making it as historically accurate as possible.

Read more and see the video here.

Eldzier Cortor passes away at 99

Posted December 2nd, 2015 by

Painter and printmaker Eldzier Cortor passed away in his son’s home on Long Island last Thursday, November 26, at the age of 99. Born in Richmond, VA and graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago, Cortor was a very accomplished artist. His paintings depicting scenes from the lives of African-Americans came at a time when other such works were buried in fringe obscurity, and broke the expectations of mainstream art. Cortor was also the recipient of a Rosenwald grant. His artwork can be seen in museums around the country- including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Read more about his incredible life here.

Cortor was also mentioned in an article featured on the front page of the New York Times that details the recent acquisitions of art from many prominent black artists who were not appreciated, or even acknowledged, in their life times, by many of the country’s museums. The article tells how the new trend is not only intended to over compensate for the vast amount of neglected black artists that helped shape the history of the United States, but also to broaden the narrow view of history painted by museums that depict a male dominated, Eurocentric development of modernism. Among the other black artists mentioned in the article was Jacob Lawrence, who was also the recipient of a Rosenwald grant.

Help the Fairview Brown Restoration Project through Cooking

Posted December 2nd, 2015 by

As many of you know, there are very few of the original Rosenwald schools left standing today. Now is the chance to help preserve them! In Rome, GA, The Fairview and E.S. Brown Heritage Corporation is working to restore the two eponymous schools. You can learn all about the corporation, their plan, and how you can help at fairviewbrown.org.

One of the ways you can help is by purchasing Classic Southern Dishes: From Our Home to Yours, a cookbook filled with recipes submitted by the family, friends, and alumni of the Fairview and E.S. Brown schools. The book includes about 300 historical recipes from the time of the Rosenwald schools. The profits of the book sales go to helping restore the schools, so you can eat well and sleep well after, knowing that you’ve done your part to help preserve Julius Rosenwald’s legacy.


Classic Southern Dishes: From Our Home to Yours

Happy Thanksgiving and ROSENWALD updates from China and the South!

Posted November 25th, 2015 by

Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving from everyone here at The Ciesla Foundation! We are so grateful to have released Rosenwald in over 100 theaters all over the country to enthusiastic audiences. The film just opened in several cities throughout the South as a conclusion of its theatrical run. The film will still appear at some final theaters through December and early next year. Read the website for locations. Non theatrical screenings are being booked throughout the land, and we are actively fundraising and developing the two disc DVD.

Thanks to all you all for supporting the film, appearing in the film and promoting the film. Below are our latest reports from the last month of intense travel and worldwide exposure.

-Aviva Kempner and The Ciesla Foundation team

From America to China with the Rosenwald film

     The past several weeks have marked an exciting time for the Rosenwald film as Aviva took the film across the country, spreading the story of Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropy and generosity. Two weeks ago, Aviva Kempner landed in China on a trip to attend the 12th Annual American Studies Network Conference at Peking University as a keynote speaker with Rabbi Andy Baker of the American Jewish Committee. She arrived in China on a day called “Singles Day”, which promotes giving presents to single people. Seems like a good promotional holiday for the States.


Singles Day Cakes

The days preceding the conference, Aviva had the opportunity to see the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Tienanmen Square, attend a lovely Shabbat service in Beijing that reminded her of Fabrangen in Washington DC, and even meet a new friend in her hotel lobby!


He only speaks two languages: Chinese and Friendship

Summer Palace

Summer Palace with some students

With Rabbi Baker at the entrance to the Forbidden City

Camel from the Forbidden City Museum

On November 14th, Aviva gave a keynote address on “Jewish-African American Alliance of the Early 20th Century” and spoke in the preceding panel discussion, in which she engaged with an audience of mostly Chinese students and told them about Julius Rosenwald’s relationship with Booker T Washington, paralleling it with a story of Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson. Clips from each of her films were shown to augment the talk. Aviva dedicated her speech to the victims in Paris and how her discussion of alliances is what should inspire us.


Aviva with Israeli Ambassador and Rabbi Baker at the dinner after the conference.

On the stage at the 12th Annual American Studies Network Conference

The next leg of the trip was to Shanghai, where Aviva gave a speech for “Documenting the Holocaust: The second generation’s responsibility” at the Forum Celebrating Shanghai: Haven for Jews in Holocaust in Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Survival of Holocaust Victims in Shanghai. In the speech, she talked about how the story of her family’s journey during World War II impacted on the World War II themes in all her films. She detailed her early life growing up and the experiences she had the led to making Partisans of Vilna, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg, and eventually Rosenwald. She finished her speech by stressing the importance of remembering World War II so that the horrors experienced then can be avoided forever. The event was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies Shanghai (CJSS) at SASS with the US-China Education Trust (USCET).

Shanghai itself houses a moving testament to the saving of European Jews. During World War II, 25,000 Jews found shelter in Shanghai after fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. On the 70th anniversary of survival of Jewish refugees in Shanghai and the end of WWII in the Pacific, this Forum commemorates Shanghai’s role as a haven for many European Jewish refugees at a time when most other countries, including the United States, closed their doors to all but a fortunate few. Joining Kempner was Welcome Remarks
 Professor Pan Guang, Dean, Center for Jewish Studies Shanghai at SASS.

The forum began with an introduction
 from Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch (President, USCET). Also in attendance was Rabbi Andrew Baker (Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee) and Prof. Dr. Wang Jian (Associate Dean, CJSS). The forum offered sessions such as “Coming to Terms with the Holocaust: Money, Memory, Politics and Responsibility” and “New Perspective on Jewish Refugees in Wartime Shanghai”.

While in the area, Kempner toured the incredible Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum—where the rescue of 25,000 European Jews is documented and celebrated. Erwin Li, who is serving in the Austrian Service Abroad as a Holocaust Memorial Servant at the Center of Jewish Studies – Academy of Social Sciences, took Aviva around the Museum.


Outside of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum with tour guide Erwin Li, a Chinese-Austrian, who is working in Shanghai for a year.

A plaque dedicated to Ho Feng Shan, a man who helped save many Jewish Refugees by giving them visas to leave Vienna. He should be remembered as a courageous, “righteous gentile.”


From China to Charleston

A day after returning from China, Aviva traveled to Charleston, SC to attend the wonderful premiere of Rosenwald, co-sponsored by the National Trust for Historical Preservation and the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture, at the American Theater. Special thanks to Dale Rosengarten, Tracy Hayes, and Katherine Carey for their help. The event went off without a hitch!

The screening was preceded by a reception and an introduction by John Hildreth (Eastern Regional Vice President for Field Services for the National Trust for Historic Preservation) and was concluded with a Q&A with Aviva Kempner, moderated by Shari Rabin (Associate Director, Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture).

While staying in Charleston, Aviva had the wonderful fortune of visiting Callie’s Charleston Biscuits- who quite possibly have the best biscuits in the South. Another great eatery that would be a disservice not to mention was Jestine’s Kitchen- delicious Southern food with a very welcoming owner- Dana Berlin Strange. If you’re in the Charleston area, pay them a visit and check out the collection of salt and pepper shakers on the wall, including a set sent from Aviva in the past. She also opened the film during its Charleston commercial run on Friday night and had dinner with friends.


Marquee in Savannah featuring the Bond film in the same line. But our film includes the best Bond–Julian Bond.

After spending time in Charleston, it was time for Aviva to head to Savannah, GA for another opening at a theater there. This travel was made possible by Ace Basin Bus, a new shuttle service that provides a daily transit between the historic districts of Charleston and Savannah. Run by urban planner, Ben Cotton the road was smooth and comfortable.

Ace Basin Bus and it’s owner/driver, Ben Cotton

In Savannah, Aviva spoke with Mayor Edna Branch Jackson, Alderman Van Johnson, and a relative of Julius Rosenwald, Robert Rosenwald, who were all kind enough to attend the screening. The screening in Savannah was a great success, with many students in attendance that came out to support the film and it’s message.


Students attending the Rosenwald screening in Savannah

Aviva with Mayor Edna Branch Jackson

Alderman Don Johnson (left) and Robert Rosenwald (right)

While in Savannah, Aviva also had time to visit the SCAD (Savannah College for Art and Design) Museum, which was filled with lots of incredible art, including this piece from the Jacob Lawrence show entitled, “History, Labor, Life: The Prints of Jacob Lawrence”:


Jacob Lawrence, The 1920’s… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots

On her last day in Savannah, Rabbi Robert Haas was kind enough to give Aviva a tour of the oldest, purposefully built synagogue in America, Savannah’s Congregation Mickve Israel. Here is a picture of a beautiful stain glass window found in the synagogue:



The real troopers for the release of the film in Savannah were Jeanne and Robert Rosenwald, who is a relative of Julius Rosenwald and the son of a cousin rescued from Nazi Germany by Juluis’ children. They worked tirelessly to get people interested in coming to the film and also hosted Aviva.

Aviva is happy to be home and with her family for Thanksgiving, and she wishes the same for all of our followers!

Rosenwald listed in Hollywood Reporter

Posted November 16th, 2015 by

Last week, the Hollywood Reporter put out an article titled: “Political Maneuvers: Filmmakers tackle hot topics (gun control, terrorism), rich history and a forgotten hero” by Gregg Kilday. The article listed and described some of the many documentaries that came out this year. Most of the documentaries dealt with the darker side of human existence- but the list ended on a bright note, describing Rosenwald and reminding us that “the news isn’t all grim”. When held side by side among its peers, it seems that Rosenwald paints a bright and optimistic view on the potential of people- shinning bright in a dismal pool of negative documentaries.

Virginia Film Festival Director Jody Kielbasa attends a luncheon prior to the ROSENWALD screening, with panelists Aviva Kempner, Pam Horowitz, and Rita Dove speaking afterwards

Posted November 9th, 2015 by

After returning from Berlin for a screening of one of her previous films, Partisans of Vilna, Aviva immediately headed to Charlottesville, VA for the Virginia Film Festival’s screening of Rosenwald at the University of Virginia! Before the film, Diane and Tim Naughton hosted a luncheon for Rosenwald with many in attendance- including the head of the festival, Jody Kielbasa. The Naughton’s are big supporters of Rosenwald and the festival, with Diane serving on the festival board.


(left to right) Diane Naughton, Aviva Kempner, Tim Naughton

After the screening, a Q&A was held with filmmaker Aviva Kempner, Pam Horowitz (spouse of the late Julian Bond), and interviewee and UVA professor Rita Dove. The panel was moderated by Deborah McDowell (Director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies). The packed theater was filled with an engaging audience- including someone who had attended a Rosenwald school, and even someone who currently lives in a restored Rosenwald school!


(left to right) Diane Naughton, Jody Kielbasa, Pam Horowitz, Deborah McDowell, Aviva Kempner, Rita Dove

Tour the Rosenwald Schools of Maryland!

Posted November 2nd, 2015 by

The 2015 Conference for the National Trust for Historic Preservation begins tomorrow in Washington DC! The conference will go on until the 6th. On the last day, there will be a bus tour of five Maryland Rosenwald Schools. Maryland had a relatively small number of Rosenwald schools (156), but a larger percentage of surviving schools than other states. The tour will visit two schools in Prince George’s County, including Ridgeley School, a model restoration project, and three in Anne Arundel County, with lunch served at the Galesville School. Local school experts will lead tours of the sites, and two authors, who have written about Rosenwald Schools, will discuss their research. Lunch provided.

For more information, visit the website here.

Full house in Easton, Maryland!

Posted October 28th, 2015 by

Rosenwald was shown to an excited full house at a special screening at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland on Sunday! The screening was prompted when a fan, Evelyn Korman, saw the film in Philadelphia and was so moved by it that she encouraged her synagogue to arrange the event.

Alma Hackett and Newell Quinton (who were interviewed in the film) also came out from Santa Domingo to attend the screening and give a talk.


Newell Quinton and Alma Hackett giving a talk after the screening

After the talk, Evelyn and Bernard Korman brought copies of Peter Ascoli’s book, Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South to pass out with the help of Rabbi Peter Hyman.


(left to right) Aviva Kempner, Evelyn Korman, Rabbi Peter Hyman, Bernard Korman

The event was sponsored by Temple B’nai Israel, The Frederick Douglass Honor Society, the NAACP, Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity, and The Academy Art Museum.

Photographs taken by Alan Mickelson

Buffalo’s First Black Architect

Posted October 28th, 2015 by

Historians in Buffalo, NY have a new exhibit to add to their lists! Burchfield Penney Art Center now has a public display that is “the most comprehensive look at John Brent’s life and legacy to date”. John Brent, the first black architect from Buffalo, is responsible for many famous structures including two entrance gates to the Buffalo Zoo (both found on the National Register of Historic Places), designing the construction plans for the Michigan Avenue YMCA, and a YMCA camp in Wales.

You can read more about the exhibit here.

Meet Me in St. Louis

Posted October 27th, 2015 by

A week after it’s opening in St. Louis, MO, and Rosenwald is still going strong! Here’s a photo some fans took at the theater:



JULIUS ROSENWALD by Peter Ascoli

Posted October 27th, 2015 by

Many of you may know Peter Ascoli- as well as being a grandson of Julius Rosenwald, he is featured prominently in our film, in which he served as a consultant. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he also holds a BA from Oxford, a Masters from Northwestern, and a PhD from UC Berkeley. He’s known to many people as many different things- Professor, consultant, fundraiser- and author.


Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South by Peter Ascoli

Ascoli has written a detailed biography of his grandfather’s life in his book, Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South. If you enjoyed the movie and want to learn more about Julius Rosenwald, then this book will offer you plenty of great insights in to the life of the great philanthropist. The book is published by Indiana University Press and is available through their website and through Amazon.com, available in both trade paperback and hardcover, as well as on Kindle.

Rosenwald gets a mention in the Teaching for Change newsletter

Posted October 23rd, 2015 by

Today, Teaching for Change listed the film Rosenwald as a learning resource in their newsletter about the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement! The newsletter also featured a great deal of other valuable resources, several available learning opportunities, and Civil Rights Movement events. You can learn more about Teach for Change and sign up for their mailing list by visiting their website.

Teaching for Change provides teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world.”

Rosenwald completes its run at the Avalon Theater

Posted October 23rd, 2015 by

Rosenwald opened on August 28th at the Avalon Theatre, DC’s independent movie theatre, and played for a wonderful eight weeks. As the theatre is located close to The Ciesla Foundation and was saved by us in the community, this run was very significant. Audiences in the Washington, DC area came in droves to the theatre where lively discussions were held. Director Aviva Kempner was surprised on the film’s last night, October 22nd, when flowers were presented to her from the talented Brian Henderson, who designed the film’s poster. Thanks to Brian and the wonderful audiences who came to see the movie!


Aviva with her flowers from Brian!

New Gallery Opening Thanks to Past Donation by Jacob Lawrence

Posted October 20th, 2015 by

A new art gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan will be opening this week, giving art lovers everywhere a chance to check out some fresh works. This gallery is no average institution, however: it’s funded by a donation left by Jacob Lawrence and his wife Gwendolyn, before Jacob’s untimely death in 2000.

Equity Gallery is founded by the New York Artists Equity Association, or Artists Equity for short. Mr. Lawrence was a long-time member of Artists Equity and even served as its president. He and his wife were avid supporters.

The gallery is located at 245 Broome Street and will be open starting Wednesday. The opening show is titled 2015:1947 and will feature paintings, sculptures and videos by eight different artists.

Jacob Lawrence’s Great Migration paintings and backstory can be found featured prominently in the Rosenwald film.

Rosenwald to screen at the Teaneck International Film Festival, Nov. 18

Posted October 19th, 2015 by

Rosenwald will be screening at the Teaneck International Film Festival in Teaneck, New Jersey on November 18th. Check back in for more details as the event draws closer!

Find out more, here!

Read her for a brief write-up on the festival!

Julius Rosenwald mentioned by Paul Theroux on NPR!

Posted October 19th, 2015 by

On October 15, Paul Theroux went on NPR to talk about his new book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads. In the interview, Theroux- along with host, Michael Kransy- discusses the condition of poverty in the deep south. They state that the best way to lift people out of poverty is by creating jobs in lieu of outsourcing them. Theroux also argues that education is an important aspect of poverty prevention that is overlooked. He uses Julius Rosenwald’s actions to set an example of what can be done to help impoverished areas. He also mentions our movie!

You can also read more about Theroux’s views on poverty in this article he wrote for the New York Times.

In addition to Theroux’s comments about Julius Rosenwald, North County Public Radio also ran an article all about the Rosenwald schools that you can read here.

Listen to the full interview here:

The Liberty Ship- SS Julius Rosenwald

Posted October 13th, 2015 by

Recently, a fan of the Rosenwald film, Christine Clark, reached out to us with information about a ship named after Julius Rosenwald. Christine writes;

“I don’t have information on the Rosenwald schools, but I have often wondered who Julius Rosenwald was. My father, Francis Clark, was a Merchant Marine and during WWII (when the Coast Guard commissioned the Merchant Marines into service), my Dad was on the liberty ship, Julius Rosenwald. … [Rosenwald] touched more lives than we can imagine”


Francis Clark (left) aboard the SS Julius Rosenwald
Photo courtesy of Christine Clark

“I am pretty sure that photo is from World War II. My Dad enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1941 and stayed with them until his retirement in 1969. He died in 1984 and I never knew which liberty ships he was on during the War. My Mom died in 2014 but had dementia so I was never able to get details from her. I found this photo after we cleaned out Mom’s home. I just did some research via the Net to find out who Julius Rosenwald was because I was curious as to why a ship was named after him.”

Between 1941 and 1945, the United States produced 2,710 Liberty ships for use by the U.S. fleet and for delivering war materials to Britain and the Soviet Union. The first Liberty ship constructed, the SS John Henry, set a precedent for naming the ships after prominent American figures. The cargo ship design was chosen for its low-cost construction. Surprisingly, many of the ships outlived their 5 year life expectancy with over 2,400 surviving World War II.

On the note of surviving Liberty ships, Christine also shares this information with us:

“… only two that I know of remain, one is the Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco and the other is John W. Brown (not sure where that is located)”


image from http://www.armed-guard.com

“This Liberty Ship was built by J.A. Jones Constr. Co., Panama City, Florida, Hull #1533. It was at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
It was scrapped in March 1963.
Hope this information helps some.

Best regards,
Christine Clark”

The ship was laid in the Panama City shipyard on July 7th, 1943, and launched on September 13th of the same year. Throughout the next year, the ship spent a total of 84 days on ways and in the water. During this time it was badly damaged during an enemy attack. It was sold to a private seller in 1947, and as we’ve learned from Christine, scrapped in March of 1963.

Additional Sources:

http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=1926
http://www.shipbuildinghistory.com/history/merchantships/wwii/libertyships4.htm
http://www.usmm.org/l/deltajones.html#1206

Crowd remembers Julian Bond as a champion for generations of activists

Posted October 8th, 2015 by

A memorial was held for the civil rights activist Julian Bond on Tuesday, October 6th in Washington, DC. The Lincoln Theatre was packed with those who came to pay their respects to this great intellectual and civil rights leader, reports Washington Post reporter, Hamil Harris. Director Aviva Kempner attended the moving memorial and mourned both a friend, and the man who inspired inspired the making of the Rosenwald film, served as a consultant, and was interviewed for the film. His life’s work should compel us to keep on fighting for justice in America.

Click here to read the article.

Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival Double Feature!

Posted October 5th, 2015 by

On October 3rd, Aviva set out to New Mexico for the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival. New Mexico is not unfamiliar territory for Aviva. She once lived there when working with VISTA as a volunteer.

The SOLD OUT screening of Rosenwald commenced on October 3rd and was followed by a discussion with Aviva. As an added bonus, Aviva returned the next day for a screening of her previous film, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

Yiddish Translator Rivka Schiller Writes About Her Experience Working on the Film

Posted October 5th, 2015 by

Rivka Schiller, a Yiddish translater and Chicago native, was asked to help provide research for the film, Rosenwald, last spring. On her blog, she writes about the information she uncovered while researching Julius Rosenwald. An interesting and informative read- we highly recommend you read it for yourself!

Visit Rivka’s website, here.

Rosenwald Meet-and-Greet inspires students at Booker T. Washington High School

Posted October 2nd, 2015 by

Oct. 1st – Eager students discuss film on the day before it opens in Florida

Left to right: Students of Booker T. Washington Senior High, Alexis Moseley from Commissioner Sally Heyman’s office, City Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, Rosenwald filmmaker, Aviva Kempner holding the Visitor Certificate of Appreciation from the office of County Commissioner, Sally Heyman, Miami-Dade NAACP President, Dr. Shirley B. Johnson, and Pastor Williams, photo courtesy of The Ciesla Foundation

Left to right: Alexis Moseley from County Commissioner Sally Heyman’s office, Dr. Shirley B. Johnson, Miami-Dade NAACP President, Rabbi Marc Labowitz, Aviva Kempner, Director/Writer of Rosenwald, Principal William Aristide, City Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, Pastor Kenneth L. Washington

To celebrate the October 2nd theatrical release of the new film, ROSENWALD, the Historic Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Miami, Florida, hosted a student meet and greet with the film’s director, Aviva Kempner, the NAACP Miami President, Dr. Shirley Johnson, City Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, Pastor Williams, and Rabbi Labowitz. The event was initiated as a way to bridge the gap of diversity and bring awareness to the students about how philanthropist Julius Rosenwald was influenced by the writings of educator Booker T. Washington, the schools namesake. The students were able to participate in a discussion from very important community leaders as they talked about the themes in the film such as the meaning of charity, the importance of education, social responsibility, and how Rosenwald’s efforts helped educate many prominent African American figures such as Tony Award winning playwright George Wolfe, poet Maya Angelou, U.S. Representative John Lewis, Anita Hill and Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson.

The students were encouraged to dream big and take part in making a change within their community in the same spirit of Julius Rosenwald. The County Commissioner Sally Heyman’s office presented Aviva Kempner with a Distinguished Visitor Certificate of Appreciation for bringing this important film to South Florida. The students in attendance will be going as a school sponsored field trip to watch the film once it opens at the AMC Aventura 24 Theater.

Atlanta Gallery celebrates Rosenwald’s work through Bond photo exhibition

Posted October 2nd, 2015 by

Julius Rosenwald’s work was not only appreciated by the communities he touched, but inspired those communities, and many others outside of it, to get involved with the improvement of education in rural African Americans in Jim Crow South. The L1 Gallery of Atlanta, Georgia will be showcasing the photography of Dr. Horace Mann Bond (father of the late Julian Bond). Horace Mann Bond was an amateur photographer, who was able to capture Rosenwald’s work first hand in the South. You can see the exhibit through the month of October 2015 at the L1 Gallery in Atlanta, GA at 828 Ralph McGill Blvd Ste.1. Click here for more information.


Image from the Horace Mann Bond Wikipedia.org page

Blast from the Past

Posted September 25th, 2015 by

Let me set the stage;

The place? Ann Arbor, Michigan. The setting? A small movie theater. The time? The early ’70s. A young grad student, Aviva Kempner, sells tickets while attending college at the University of Michigan. Maybe it’s raining out- it rains a lot in Michigan, right?

Flash forward to the present:


Aviva with her friends and family

On September 24th, Aviva returned to the Michigan Theater to proudly screen her third critically acclaimed documentary with the support of her friends and family! Following the screening, she treated her town of her alma mater with a Q&A about her project and Julius Rosenwald.

Article About Rosenwald in Architect Magazine

Posted September 19th, 2015 by

Aviva Kempner and her film are mentioned in this article from Architect Magazine, written by Witold Rybczynski.

The article talks about the architectural style used for the Rosenwald schools. Booker T. Washington and Rosenwald’s concept for these projects were community self-help, the buildings were designed and made by the people who would then use them. Advising handbooks were written by Robert Robinson Taylor, who had designed buildings at Tuskegee and many HBCs.

As the school house project moved from Tuskegee to the Rosenwald Fund after the death of Washignton. Rosenwald sought advise from Fletcher Bascom Dresslar, a professor of health education at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. He gave Rosenwald much advice on how to design the school buildings. He focused on functional, simple, traditional buildings. Rybczynski compares them to Shaker architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright also proposed a design for a Rosenwald School in 1928. His version was far more ambitious, it included a courtyard with a swimming pool and a proscenium stage. Its construction would have included pioneering use of concrete and fieldstone that he would use on later buildings. Wright’s Rosenwald School was never built, probably because it would have been too expensive.

Even with their traditional appearance, the schools incorporated many innovative elements. One example was removable walls, which meant that two classrooms could be combined into one larger room. Classrooms were arranged with large windows facing east and west, which gave the highest possible amount of sunlight to the individual rooms. As many of the buildings did not have electricity, this was a necessary feature.

In total, there were 5,357 Rosenwald schools, shop houses, and teacher’s houses built. Despite arson, vandalism and deliberate neglect from white communities, most remained in use until the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling went into effect in 1954 and specifically black schools were no longer a necessity. Since then, many have fallen into disrepair. However, The National Trust For Historic Preservation is working to restore many of the schools. Additionally, many of the buildings have found new uses as town halls, community centers, and more.

Successful Screening in Atlanta!

Posted September 18th, 2015 by

We had a wonderful screening of Rosenwald on Wednesday night at Landmark Theaters Midtown Arts Cinema in Atlanta, Georgia. Andy Young’s daughter was in attendance and made a public statement about the importance of the film. Atlanta City Councilman Michael Bond, the son of Julius, was also there and spoke to Aviva about the film in a discussion moderated by M. Alexis Scott. Scott is the Publisher Emerita of the Atlanta Daily World and is also a member of Fox 5’s Georgia Gang.


This screening was presented with the help of the Atlanta American Jewish Committee, The Black-Jewish Coalition, and the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. We thank them for making this possible.

Regular showings in Atlanta begin on September 18 at the same theater. Aviva will also be making an appearance on the opening night.

See Wil Haygood at Politics and Prose!

Posted September 18th, 2015 by

People in the DC area can see author Wil Haygood at Politics and Prose this Sunday at 5:00 pm. He will be discussing his new book, Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America. In his book, Haygood details the impact Marshall had on the Supreme Court and examines the cases he faced during his time in that position. Haygood has written many biographies of notable African Americans before. He has previously written books on Sammy Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, and Adam Clay Powell Jr.

Politics and Prose is located at 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW Washington DC 20008.

While you’re in DC, be sure to check out the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage at 1816 12th Street NW, between S and T Streets. This center is located at the former site of the first YMCA founded for African Americans. The corner stone was placed by Theodore Roosevelt and the YMCA was supported by Julius Rosenwald at the request of President Taft after the grant given by John D. Rockefeller and matched by a groundbreaking fundraising effort with in the black community fell short. The building’s history weaves around the various forms of the Civil Rights movement and has been an active part of the DC community for a century. You can easily reach it by getting off the Metro at the U Street – Cardozo station. It’s just a few blocks away.

New Maryland openings!

Posted September 12th, 2015 by

On September 1st, Aviva Kempner made an appearance at the Old Greenbelt Theater in Greenbelt, Maryland. In attendance were members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.


Aviva with some Delta Sigma Theta sisters

Ten days later, September 11th, Aviva headed to Baltimore, Maryland where Rosenwald was slated to begin screening at the Charles Theater. She was joined at the screening by a special guest:


It is unknown as to whether or not the penguin had, in fact, attended a Rosenwald school

In addition to a penguin, Aviva was joined by an even more special guest; The King Years trilogy author, Taylor Branch. After the screening, Branch joined Aviva in a discussion on Julius Rosenwald, Civil Rights Movement and Julian Bond.


Branch and Kempner answer questions form the audience

SOLD OUT screening of Rosenwald in Hartford, CT

Posted September 12th, 2015 by

Rosenwald opened up to a full house on September 12, as an exorbitant number of people, including relatives, came out for the premiere at the Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT.


The Real Art Ways theater in Hartford, CT

Like Grandfather, like Grandson

Posted September 4th, 2015 by


Peter Ascoli sits below a painting of his grandfather, Julius Rosenwald at the Standard Club where postcards promoting the film were left. Rosenwald was a member of the Club.

It’s no secret that Julius Rosenwald was a strong supporter of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, especially when you stop to consider the fact that he was the one that converted the The Palace of Fine Arts into the museum we know today. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the Chicago Community Trust organized a special screening of the film, Rosenwald at the Museum of Science and Industry on September 3rd. After the screening was a panel consisting of Jewish United Fund president Steven Nasatir, Chicago educator Dr. Barbara Bowman, director Aviva Kempner, and Peter Ascoli, the grandson of Julius Rosenwald.


Aviva takes the stage


Pictured: Steven Nasatir, Dr. Barbara Bowman, Aviva Kempner, and Peter Ascoli

Letter from Sylvia Drew Ivie, Daughter of Rosenwald Fellowship Recipient Dr. Charles R. Drew

Posted August 28th, 2015 by

Julius Rosenwald awarded a fellowship to my father, Charles R. Drew, M.D., in 1932 when he was on the verge of dropping out of McGill Medical School. His father had been laid off as a carpet layer in Virginia due to the depression. In his letter of thanks for the fellowship my father said “It is my constant hope that I shall be able at some time to add some new thought, discover some new process or create something which will prevent or cure disease, alleviate suffering or give men a chance to live and thereby (I can) in part repay the debt which I am happy to acknowledge.” Spencie Love, One Blood, University of North Carolina Press, 1996, p. 116. Later, based on a thesis titled “Banked Blood” written for a Doctorate at Columbia, he was chosen as Medical Director of Blood for Britain, an emergency project to send liquid plasma to British soldiers on battlefields in France during World War II. . Based on that performance, the Red Cross called upon him to set up their first stored plasma Red Cross Blood Bank, a New York City program that became the model for blood collection all over the country. Spencie Love,16. Julius Rosenwald made prescient philanthropic investments in the education of African Americans to the lasting betterment of our nation, and in my father’s case, saving lives, still, across the world.

-Sylvia Drew Ivie, daughter of Dr. Charles R. Drew

Charles Drew

To hear more about Dr. Charles R. Drew’s story, don’t forget to see Rosenwald, in theaters now. Click here to find a screening near you!

Bring New Children’s Books to The Avalon This Weekend

Posted August 27th, 2015 by

Vinyard screening with a great panel!

Posted August 27th, 2015 by

On August 26, Rosenwald opened at Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven, MA, starting it’s limited, four-screening run at the location. After the film, Aviva Kempner lead a discussion with Linda Levi (Great granddaughter of Julius Rosenwald) to a sold out crowd.

On Thursday night at the Strand Theater in Oak Bluff, Kempner showed the film and discussed it with Kenneth Mack (Harvard Law School), Lisa Jones (independent producer), and Joyce Ladner (SNCC, Howard University).


Pictured (left to right): Kenneth Mack, Lisa Jones, and Joyce Ladner

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Posted August 24th, 2015 by

We are excited to announce a special screening of Rosenwald presented by The Jewish Historical Society! It will take place on Monday, August 31, 2015 from 7:45-10:00 PM at The Avalon Theatre (5612 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20015). Aviva Kempner will make pre-show remarks with Norris Dodson, who played basketball at the Thurgood Marshall YMCA and went on to become instrumental in helping restore the building. You can buy tickets here. Rosenwald will begin its commercial run at the Avalon this Friday, August 28th. For times and tickets, click here.

Julian’s Memorial

Posted August 22nd, 2015 by

“[On August 22nd] while Julian’s family scattered his ashes at sea, his Southern Poverty Law Center family and friends gathered at the Civil Rights Memorial to remember him.” It is no question that Julian Bond was a great man and will be missed dearly by the many lives he touched.

Although she could not be at the memorial, Aviva stopped to take the time to remember the late Julian Bond. In his memory, she threw flowers into the water at Fairmount Park. Before the second throwing of flowers, she ran into a lovely, recently engaged couple and others who were on a picnic and discussing local politics who were all touched at the passing of Julian Bond and joined Aviva in throwing flowers out into the water in his memory.


Aviva stands with the family before they toss their flowers



Newly engaged couple shows us the ring!

Aviva spent the remainder of her trip in Philly attending the opening of Rosenwald at the Ritz at the Bourse. Joining her in her discussion was Julius Rosenwald’s great grandson, Dan Kaufman. In the audience was a man and his son whose middle names where Rosenwald- so attributed to them by the man’s father who had attended a Rosenwald school himself.



New opening at the Cinema Arts Theater in Huntington, NY!

Posted August 21st, 2015 by

On August 21st, Rosenwald screened at the Cinema Arts Theater in Huntington, NY. Afterwards, the fervent crowd participated in a Q&A and discussion about the film with director, Aviva Kempner.


Aviva Kempner presents Rosenwald at the Cinema Arts Center

People Around The World Come Together To Remember Julian Bond

Posted August 21st, 2015 by

We are saddened with the passing of Julian Bond, who inspired Aviva Kempner to make the film when he talked about Julius Rosenwald at a lecture at the Hebrew Center 12 years ago on the Vineyard. The family is spreading his ashes in Florida on Saturday and asks that people go by a body of water and throw flowers into the water at 3pm EST. Please post photos of your ceremony to social media with the hashtag #HonorJulianBond. Aviva will be in Philly on Saturday opening Rosenwald and will do it there.

For those who live in DC, below is what is organized by DC VOTE to honor Julian Bond. Bond was a student of MLK and Kempner had filmed Julian Bond for a promo for voting rights for DC residents. He was always a fighter for justice. And Julian Bond is just wonderful in Rosenwald.


FROM DC VOTE:
Those wishing to honor Bond’s memory in the DC area are asked to gather at the Tidal Basin by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the 22nd.

  • Who: Those in the DC area who have been inspired by Julian Bond, including DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ralph Neas
  • Where: 1964 Independence Ave SW at the Tidal Basin
  • When: 3:00 PM on Saturday August 22nd

How to Best Honor Julian Bond, the Great Civil Rights Advocate

Posted August 19th, 2015 by

The Family and Friends of Julian Bond are grateful for the outpouring of love and support during this time. Throughout his life Julian Bond was a leader in the movements for civil rights, economic justice, and peace. For those who wish to honor Julian Bond’s legacy:

1.) Please consider making a donation to the University of Virginia College and Graduate School of Arts and Science “Julian Bond Professorship of Civil Rights and Social Justice.” Your donation will honor his legacy and advance teaching and scholarship of the civil rights era for future generations of students. Donations can be made online at www.giving.virgina.edu/julianbond

2.) On Saturday August 22, friends of Julian Bond will gather at bodies of water across the world to reflect on his legacy and release flowers in his honor. We encourage those who wish to honor his legacy to organize a flower release in your community. Flower releases will take place across the world at 3pm EDT/ 2pm CDT/ 1 pm MDT/ Noon PDT. Participants are encouraged to share photos of their flower release events and use the hashtag #HonorJulianBond and post your event at the URL www.DCVote.org/Julian-Bond

3.) It is likely the public memorial service for Julian Bond will be in Washington, DC around September 10th, though the exact date and location has not been selected.

While we are feeling the sorrow of his loss, we can come together for support, build community and continue his legacy and struggle for justice, freedom, peace and democracy.

Julian Bond Remembered

Posted August 17th, 2015 by

Rosenwald director Aviva Kempner made an appearance on MSNBC this morning to discuss the tragic passing of Julian Bond on Saturday. Kempner was joined by Rev. Al Sharpton and journalist April Ryan. She discussed the fact that Bond was a tireless civil rights activist, whether it be for things such as voting rights for the District of Columbia or gay rights, which Rev. Sharpton noted at the time was not popular within the black community. He added that “[Bond] didn’t play to his base, he led his base.” Kempner called her late friend “very funny, very intellectual” and described how during her many outings with Julian and his wife, Pamela, “invariably someone would come up and say, ‘Are you Julian Bond?’ He’d smile, he’d give them time and you know what he’d usually say? ‘Everyday. I’m Julian Bond everyday.’” Click here to watch the full interview at msnbc.com.

The Ciesla Foundation Mourns the Passing of Julian Bond

Posted August 16th, 2015 by

The Ciesla Foundation mourns the passing of civil rights activist Julian Bond, whose speech twelve years ago at the Hebrew Center at Vineyard Haven inspired me to make this film on Julius Rosenwald. As a consultant Julian guided me every step of the way about who to interview, where to look for materials, what the story line was, what photo to use in the poster, and most of all how important Julius Rosenwald was to African American history. He always guided me with humor and kindness.

Julian not only inspired me in the making of Rosenwald, he delivered one of the best lines in the film that was edited towards film’s closing.

“You can look at the people who got grants from Julius Rosenwald, and say, these are the predecessor generation to the civil rights generation that I’m a part of. And I’m a predecessor generation to the Obama generation that resulted in the election of the first black president of the United States.”

When we appeared together to speak after the film, Bond loved to tell the story about his father, who was working for the Rosenwald Fund. His father, Horace Mann Bond, was once driving in the South when his car suddenly got stuck in a hole filled with mud. Julian’s father assumed that someone had put the mud there just so they could charge him money to be pulled out. Two African American men came out from behind the bushes and noticed that he was wearing nice clothes and was driving a nice car. When they asked whom Julian’s father was working for, he replied, “I work for the Rosenwald Fund”. The men responded, “Oh you work for Captain Julius? There’ll be no charge”.

Aviva Kempner and Julian Bond speaking at the Washington Jewish Film Fesitval. Photo credit: Aryeh Schwartz, Washington Jewish Film Festival

What I am most grateful is that Julian Bond and his beloved wife Pamela Horowitz became dear friends during the twelve years it took to finish the film. We were all looking forward to taking ROSENWALD all over the country to show how Julius Rosenwald’s vision for a better America was so needed today. Am happy that Julian, Rabbi David Saperstein and myself presented the film at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia on July 14 and he was able to hear the warm response to the film.

From now on all my introductions to the film will be dedicated to Julian Bond’s bravery and legacy. The country lost a great hero today and his legacy made for a better America.

Aviva Kempner

OPENING NIGHT IN NYC!

Posted August 14th, 2015 by

On August 14th, Rosenwald had it’s opening night in NYC at the Sunshine Theater. The premiere was attended by many relatives of Julius Rosenwald. Also in attendance were Aviva Kempner and editor Mariam Hunter.

The premiere was proceeded by a lovely party hosted by Peter and Lucy Ascoli, who were in from Chicago.


(left to right): Annette Insdorf, Eva Fogelman, Editor Marian Hunter, and Aviva Kempner


The Rosenwald grandchildren: Elizabeth Varet, Nina Rosenwald, and Peter Ascoli

While the Sunshine Theater (located on East Houston Street in Manhattan) opened December 21, 2001, the building has been around since 1898. In the past, the building as operated as the Houston Hippodrome Motion Picture Theater, a Yiddish vaudeville house, and a hardware warehouse. It’s restoration as a movie theater can be attributed to Landmark Theaters- their renovations have brought the theater into the 21st century with stadium seating, surround sound, and gourmet concessions. The theatre also offers attractions such as a Japanese rock garden and a viewing bridge that offers breathtaking city views from the third story spectacular glass annex. The restoration was a team effort—floor plans by TK Architects and interior design by architects Tony Pleskow and Tom Rael of Pleskow + Rael.


The Historic Sunshine Theater

The area surrounding the theater played host to a variety of great Jewish restaurants, including Ross and Daughters, Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, and Katz’s Delicatessen.

Aviva Tours New York!

Posted August 12th, 2015 by

Upon return to the East Coast the film was shown at the Stamford beautifully renovated Avalon movie theatre in Connecticut.

After Connecticut, Aviva spent her time in New York, promoting Rosenwald before its opening on August 16th at Landmark’s Sunshine theatre by attending various preview screenings and giving talks throughout the area.

After a screening of the film at the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, Dr. Annete Insdorf held a discussion with filmmaker, Aviva Kempner and interviewee Elizabeth Varet (Julius Rosenwald’s granddaughter) on August 11th.


Elizabeth Varet (Julius Rosenwald’s granddaughter) in front of the Old Broadway Synagogue in Harlem

During trip Aviva and Elizabeth talked about the film at the historic Old Broadway Synagogue in Harlem. Although the building has undergone several renovations, it is still in need of more. You can help the Synagogue by donating here.

Happy birthday to Julius Rosenwald!

Posted August 12th, 2015 by


Julius Rosenwald, circa 1915
Original photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress

Today, August 12th, would have been Julius Rosenwald’s 151st birthday, and coincidentally The Rosenwald Schools production received a “gift” today from the National Center for Jewish Film: some moving images of J.R. we hadn’t seen before in a 1914 film about the Agro-Joint, a program supported by Rosenwald that economically empowered Jews who were facing discrimination in Russia and other countries.

It was on this day in 1912 that Rosenwald first started becoming a prominent philanthropist. On his birthday of that year, he announced gifts totaling $687,500 to various Chicago institutions (the West Side Charities, the University of Chicago, a social workers “Country Club”) in a move that was reported on in newspapers across the country, including the two New York papers pictured below.

    
1. Front page, New-York Tribune, Aug 12, 1912, LOC
2. Page 7, The Sun, Aug 13, 1912, LOC

As part of his birthday gifts, J.R. also made a $25,000 donation to Tuskegee Institute for Booker T. Washington to disburse as he saw fit. That money ended up going towards the pilot program for the Rosenwald Schools, a school-building program that would last until 1930 and result in over 5,000 rural schools for African American chidren.

At the outset of his career as a philanthropist (which began, unlike some other notable figures, while he was still heavily involved with Sears operations) Rosenwald seems to already have the clear philosophy of giving that would govern his philanthropy until he died. As he says in The Sun article above: “I do not believe in the practice of giving money away after death. I believe in seeing the money that is not necessary being used for the help and betterment of others. It is a great satisfaction… We should give while we live and not when we are gone.”

Going to California

Posted August 5th, 2015 by

Aviva Kempner took a trip to California during late July and early August to promote Rosenwald, screening the film at various theaters throughout the area to many wonderful crowds.

First, a preview screening of Rosenwald was held at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA on July 27th where it was warmly received in a packed house. The event was held in collaboration with the NAACP Hollywood Bureau and TheWrap. After the show, Sharon Waxman, journalist and founder of TheWrap, interviewed the director Aviva Kempner. Among those in the audience were actor Shelly Berman, who has a brief appearance in the film and director Arthur Hiller, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with his family.


Pictured: Sharon Waxman (left) and Aviva Kempner (right)

On July 31st, Aviva Kempner returned to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco to screen her fourth film at the wonderful San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Started as the first Jewish Film Festival in the world in 1980, the festival has gone on for over 35 years, where it has continued to be one of the largest Jewish film festivals.

The film was preceded by the “Taking a Stand” panel discussion that included Aviva herself- as well as Rick Goldsmith, Judith Helfand, and Melissa Donovan. They took the time to “discuss their filmmaking careers, Jewish identity, activist filmmaking,
empowerment and community engagement.”

In 2009, Aviva Kempner was awarded the Freedom of Expression Award from the San Francisco Film Festival for her work on Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!

After the screening of Rosenwald, Aviva Kempner and Julius Rosenwald’s grandson, Peter Ascoli, were welcomed to the stage to answer questions by a standing ovation. In the audience were a dozen West Coast members of the Rosenwald family who enthusiastically embraced the movie.


The Marquee of the Castro Theatre in San Francisco

After the screening at the San Francisco Film Festival, on August 2nd Aviva headed over to the Official screening of Rosenwald for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The screening was followed by a Q&A with Aviva, moderated by Patt Morrison (LA Times). Among Academy members was Kempner’s favorite European actor, Armin Mueller Stahl.

The following day, Aviva attended a preview screening of the film for Reel Talk at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles. The screening was also followed by a Q&A- moderated by Reel Talk host, Stephen Farber. Kempner’s favorite American actor, Ed Asner in the audience.


Aviva Kempner was joined by Elizabeth Varet and Ed Asner

Private Screening of Rosenwald in Atlanta

Posted July 20th, 2015 by

Aviva runs into Michael Bond, Julian Bond’s son, at a private screening of Rosenwald in Atlanta, GA at the Center for Civil and Human Rights.



NAACP National Convention

Posted July 15th, 2015 by

July 15th- The NAACP holds their 106th National Convention in Philadelphia, PA. It was an honor to have a special screening of Rosenwald for convention attendees, only hours after President Obama spoke at the convention. Board member and rabbi David Saperstein, former NAACP chair Julian Bond, and Aviva Kempner appeared on a panel after the screening. Many members of the audience were reminiscing about attending the Rosenwald Schools. Convention attendees might have recognized a familiar face in the film, as an interview with former NAACP head, Ben Jealous, is shown. The film also contains interviews with many prominent African American figures and activists.

Pictured (left to right): Rabi David Saperstein, Julian Bond, and Aviva Kempner

Screening at the Center for Jewish History

Posted July 10th, 2015 by

On July 19th a sneak peak of Rosenwald was shown at the Center for Jewish History. This screening was timed to coincide with part of “Allied in the Fight” a new exhibit at the Center, intended to “recount the efforts made by American Jews and African Americans to fight for the fundamental American promise of equality before and during the Civil Rights era.” Joining the discussion after the film was Aviva Kempner and Rabbi David Saperstein.


Pictured (left to right): Julian Bond, Pam Horowitz, Aviva Kempner, Maxim Thorne

Pictured (left to right): Julian Bond, Aviva Kempner, Eli Evans (interviewee), Dr. Hasia Diner (interviewee), speaking after the screening of the film.

MARCH ON IN TO YOUR LOCAL THEATRE AUGUST 14, 2015!

Posted July 4th, 2015 by

Aviva Kempner and her crew took to the streets on July 4 to raise awareness about her upcoming film, Rosenwald. Marching with Councilwoman Mary Cheh in the Palisades Parade, the team handed out fliers and lollipops to the many spectators who line the streets annually to view the parade. Thankfully it didn’t “rain on our parade” as it had been expected to. Rosenwald opens in theatres August 14 so be sure to check your local listings and march on in to the theatre nearest you!

Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Posted July 3rd, 2015 by

Race relations have been a tense topic since the inception of the United States. From 200 years of slavery, to race riots in major cities, and overall institutionalized discrimination, race relations is a touchy subject. Recent shootings of unarmed African Americans across the United States serve as a reminder to both past and present atrocities. So when and how do we talk about race? Meghan Leahy, a parenting coach, emphasizes the need to immediately begin talking to children about race. Although this can be difficult, Leahy points out that the purpose of talking to children is to open a dialogue, where the sharing of ideas is encouraged. Leahy suggests that conversations begin as early as age 2 and that continued efforts to make clear both the history and prevalence of racism are required to get to the root of the problem. The discomfort and hushed tones traditionally involved in race discussions must be overcome. To read more about this topic, click here.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/we-need-to-deal-with-our-discomfort-and-talk-to-our-kids-about-racism/2015/06/30/ec6db7e8-1a9a-11e5-ab92-c75ae6ab94b5_story.html

Eleven Oaks Housing in Fairfax

Posted July 3rd, 2015 by

Eleven Oaks is a pristine 7.6 acre community, located in Fairfax Virginia. New housing developments, specifically single-family houses, have overtaken what was once the Fairfax Rosenwald School. A single historical marker in the community describes the Fairfax Colored School, built in 1920 by businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald. This particular school is one of four Rosenwald schools located in Fairfax county alone, and represents just one of the hundreds of schools for African-Americans built by Rosenwald across the rural South. As the head of Sears, Roebuck and Co., Rosenwald chose to focus philanthropic efforts on building schools. His Jewish heritage allowed for him to identify with the margianalized African-American communities of the U.S. To learn more about the new housing development and the Fairfax Rosewald School, click here.

At Eleven Oaks, choices include this or that Fairfax
http://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/the-many-options-include-a-choice-of-this-or-that-fairfax/2015/07/01/6e3e4300-18ed-11e5-93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html

Jack and Jill disproves of new Bravo network reality TV show

Posted June 29th, 2015 by

A new Bravo network reality TV show entitled “Potomac Ensemble” is set to follow the lives of four African-American women and their experiences with Jack and Jill, an elite membership organization. Established in 1938 by a group of 20 mothers, Jack and Jill aims to provide aid and leadership development to African-American children aged two to nineteen. Networkers and producers hope the show will make for a catty, sassy, reality TV show. Jack and Jill’s national board has expressed displeasure with the show. Organization leaders fear the show will shed the organization in a negative light with gossipy flare. To read more about Jack and Jill’s displeasure with “Potomac Ensemble,” click here.

Jack and Jill of America isn’t pleased with focus of ‘Potomac’ Reality Show
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/reliable-source/wp/2015/06/25/jack-and-jill-of-america-isnt-too-pleased-with-d-c-reality-show/

Rosenwald’s Connection to Dillard University DC Alumni Chapter

Posted June 28th, 2015 by

On Saturday, June 27th, a group of Dillard University Alum came together for food, fellowship, and most importantly fundraising in efforts to continue the legacy of “Fair Dillard”.  In the midst of reminiscing and meeting new people, fellow 2004 alum, Kellen Patterson was eager to share with President and 2008 Alum, Erica Williams information about the film, Rosenwald. As a champion of African American education, businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald contributed heavily to Dillard University. Ms. Patterson spoke about the film, and how much of an impact Rosenwald had on the African American community, especially the rural South. Each alum received a post card detailing the film’s premiere at The Avalon Theatre on Friday, August 28th. Fellow 2010 alum and Howard University History Ph.D student, Arlisha Norwood was excited to mention to Ms. Patterson that she is familiar with Julius Rosenwald and his restoration of the Ridgeley Rosenwald School, the only Rosenwald school in Prince George’s county. In honor of Rosenwalds’ contributions to Dillard University, the university named it’s administration building after him. 

To learn more about Dillard University’s history, click hereTo learn more about the Ridgeley Rosenwald School, click here.

 

Stories of Police Force Integration

Posted June 28th, 2015 by

An immensely overdue event, the integration of the New York Police Department was marked by Mr. Samuel Battle’s appointment to the New York City police force in 1911. As the first African-American officer in the department, Mr. Battle’s various accomplishments were monumental, inducing him to hire Langston Hughes, famed poet, to write his biography in 1949. Although Hughes largely dismissed Samuel Battle’s biography in pursuit of larger stories, Arthur Browne was inspired to write a book with Mr. Battle as the subject. Browne, a man of Irish descent and journalist during the 1970’s, compiled and built off of the work by Samuel Battle and Langston Hughes. Although Browne’s book is to be published long after the deaths of both Battle and Hughes, it marks the importance of continued remembrance of both the triumphs and failures of U.S. race relations. To find out more about Samuel Battle’s contributions and Arthur Browne’s literary process, click here.

Finishing What a Poet Left Undone
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/nyregion/the-story-of-new-yorks-first-black-police-officer-told-with-the-help-of-langston-hughes.html?_r=0

Morals vs. Merchandise: Companies Discontinue Confederate Flag

Posted June 23rd, 2015 by

With just one week after the tragic shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, large companies such as Walmart, Ebay, Etsy, Google, Amazon, Kmart, and Sears have decided to no longer sell merchandise surrounding the Confederate flag. Items from T-shirts to mugs to shower curtains have all displayed the flag in some form or fashion. “The killings have renewed a focus on the Confederate flag, which had been displayed in a photograph of the accused gunman”. Much of the public nationwide have asked for the removal of the flag at the State House grounds in Columbia. “On Tuesday, as the flag continued to be held up as a symbol of hatred and slavery, South Carolina lawmakers are considering whether to have it taken down”. To read more about it in the New York Times, click here.

Rosenwald was made in loving memory of the Martyrs of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church.

Association of Jewish Libraries 51st Annual Conference

Posted June 23rd, 2015 by

Rosenwald screened on June 22nd for a very enthusiastic audience in attendance at the Association of Jewish Libraries 51st Annual Conference!


Aviva Kempner takes the podium at the screening

Screening at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2015 Rosenwald Schools Conference

Posted June 19th, 2015 by

During the week of June 17-20 Aviva Kempner travelled to Durham, NC for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2015 Rosenwald Schools Conference. This annual gathering is a chance for everybody directly or indirectly involved with Rosenwald Schools and Rosenwald’s legacy to come together to discuss the current state of the schools and celebrate the long lasting positive effects of his philanthropy. Many schools today are abandoned and neglected, and in 2002 the schools were placed on the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. People from all walks of life, including artists, teachers, and historians attended the events. Aviva was able to discuss her documentary in front of a large crowd. During her screening on June 19th, she offered them a glimpse into her film and her extensive research about Rosenwald and his extraordinary life. She hopes that when people see the film, they will be inspired to donate to the restoration of the schools. Rosenwald hits theaters in August. Don’t miss it!


Pictured (left to right): Stephanie Deutsch (interviewee/consultant), Peter Ascoli (consultant, Julius Rosenwald’s grandson), David Porter, Aviva Kempner (director), Rick Powell (art historian, interviewee), Elizabeth Varet (interviewee, Julius Rosenwald’s granddaughter)

Rosenwald screens at JEWISHFILM.2015

Posted May 14th, 2015 by

On May 13th, Rosenwald was screened at Boston for the JEWISHFILM.2015 film festival to an enthusiastic audience. The sponsors of this event, the National Center for Jewish Film, are now our official distributors for the theatrical release of Rosenwald! The NCJF has served as distributor for all of the Ciesla Foundation’s productions and it is a pleasure to be working with them again.


Pictured: Peter Ascoli (grandson of Julius Rosenwald) and Professor Marian Sears Hunter

ROSENWALD shown at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Posted May 11th, 2015 by

A trip to Toronto provided Aviva with a great opportunity to catch up with her family in the area. After the reunion, Aviva’s family joined her in attending a new festival screening of Rosenwald.


Aviva and her family in Toronto, Canada

Aviva Kempner enjoyed returning to the Toronto Jewish Film Festival to screen another one of her films on May 10th for the showing of Rosenwald. It should be to no surprise that Julius Rosenwald’s contributions are even less known in Canada than they are in the United States. Being the case, it was exciting to spread the story to more people who would not normally have heard it. The audience was still very receptive and appreciated the movie and it’s message.

Special Screening at the Avalon

Posted May 3rd, 2015 by

A special screening of Rosenwald was held yesterday morning, May 2nd, for the cast and crew of the film. Many of the interviewees were in attendance.


Here’s a wonderful picture taken journalist John Dingus (left) & interviewee Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune (right) with Aviva Kempner.

Loretta Lynch Confirmed as First Black Female Attorney General

Posted April 24th, 2015 by

Loretta Lynch was just confirmed as the first black female attorney general after a 166-day wait for the vote.  Loretta’s father, Rev. Lorenzo Lynch, says her story begins with Julius Rosenwald, who built 5,300 public schools for African American children around the country.  Loretta’s mother went to one of the Rosenwald schools.  Loretta herself was very intelligent, doing so well on a standardized test that her white teachers made her take it again.  She graduated top of her senior class from Durham High School.  But still, Lorenzo was shocked when he found out about his daughter’s nomination.  Republicans used her nomination as a “proxy fight against Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.”  Lorenzo believes that his daughter’s legacy will be, “Don’t give up.”

To read more about Lynch’s connection to the Rosenwald schools, click here for the article from Politico, and to learn more about Julius Rosenwald, don’t forget to check out Rosenwald when it hits theaters all over America later this year.

Rosenwald screens at the Nashville Film Festival

Posted April 20th, 2015 by

Last night, April 19th, Rosenwald screened at the Nashville Film Festival. After the screening, a Q & A was held with director Aviva Kempner, interviewees Frank Brinkly and Peter Ascoli (grandson of Julius Rosenwald), and editor Marian Sears Hunter. It was exciting to show the film near Fisk University, where so much research had been done for the film, and the Cairo school, whose restoration we had filmed.


Pictured (left to right): Aviva Kempner, Peter Ascoli, Marian Sears Hunter, Frank Brinkley

At the end of the festival, the was named the winner of the Lipscomb University Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.


Brinkley, Kempner, and Ascoli after the screening.

Jesse Owens honored on DC Mural

Posted April 16th, 2015 by

On April 10th, Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens was honored on a 15′ by 15′ mural, created by Duke Ellington students under the guidance of artist Mark Walker and presented by newly-elected Mayor Muriel Bowser.

It was presented on behalf of the students of The Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a DC public school. Winner of four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Owens was the son of a sharecropper and the grandson of a slave. At the height of his fame, he lived in the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, also know as the Rosenwald. He would go for his daily run and slow up so the children who ran with him could keep up.

The mural project was done in partnership with Duke Ellington, the DC Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Lincoln’s Assassination during Passover

Posted April 14th, 2015 by

For the Jewish community in America, the memories of Lincoln’s death have a slightly different perspective than those who are not a part of the Jewish faith. Dying on a Saturday, the same day as the Jewish Sabbath, many of the first responses were given from the pulpit. Also, some of the rabbi recited the Hashkabah (prayer for the dead) in honor of Lincoln, the first time the prayer had been used for someone who was not Jewish. To read more about it, click here to look at an article by the Weekly Standard. 

 

Rosenwald to be screened at Nashville Film Festival

Posted March 31st, 2015 by

Running from April 16th to April 25th over two weekends, the 46th annual Nashville Film Festival will showcase 200 films that beat out a staggering 3,550 submissions which means that some notable documentary, film, short filmmakers were left in the cold while others will be screened in competitive and non-competitive categories. That’s pretty impressive, right? Participating in the Documentary Feature Competition, Rosenwald will be screened on April 19th at the Green Hills Cinema- Theater 16 at 7:00pm. Tickets will go on sale on April 6th at 10:00am.

Sharing an even deeper connection than NaFF, The Cairo School was built in near Nashville, Tennessee in 1922 under the funds of the Rosenwald Fund. Today, it looks almost exactly as it did when it was built, with a gable-end entrance, double-hung sash windows, weatherboard siding, and a stone foundation. In 1959, the school closed. Then, in 2008, the Tennessee Preservation Trust (TPT) was awarded a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Lowe’s to rehabilitate the Cairo Rosenwald School. The main reason the school was rehabilitated was that the TPT had seen how much the Cairo School had anchored its community, bringing together people of all ages for social and educational purposes. It is now one of only three Rosenwald Schools still standing in Sumner County, TN. The Cairo School appears in Kempner’s film Rosenwald, as it is near the Rosenwald filming location of Nashville, TN.

Key research was also done at the historically black college in Tennessee, Fisk University, which houses the archives of the Rosenwald Fund.

Some notable interviewees in the film are Julian Bond, John Lewis, Cokie Roberts, Ben Jealous, and A’Lelia Bundles.

To get more information about purchasing a ticket and other films that will be screened at the NaFF, click here.
 


  

Rosenwald Premiere a Success

Posted March 23rd, 2015 by

The Ciesla Foundation is excited to announce that Aviva Kempner’s newest film, Rosenwald, formerly called The Rosenwald Schools, had a preview at the Washington Jewish Film Festival that she started twenty five years ago on February 25th at the Avalon Theatre in Washington, DC..

Before the screening, Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the DCJCC, and William “Bro” Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities,  and Kempner delivered brief statements. Rosenwald was a huge success and received a standing ovation from the audience in the completely packed house.

In the audience was Max Cutler, who is 23 years old.  He was very impressed with the Julius Rosenwald story and emailed his comments about the film.

“He perfectly embodies the Jewish ideals I was raised to believe are important.  He didn’t just change lives.  America as we know it today is a direct result of what he did because of the influence he had on blacks.  Like the person who invented preservation techniques for blood marrow. Everyone should see it.  What he did with his life is exactly how I would want to live my life.  The fact that he did it with little recognition speaks more to the values he embodies and why he did it.  Not for the recognition.  He really just is what an ideal Jew should be.  It re-affirms what I believe and gives me a goal to strive towards.”

After the screening, both Kempner and civil rights activist Julian Bond, an interviewee and a consultant to the film, gave brief  statements.  She explained how she had heard Bond speak about Julius Rosenwald at an event at the Hebrew Center at Martha’s Vineyard years ago. That talk inspired her to make a film about the philanthropist.

Bond told a story in which his father was once driving in the south when his car suddenly got stuck in a hole filled with mud. Julian’s father assumed that someone had put the mud there just so they could charge him money to be pulled out. Two black men came out from behind the bushes and noticed that he was wearing nice clothes and was driving a nice car. When they asked whom Julian’s father was working for, he replied, “I work for the Rosenwald Fund”. The men responded, “Oh you work for Captain Julius? There’ll be no charge”.

Overall, the premier was a huge success and The Ciesla Foundation wishes to thank all those who contributed to and supported the making of the film.

Final music for the film is still being composed and arrangements are being made to obtain the footage and stills for the film. You can go to http://www.rosenwaldschoolsfilm.org/donate.php.

Renovating the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments

Posted March 10th, 2015 by

Julius Rosenwald started making moves toward providing low-cost housing to African Americans in 1914. The African American population of Chicago was greatly growing during the Great Migration, which resulted in the 1919 race riot.  This caused Rosenwald to “devote funding to offsetting the Black belt housing crisis,” resulting in the building of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments (nicknamed “the Rosenwald”). The building was closed in 2000 due to a leaky gas pipe, and it’s physical condition has deteriorated ever since. However, nearly 15 years later, a permit has finally been received to renovate the apartments, and the development team is hoping that they will be completed by 2016. The new complex will be called the Rosenwald Courts, and the official groundbreaking ceremony occurred in February.

Read more about it here, and don’t forget to check out The Rosenwald Schools to hear more about the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments.

Howard University Screening Recap

Posted March 9th, 2015 by

This has been a very busy week!

On Friday, Howard University and the Washington Jewish Film Festival hosted a screening of The Rosenwald Schools in the School of Communications.  In the audience were some Howard faculty, donors, and even former students and family of former students who attended Rosenwald Schools in Maryland, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

Howard has a strong connection with Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald fund, serving as a great benefactor to great historical figures like Ernest Just and Charles R. Drew. It was given over $280,000, more financial assistance than any other black college had been given between 1917 and 1936.

As interviewees and other viewers watched the finished product, they laughed and learned even more than they though they would, commending director Aviva Kempner on a job well done. Following the screening, a panel discussion featuring Kempner, Political Science professor Jay Stewart, and biographer Stephanie Deutsch who answered several questions using knowledge from their area of expertise. The panel was insightful to both the audience members and the panelists as they all reviewed history from both research and first-hand experiences.

Several questions were posed, but the most common were how to preserve the history and legacy of Rosenwald Schools in addition to the importance of philanthropy. Siblings who are also Rosenwald alum, Newell Quinton and Alma Hackett, were featured in the film and attended a school in Eastern Shore, Maryland. Making a point to preserve the history of their school, they share their story with their local community and reach out to other students who were a part of the legacy.

Newell Quinton and Alma Hackett speaking during the panel discussion at Howard U

Ultimately, the pivotal role philanthropy and a desire for access to education stayed with each person who viewed the complete film. How rural communities managed to work with JR and local white officials to build a school was beyond amazing and more people need to be exposed to this part of American history.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

The Preservation of Abraham Hall

Posted February 20th, 2015 by

Abraham Hall

Abraham Hall

Photo Source: www.history.pgparks.com

Built in the late 1880s, Abraham Hall has stood as the “center of social activity” in the black-founded community of Rossville. The Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham, a social welfare society, founded the building. In an article written in the Gazette, the staff at the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation informs the public that they will soon be digitalizing the document archives that tell the history of the building that has been in existence since 1889.

First serving as a church temporarily and then as a school when the Muirkirk Rosenwald School was being built, this center became so much more. It was the location for town hall meetings, a place to hold wedding and baby showers, and a place for adults and children to fellowship.  From those moments, artifacts have been collected and are currently on display in the center.

This month Abraham Hall is being honors at Laurel’s Montpelier Arts Center titled “Glancing Back & Looking Forward: 100 years of African American Culture and History in Prince George’s County”.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

 

Jacob Lawrence Panel Discussion on February 27th

Posted February 20th, 2015 by

Next Friday at 2:30pm, The Phillips Collection will be hosting a panel discussion titled, “Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle”. Moderated by UVA Professor of Modern Art and former Phillips senior curator Elizabeth Hutton Turner, this panel will further critique and analyze his Struggle Series, created between 1954 and 1956. It will feature guest panelists from George Mason University, University of Maryland, and the National Museum of African American History.  David Driskell, who will be featured in The Rosenwald Schools, is one of those panelists.

Conveniently held during the 39th Black History Month, they will discuss the art’s contribution to social awareness during the Civil Rights Movement. As a Rosenwald grant recipient, Lawrence was given the opportunity to travel to the segregated Jim Crow south and use his experiences as inspiration to create great and memorable that is still observed today.


Jacob Lawrence photographed in the early 1940s

Photo Source: www.uscg.mil

To see the full list of panelists and find more information about Jacob Lawrence and The Phillips Collection, click here.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Book about Ethel Payne is Reviewed by The New York Times

Posted February 17th, 2015 by

Recently, The New York Times wrote a review on Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press by James McGrath Morris, a biography about an African American woman who broke journalistic barriers by getting out news via the Chicago Defender, “America’s premier black newspaper”.  Created in the first half of the 20th Century when blacks did not have much access black newspapers, it was banned in many Southern states.

Pullman porters, men and women who were the underground heroes, transported bundles of the newspapers on various trains going southward to be delivered by hand instead of via the mail. This increased the circulation of the weekly news to over 130,000. As the “pre-eminent black female reporter of the civil rights era”, Payne overcame the obstacles racism presented and wrote about various hot topics in the African-American community such as voter registration drives, adoption by black families, and the Vietnam War.

In the documentary, Representative Danny Davis goes into detail about the Chicago Defender and its influence during the same time that Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropic efforts assisted in the building of Rosenwald schools.

To read more about the Chicago Defender, click here.

Photograph of Ethel Payne

Photo Source: www.google.com

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

THE ROSENWALD SCHOOLS SCREENING AT HOWARD UNIVERSITY

Posted February 17th, 2015 by

On Friday February 27th 2015, Rosenwaldwill be screened at Howard University. Founded in 1867, Howard is a historically black university that served as the capstone for many African-Americans to pursue professional careers in the fields of law, medicine and many more during a time when most blacks were only expected to work in education and agriculture. It is also the academic home of several Rosenwald grant recipients.

After the screening, there will be a panel featuring Jay Stewart, Professor of Political Science and Stephanie Deutsch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse, Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South. Admission is FREE. The screening will begin at 11:00am. It will take place in the School of Communications located at 525 Bryant Street NW 20059 on the 3rd Floor in Screening Room West. All are welcome to attend!

Photograph of the Howard University School of Communications

Photo Source: www.howard.edu

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Postal Museum Honors First Black MIT Graduate

Posted February 13th, 2015 by

Valerie Jarrett, the daughter of Barbara Bowman who is an interviewee for the documentary, comes from a rich legacy. In addition to being top aide to President Obama, she is the great-granddaughter of Robert Robinson Taylor, who most believe is the first African-American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT) and one of the first black architects in the country.

On February 12th, he was officially honored as the next face that will be shown on the Black Heritage stamp at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC. According to The Washington Post, the ceremony featured the Howard Singers from Howard University, a historically black university that has educated some Rosenwald grant recipients.  A’Lelia Bundles, who is also an interviewee in the documentary and great-granddaughter of Madame CJ Walker, was the MC at this event.

There is also a new exhibit titled “Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America from Civil War to Civil Rights,” that opened yesterday and will run until February 15th, 2016.  Described by the museum as “A chronicle of the African American experience told from the perspective of stamps and mail,” the exhibit will surely be a treat for those who want to know about black history in America from a different perspective.

For more information about to the National Postal Museum, go to: http://postalmuseum.si.edu/.

Photograph of Robert Robinson Taylor’s stamp

Photo Source: www.stampnewsnow.com

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Lunchtime Talk at Library of Congress on February 24th

Posted February 13th, 2015 by

On February 24th, 2015, the Library of Congress will host a conversation with a biographer, journalist and filmmaker about Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropic efforts. His contribution helped to build YMCAs for African Americans in the US. With assistance from Madame C.J. Walker, a notable entrepreneur and activist in African American and American History, they made an undeniably positive impact in the lives of many blacks in America.

The panel discussion will include Peter Ascoli, the grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald. Journalist A’Lelia Bundles, great-grandaughter of Madam C.J. Walker will present. Also Aviva Kempner, who is the founder of the Washington Jewish Film Festival and the director and producer of The Rosenwald Schools, a documentary that explores the life and legacy of Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund will take part in the conversation.

The Library of Congress is located on Capitol Hill at 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540 and the event will be held from 12:00pm to 1:00pm in the James Madison Building on the 2nd Floor of the Law Library. Admission is FREE, however it is requested that everyone RSVPs. To RSVP, click here.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

“The Rosenwald Schools” One of Nearly 70 Films to be Shown at 25th Washington Jewish Film Festival

Posted February 12th, 2015 by

25 years ago, when the Washington Jewish Film Festival was founded, there was only a slate of eight films. This year, there will be “nearly 70 films and over 100 screenings,” according to current director Ilya Tovbis. One of those films is WJFF founder Aviva Kempner’s new documentary “The Rosenwald Schools.” The film is centered on Julius Rosenwald, who gave money to help build over 5,000 schools for African American children all over the South. Ironically, Rosenwald himself never finished high school. He also gave grants to many well-known African American artists, including Langston Hughes and Gordon Parks.

Click here to read more about “The Rosenwald Schools” and the 25th annual Washington Jewish Film Festival at The Washington Post.

WORLD PREMIERE SCREENING

Posted February 12th, 2015 by

Twenty five years ago I started the Washington Jewish Film Festival, and I am thrilled my newest film will be debuting at this anniversary.

We are still obtaining the best version of footage and stills, plus raising the final tax deductible contributions to cover all the expensive last costs for the film.
-Aviva

Hasia Diner Book Talk and Signing on February 26

Posted February 10th, 2015 by

A wonderful interview with Dr. Hasia Diner is featured at the premiere of  The Rosenwald Schools film at the festival on February 25th at the Avalon Theatre, and she is talking the next day with her new book that was so much a basis for her informative testimony.

Hasia Diner

Photo Credit: http://moviespictures.org/biography/Diner,_Hasia

ROADS TAKEN: The Great Jewish Migration To The New World And The Peddlers Who Forged The Way

With Author Dr. Hasia Diner

Delving further into themes raised by Hester Street and The Rosenwald SchoolsHasia Diner tells the story of millions of discontented young Jewish men who sought opportunity abroad, leaving parents, wives, and sweethearts behind to become peddlers selling their goods across the world.

Hasia Diner is a Professor of American Jewish History and director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History at New York University.
The event will take place Thursday, February 26 at 7:00 PM at the DCJCC. The event is free, but RSVPs are requested. RSVP here: http://www.showclix.com/event/ROADSTAKEN

 

Langston Hughes Honored on Google.com

Posted February 5th, 2015 by

On February 1, 2015, Google celebrates the birth of a highly praised and culturally influential author during the Harlem Renaissance, a prosperous time for black art, music, dance, and theatre. Langston Hughes was a writer and a poet and recipient of a Rosenwald grant who found inspiration through the struggle of his people as well as his own life experiences.  The animated features one of his works entitled “I Dream A World”.

“I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!”

This tribute is very timely to not only kick off Black History and to celebrate his birthday, but also to show the newer “technology generation” that dreams evolve but they will never die through great literary works. To watch the video click on this link below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-OU-mY11nE

Thank you Langston!

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Einstein went to JR’s Memorial Service?

Posted February 5th, 2015 by

Apparently! Here’s a picture of an article found during research in The New York Times mentioning the genius’s attendance!




The Nobel Prize winning genius Albert Einstein not only valued the acquisition of knowledge, but also using the gift of knowledge to benefit all of mankind. As someone who once said “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it,” it is not surprising that Einstein took the time to honor Julius Rosenwald, a great philanthropist. While both men possessed very different gifts and utilized them in different ways, they inarguably both dedicated their lives to changing the lives of others. Einstein knew Physics and Rosenwald knew Business; however both men are surely geniuses in their own right.

Photograph of Albert Einstein

Photo Source: Google.com

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

 

“Selected Letters of Langston Hughes” To Be Released on Feb 10th

Posted February 5th, 2015 by

Pretty popular this week, we know!

Prolific author and poet Langston Hughes, recipient of the Rosenwald Grant, still continues to inspire through his literary works five decades after his death. This book comprised of his letters written during the Harlem Renaissance such as and the Civil Rights movement will be released next week, February 10th for the public to see the political, cultural, and personal thoughts of the great black thinker of the 20thCentury. He wrote authors Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and his own father who is most known for opposing his career choices, just to name a few. Although it gives insight, it will also leave the reader with more questions about the mysterious writer.  Here is a quote from the book of Langston Hughes talking about Julius Rosenwald:

There is little need to say how deeply we all feel the loss of Julius Rosenwald,
friend of America and of my people. Little children all over the South looked
at his picture that week and were sad to know that he had gone. May my present
tour, which his generosity helped to bring about, produce something worthy of 
his name, for I must always remember him with personal as well as racial
gratitude.

To pre-order the book, go to www.amazon.com.

Photograph of Langston Hughes

Photo Source: www.google.com

To read an article by The New York Times with more details about the book click this link below!

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/books/selected-letters-of-langston-hughes.html?_r=0

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Congressman John Lewis’ Book Talk at Busboys

Posted February 1st, 2015 by

Civil Rights leader Congressman John Lewis has recently completed the second volume of his civil rights trilogy, March: Book Two. On Wednesday February 4th 2015, Busboys and Poets Brookland will be hosting a book talk with Lewis and Andrew Aydin. The graphic memoir is a collaboration between him, artist Nate Powell, and writer Andrew Aydin. In the second part of his journey through the civil rights movement, Lewis tells us about the challenges faced as a Freedom Rider, being beaten and locked up despite his nonviolent protests. Towards the end of this book he is elected leader of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and preparing to participate in the historic March on Washington.

Featured in this documentary, John Lewis is a former Rosenwald School student. Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropic efforts greatly impacted his education and future as a young change agent during a trying time for blacks in America.

To get a seat at this event, register for free on the Busboys’ website. It also will be streamed online.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Director Aviva Kempner scheduled to speak at Book Talk

Posted February 1st, 2015 by

On Sunday February 8th at 1:00pm, notable filmmaker and founder of the Washington Jewish Film Festival will speak alongside authors Menachem Rosensaft and  Michael Brenner. They will have a discussion about the book God, Faith and Identity from the Ashes, an anthology of testaments from 88 children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors by written by Rosensaft. This year marks 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Panelists will talk about the legacy’s impact on their personal lives.

The Book Talk will take place at the Politics and Prose Bookstore (5015 Connecticut Ave N.W., Washington DC).

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Oasis Center welcomes Rosenwald Film with open arms

Posted January 23rd, 2015 by

On January 16, Director Aviva Kempner visited  Surburban hospital center Oasis, an educational program geared to senior citizens,  to showcase the work in progress of her latest film “The Rosenwald Schools.” The room was filled with smiles and excitement as members, volunteers, and staff paraded into the venue.

(more…)

Poor Children Left Behind?

Posted January 22nd, 2015 by

Currently over half of public school students in the US are living at or below the poverty line. This leaves the vast majority of those children at a disadvantage in school because academic success is the least of their worries. The Washington Post informs us that “Of the 27 states with highest percentages of student poverty, all but five spent less than the national average of $10,938 per student.” With programs like Head Start on the chopping block, one understands why the gap of academic achievement increases as the school-to-prison pipeline lives on.

Continuing to expect children who live in poverty to perform just as well as privileged children seems to have become counterproductive.  While increasing the amount of funds allocated to public schools would be helpful, what would be even more helpful is establishing programs that give disadvantaged children an extra push to level out the educational “playing field”. Training teachers to be able to access the needs of each student is imperative. Additionally, after school programs, learning tools that can be taken home, clean clothes, and toiletries for each child who goes without would help them to feel normal if only during the school day.

Making a point to become aware of the lack of resources within impoverished communities of color, Julius Rosenwald would more than likely have given a sufficient amount of funds to each school. This individualistic approach would allow each school form a unique plan tailored to the needs of their students, unlike No Child Left Behind that ultimately does not help to narrow the achievement gap. The Rosenwald Fund encourages independence and self-reliance while financially assisting each person/program, which are what educational systems in the US desperately need to help disadvantaged students flourish.

To read the Washington Post article, click here.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Building It All Back

Posted January 17th, 2015 by

Art collector and community activist Peggy Cooper Cafritz has been described as “resilient and so voracious.”  Five years ago, a fire destroyed her home, as well as her collection of contemporary African and African-American art.  The collection contained works from the likes of Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley, Hank Willis Thomas, and Jacob Lawrence, who received a Rosenwald grant in 1940.  The collection had over 300 works and was worth millions of dollars.  Instead of dwelling on her tremendous loss, Peggy decided to continue collecting art that she loved.  Her new condominium is saturated with artwork, so much so that it can be hard to find the furniture.

To find out more about Peggy Cooper Cafritz, click here.

Selma snubbed in 2015 Oscar nominations

Posted January 16th, 2015 by

Ironically on the same day of what would have be Dr. Martin Luther King’s 86th Birthday, Selma is ignored in most categories for Oscar nominations, only getting nominated in the Best Song and Best Picture categories. David Oyelowo is not recognized for his exceptional portrayal of Dr. King and all were surprised when Ava DuVernay did not become the first black woman to be nominated in the Best Director category.

David Oyelowo, photographed on the set of ‘Selma’

Photo Source: www.independent.co.uk

The 87-year old awards show is historically known for having very little diversity amongst the list of nominees as a result of who is allowed to vote. The 6,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are over 90 percent white and over 70 percent male. Most serve life terms, leaving little hope for a multicultural list of nominees in the future.

Despite AMPA votes, this film still stands as the most politically influential of the year, addressing concerns of whether the fight for racial equality is over or if there’s still much more work to be done. Debuting at a very necessary time with the current protests against police brutality, Oyelowo represents Dr. King very well and served as an inspiration for  civil rights activists new and old.

For a list of all of the 2015 Oscar nominations go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2015/01/15/2015-oscar-nominations-complete-coverage/

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Discovering Antarctica’s Mount Rosenwald

Posted January 15th, 2015 by

On a National Geographic-Liblad cruise, Stephanie Deutsch got the chance to see Antarctica, where there is a mountain named after Julius Rosenwald.  The mountain “forms a distinctive landmark between the heads of the Baldwin and Gallup glaciers in the Queen Maud mountains.”  It was discovered by Rear Admiral Richard Byrd in 1929, who named it after Rosenwald.  It is an example of how Rosenwald’s influence can be found all over, or, as Aviva Kempner likes to say, “all roads lead to Rosenwald.”

Click here to read more about Mount Rosenwald on Stephanie’s blog.

Migration Series will soon be reunited exhibited at MoMA

Posted January 15th, 2015 by

For the first time since 1994, all sixty panels from Jacob Lawrence’s Migration of the Negro (commonly known as the Migration Series) will be reunited and displayed in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at the Downtown Gallery in New York City. In an exhibition entitled “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North,” the display will be open to the public from April until September of 2015. In 2016, the panels will go to the Phillips Collection here in Washington, DC to be shown.

These narrative paintings were created during the early 1940s, a time when many African Americans were migrating from the Jim Crow South to the North. Only 23 years old when creating this work of art, Lawrence used resources provided from the Rosenwald Fund and to travel to the South and witness firsthand the segregation and blatant racism in rural communities to serve as his inspiration for the series. Additionally, he addresses the struggles and triumphs of the migration using his personal experiences in the North as a child and young adult.

Although Julius Rosenwald expressed very little interest in art, his wife Adele Rosenwald Levy collected art and was drawn to Lawrence’s work and more than willing to make a contribution. She specifically loved panel 46, the reason why the even-number panels are in MoMA and the odd-number panels are located here in the Phillips Collection. This acquisition by Adele and the Rosenwald fund helped Lawrence to become the major figure in American art that he is still considered to be today.

For more info about the Migration Series, Jacob Lawrence and how to see the panel displays click below to view this article by the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/arts/design/jacob-lawrences-great-migration-series-returns-to-moma.html

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

60th Anniversary of Marian Anderson’s performance at The Met

Posted January 7th, 2015 by

Sixty years ago, on January 7th 1955, famed contralto Marian Anderson made history as the first African American to perform at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Anderson’s career was launched in the early 1930s when she travelled to Europe on two Rosenwald grants (you can read about her trip to Europe on a previous blog). Her success in Europe followed her back to America, where Anderson became a national icon. She is perhaps best remembered for her historic 1939 concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

You can read more about Marian Anderson’s 1955 Met Performance here.


Marian Anderson, photographed by Gordon Parks in 1943
Photo source: Farm Security Administration via Library of Congress

Anniversary of JR’s death coincides with approval of Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments renovation

Posted January 6th, 2015 by

Today marks the 83rd anniversary of Julius Rosenwald’s death. W.E.B. DuBois, co-founder of the NAACP and Rosenwald grant recipient, memorialized Rosenwald in The Crisis magazine by writing, “He was a great man, but he was no mere philanthropist. He was, rather, the subtle, stinging critic of our racial democracy.” Remembered in his own time for his remarkable deeds, Rosenwald’s accomplishments are hardly known today. We’re so excited to be premiering the film on February 25th at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and finally bringing Rosenwald the recognition today he so deserves.


Julius Rosenwald in 1917
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection

Rosenwald’s name is slowly becoming a household name again. After sitting over a decade in disrepair, the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments have finally received a permit to be renovated. Known to its original residents as The Rosenwald Apartments, the restored complex will honor its roots and take the name The Rosenwald Courts. Although this project will take many years to complete, we’re glad that Rosenwald’s name will once again be known in the south side of Chicago. The world needs many more Rosenwalds.


The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments in 2007
Photo credit: SilverRaven7 (flickr)

New interviews of The Rosenwald Schools: December 30, 2014

Posted January 6th, 2015 by

We recently filmed our last interviews for the film, sneaking them in before the end of the year. David Stern, Julius Rosenwald’s great-grandson, and Julian Bond graciously sat for some additional insights. David Stern offered more insight into Rosenwald’s life and career, as well as his great-grandfather’s innovative approach to philanthropy. Civil rights leader Julian Bond contextualized Rosenwald’s involvement in African American issues in the early part of the 20th century and detailed the many ways the Rosenwald Fund supported African Americans.

From left to right: Marian Hunter, Julian Bond, David Stern, Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation

Marian Sears Hunter, depicted on the left, is doing a tremendous job editing the film.  Held hostage in the editing room for weeks, Hunter is proving once again her skills.  She edited The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over 100 scholars, activists, Rosenwald school alumni and their descendants, and Rosenwald family members for this film. With our final interviews complete, and the production stage of the film over, we can focus all our energy on the final, finalediting the film and getting ready for the premiere on February 25th as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. See you there!

The Ciesla Foundation says goodbye to Associate Producer Michael Rose

Posted January 6th, 2015 by

After doing a great job as researcher and associate producer of the film for the past three years at The Ciesla Foundation, Michael is leaving today to further his education at New York University.  He will be studying Public Administration.  He could write a text working at this 501c3 and will be missed.  As a loyal Chicago White Sox fan, and having attended the University of Chicago, he was well versed in the history of the Windy City and Julius Rosenwald’s contributions.

Michael Rose
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation

Final Interviews

Posted January 6th, 2015 by


From left to right: Marian Hunter, Julian Bond, David Stern, Aviva Kempner.

Photo Credit: The Ciesla Foundation

Great find in the Lessing Rosenwald collection at the Library of Congress

Posted January 6th, 2015 by

We came across something remarkable at the Library of Congress this week. One of our researchers was there to look at some photos of Lessing Rosenwald, who donated a collection of rare books that has been one of the key components of the Library of Congress’s Rare Book and Special Collections division since his death in 1979. Born in 1891, Lessing was the first child of Julius and Augusta Rosenwald, and followed in his father’s footsteps in the 1930s as president of Sears Roebuck.


Lessing in July 1913 with Edith Goodkind, who he would marry in November of that year
Photo credit: Courtesy of Peter Ascoli

Descendants of the Rosenwalds talk about the divide between Lessing, Adele and Edith Rosenwald, who grew up in a close-knit middle class household, and Marion and William Rosenwald, who came of age after Julius Rosenwald had made his fortune at Sears. Unlike Lessing, Adele and Edith, Marion and William felt a certain distance from their parents as Julius and Augusta’s social and civic obligations began to take up more and more of their time.


Julius Rosenwald with his son Lessing, circa 1895
Photo credit: The estate of Nancy Salazar

Staff at the Library of Congress recently came across Lessing Rosenwald’s “baby book,” a beautiful volume that contains pictures of Lessing as a baby with his two sisters and mother, handwritten notes by his parents about his weight, when he started crawling, and even a lock of his hair from his first haircut. This amazing album sheds some light on the loving family circle Lessing grew up in and it’s a great complement to his legacy, the Rosenwald Room at the Library of Congress and the remarkable collection he so generously donated to the institution.


Augusta Rosenwald with her first three children, Edith, Adele and Lessing
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection archive

Thanks to the staff at the Library of Congress for making this great collection available to all!

Forgotten Gordon Parks Photos Of His Hometown Discovered

Posted January 2nd, 2015 by

In 1950, while working for Life magazine, Gordon Parks returned to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas to photograph his classmates from the segregated Plaza School. Parks previously received a Rosenwald fellowship in 1942 to work at the Farm Security Administration. Known for his striking images that highlighted racial issues in America, Parks’ portrait of his former classmates offers a glimpse into the lives of African Americans on the cusp of the civil rights movement. Although the series was originally intended to be a Life cover story, the magazine never published the photographs, which were soon forgotten (you can read about another discovery of lost Parks’ photographs in a previous blog post).

An article in The New York Times details how the photographs were uncovered in the archives of the Gordon Parks Foundation by a curious curator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The museum will be opening an exhibition of the lost photos on January 17. The photographs themselves depict intimate moments from the lives of Parks’ now-adult classmates, most who were struggling to survive under the burdens of racism and segregation. Accompanying the photographs are Parks’ own words, his notes possibly intended as an introduction in Life magazine. Although there is no official explanation for why the story never ran, the exhibit’s curator speculates the spread was too political and newsworthy for the magazine.

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 cieslafdn@gmail.com. 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. www.jewishfolkartsfestival.com. $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.

Historic marker for Rosenwald School in Maryland to be unveiled

Posted November 26th, 2014 by

According to the Capital Gazette, a historic marker will be unveiled at the site of the Phumphrey Rosenwald School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, this Saturday, November 29th. From the article:

The committee believes that honoring the second site with a commemorative plaque honors the contribution of the philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald and the contributions that students who attended the elementary school made to the local and state communities by becoming tradesmen, entrepreneurs, church leaders, clergy, federal workers, teachers, principals, and community organizers.

Read more at the Capital Gazette.

The Rosenwald Schools work in progress screens in Sarasota, Florida

Posted November 26th, 2014 by

Many thanks to Robert Fitzgerald for organizing a screening of our work in progress at the North Sarasota Library over the weekend. The event was held on Saturday, November 22, and the audience responded to the work in progress screening with warm applause. We were excited to hear from Robert about two of the audience members, Kate Harris and Lt. Col. George Hardy of the Tuskegee Airmen, have personal connections to the Rosenwald story.

Kate Harris is the daughter of Dr. Kenneth Clark, a noted African American educator, Civil Rights activist and psychologist who received a Rosenwald grant in 1940. Along with his wife, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (who received consecutive Rosenwald grants to study psychology in 1940, 1941 and 1942), Dr. Kenneth Clark contributed vital testimony in Brown v. Board of Education, where the Supreme Court found that school segregation led to a “feeling of inferiority” among black students.

Also joining the discussion was Lt. Col George Hardy of the Tuskegee Airmen. Lt. Col. Hardy trained at Tuskegee in 1944 at the Army air field funded by the Rosenwald Fund and served during World War II. The Rosenwald Fund’s involvement with the Tuskegee Airmen will be shown in the final cut of The Rosenwald Schools, scheduled to be released in 2015.

We’re so glad Robert Fitzgerald reached out to us about screening our work in progress. It sounds like he organized a wonderful event. Please contact cieslafdn@gmail.com if you would like to discuss screening the work in progress of The Rosenwald Schools at your upcoming event.

New center at New-York Historical Society will showcase women’s history, with spotlight on Zora Neale Hurston

Posted November 26th, 2014 by

According to The New York TimesArtBeat column, a new Center for the Study of Women’s History is planned by the New-York Historical Society, slated to open in late 2016. Among the new building’s features is a large-scale multimedia video that highlights significant female leaders from the past, including Zora Neale Hurston, who received a Rosenwald grant in 1935 to study anthropology.

You can read more about the project at ArtBeat. The editor of The Rosenwald Schools, Marian Sears Hunter, also worked on a great documentary about Zora called Jump at the Sun.

Civil Rights Act exhibit on display at Library of Congress

Posted November 26th, 2014 by

On September 10, 2014, until September 12, 2015, the Library of Congress exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle For Freedom”, will be on display. The exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Interviewees from “The Rosenwald Schools” are part of the images in the exhibition, including Julian Bond and his colleague Rep. John Lewis, who is shown in a photograph on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington. Julian Bond provides narration for an introductory film for the exhibit on the Civil Rights Act and John Lewis appears in a second introductory film on the impact of the legislation. As a child, John Lewis attended a Rosenwald School in Alabama.

More details regarding the exhibition here.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing The Civil Rights Act of 1964:


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Woodruff’s Talladega murals make their way to Washington

Posted November 26th, 2014 by

On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Behring Center, Aviva Kempner, filmmaker of “The Rosenwald Schools”, attended a Director’s Preview and Reception commemorated the opening of “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College”. We reported here in August that it was likely that Woodruff was awarded his Rosenwald Fellowships in 1943 and 1944 on the strength of this work. Two of the Woodfruff works in this exhibit were painted under Rosenwald Fellowships, including the painting “Poor Man’s Cotton”. This support allowed Woodruff to move away from the segregated South, to New York City, where he worked and taught the rest of his life.

The murals depict chapters from African American history such as The Amistad Trial, and The Underground Railroad. Woodruff, like Julius Rosenwald, was a native of Illinois, born in Cairo.

The exhibit runs at the Museum of American History through March 1, 2015.

Woodruff working on the Talladega murals:


Photo credit: Library of Congress via FSA/OWI

‘Parlor Party’ fundraiser held for The Rosenwald Schools

Posted November 25th, 2014 by

Last night, my generous friends Matt and Lena Frumin held a parlor party fundraiser for the film at their home in Washington, DC. It was great fun meeting their friends and presenting the work in progress of The Rosenwald Schools.

Doug Singer and Jerimiah Cohen contributed delicious food to the dinner. Jerimiah has offered to make free delivery of food ordered to his company if you give $2,500 or more to the Ciesla Foundation.


Jeremiah Cohen of Bullfrog Bagels with Matt and Lena Frumin
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2014

Bagels and fish were provided by Bullfrog Bagels and the meat was catered by Singer’s Significant Meats.


Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2014

Julian Bond, a consultant to the film, was also on hand to talk about his family’s connections to the Rosenwald Fund and how he inspired me to the make the documentary.


Councilmember-elect Brianne Nadeau, Lorie Masters, Councilmember Mary Cheh and Ward 3 school board member elect Ruth Wattenberg
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2014

In attendance were some of DC’s finest public officials. If you would like to hold a fundraising parlor party, please contact cieslafdn@gmail.com. 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.

Aviva Kempner to lead discussion at Jewish Study Center event

Posted November 17th, 2014 by

Tuesday night (11/18), Aviva Kempner will be the instructor for a class at The National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington D.C. (1811 R Street NW) sponsored by the Jewish Study Center. Ms. Kempner, director of the upcoming documentary The Rosenwald Schools, will show excerpts from her film and discuss her film’s subject, Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.

You can read more about Tuesday night and other upcoming Jewish Study Center courses here.

Noted Civil Rights Attorney John Doar Dies, Rosenwald Interviewee Rep. John Lewis Quoted

Posted November 14th, 2014 by

The black and white footage of the statuesque Justice Department attorney John Doar, escorting James Meredith to attempt to register at the University of Mississippi, are unforgettable in U.S. Civil Rights history. Doar died November 11 at age 92 in New York. Of Doar’s distinguished legal career, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an interviewee in The Rosenwald Schools, stated, “Every major step in the South in those days- he was there.” In his seven years as the second highest ranking Civil Rights attorney at the DOJ, in addition to to successfully prosecuting the killers of Civil Rights volunteers James Chaney. Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, Doar won a conviction of the gunman who killed Selma voting rights volunteer and Detroit mother Viola Luozzo.

There were Rosenwald Schools in every Southern U.S. state, as well as Maryland and Texas. Doar tried Civil Rights cases in nearly all those states, sometimes appearing in courtrooms in three states on the same day.

The pioneering attorney who died this Veterans Day, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War Two. He graduated Princeton University, where the 6’4″ Doar played on the basketball team in the mid-1940’s. His first years at Justice were under President Eisenhower. After the Civil Rights Movement, Doar served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, where he led an impeachment inquiry against President Nixon in 1973. One of the young attorneys on his staff was Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Historians have said the Civil Rights Movement was fought on three fronts, equality of education, public demonstration. and legal battles, Julius Rosenwald’s support of Black schools exemplifies the former, and the work of John Doar, the latter.
John Doar, far left, w/ Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, and then-Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall:

Looking for that perfect photo – the talented Rabbi Hirsch

Posted November 14th, 2014 by

In our upcoming film about Julius Rosenwald, we plan to talk a little bit about the great Reform rabbi Emil Hirsch. Hirsch was the rabbi at Sinai Congregation in Chicago around the turn of the 20th century and had a great influence on Rosenwald’s personal philosophy of charity. An intense orator, Hirsch was well-known in the city for his fiercely held beliefs about social justice and for the way he would lecture his own congregants, some of the wealthiest men in Chicago, if he felt they had acted selfishly or unjustly in their business affairs.

Hirsch must have been physically imposing as well, and one of the most interesting facts in his early biography is that, before he was ordained as a rabbi, he played football at University of Pennsylvania. Picturing Rabbi Hirsch on the college gridiron (with no padding at that time, of course) is the sort of detail that can really bring a figure from history to life in a documentary film, so it’s been disappointing that we haven’t yet turned up a photo of the rabbi from that time in life.

Our first stop, of course, was University of Pennsylvania’s archives. Penn has an extensive online archive of its own history and, surprisingly, you can actually view yearbooks from when Hirsch attended in the early 1870s online. Here’s an example of the “University Record” from 1871, where you can see Hirsch’s name as the treasurer of the class of ’72 on the very first page. Unfortunately, yearbooks from this time did not include headshots of students.

Not only did Hirsch play football at Penn, according to this document from the Penn archives, he was actually part of the first football game played at the university in 1871. American football was just in its infancy at that time and was mainly played at East Coast universities. The 1871 game, which pitted the seniors (including Hirsch) against the underclassman, was also recounted on page 26 of the 1872 yearbook, but again, with no pictures.

Football stayed popular at Penn after this inaugural game, and team photos exist in Penn’s archives for the 1878, 1879 and 1880 team. Kudos to Penn for keeping such a wonderful archive of its early sports teams, but we can’t help feeling a bit disappointed – if Hirsch had played football at Penn only a few years later than he did, we might have a photo of him with the team to use in The Rosenwald Schools.

Valerie Jarrett appears on CBS’s “The Good Wife”

Posted November 6th, 2014 by

Top Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett made an appearance in the September 28th episode the CBS drama “The Good Wife.” According to The Washington Post, Jarrett played herself and urged the main character, Alica Florrick to run for Illinois state’s attorney. Jarrett is the great-granddaughter of Robert Robinson Taylor, the seminal Tuskegee Institute architect, and the granddaughter of Robert Rochon Taylor, who was the first manager of Julius Rosenwald’s Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments. We have interviewed Jarrett’s mother, who grew up in the MBGA, for our upcoming documentary about Julius Rosenwald.

Read more about Jarrett’s CBS cameo at The Washington Post.

Rosenwald Schools Screened at Austin Conference on Southern Jews

Posted November 4th, 2014 by

On Saturday, October 25, Aviva Kemper, producer and director of The Rosenwald Schools, presented on the panel “Jewish History on the Big Screen: Documentary Filmmakers” at the conference “Crossing Borders: Southern Jews in Global Contexts”, in Austin, Texas. Kempner screened an excerpt from The Rosenwald Schools and discussed filmmaking vis-a-vis Jewish history. The panel was moderated by Hollace Ava Weiner, author, curator, archivist, and former president of the Southern Jewish Historical Society. Other panelists were filmmakers Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell, founders of Media Projects of Dallas, whose films include West of Hester Street, and Make Me A Match.

The excerpt from the film was warmly received, and we look forward to showing the completed film next fall at their annual meeting in Nashville.

For more details on “Crossing Borders”, including a panel on Blacks and Jews: The Genealogical Record, moderated by Leonard Rogoff of the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina, click here.


During the screening of The Rosenwald Schools


Eli Evans, who will appear in The Rosenwald Schools, spoke at the conference

New Civil Rights museum designed by Rosenwald School alum George Wolfe

Posted October 3rd, 2014 by

The Christian Science Monitor reports that a large multimedia exhibit at the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta were designed by the talented director and playwright George C. Wolfe. The article talks about Wolfe’s childhood, growing up in segregated Frankfort, Kentucky. Attending the Rosenwald School in Frankfort was a highlight of Wolfe’s childhood. He will speak about the school and his mother, a teacher at “Rosenwald,” in our upcoming documentary about the Rosenwald Schools.

You can read more about the museum and Wolfe at the Christian Science Monitor.

James Baldwin mentioned in article about Scorsese documentary

Posted October 1st, 2014 by

Hank Stuever, writing for The Washington Post, gave a positive review to Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s new documentary about the New York Review of Books. Stuever writes that the film, called The 50 Year Argument, “does a thoughtful and appealing job of opening up the rarefied literary realm of the NYRB to a viewer who may have never heard of it.” Stuever mentions Rosenwald Fund fellow James Baldwin as one of the authors frequently found in the pages of the NYRB.

You can read more about the new documentary at The Washington Post.

Profile of the San Domingo Rosenwald School published in the Washington Post

Posted October 1st, 2014 by

The newly restored San Domingo Rosenwald School, where we filmed on Saturday, August 23rd, was the subject of a lovely profile by Karen Chen in yesterday’s Washington Post. The 1919 Rosenwald School was beautifully restored over ten years by community members led by Newell Quinton, an alum of the school. Saturday was the school’s grand reopening as a community center and event space.

Click here to read more about the history of the school, the restoration and the people who made it possible at The Washington Post. Click here to read our blog post about the shoot.

Eric Holder pictured with portrait of Rabbi Emil Hirsch’s grandson

Posted October 1st, 2014 by

The outgoing attorney general Eric Holder posed for a picture in February with Edward H. Levi, a previous attorney general who served under President Ford. Levi was the grandson of Rabbi Emil Hirsch, a strong advocate for Civil Rights for African Americans in turn of the century Chicago. Holder has been called a “champion of Civil Rights” as well by The New York Times. You can read more about Holder and see the photo of him with Levi’s portrait in the New York Times article.

Traces of Woody Guthrie in New York City

Posted September 28th, 2014 by

Lawrence Downes, a writer for The New York Times, recently took a trip to locations around the city where Woody Guthrie spent half his life: New York. Downes was guided by two grandchildren of the great folk singer, Anna Canoni and her brother Cole Rotante, and wrote an entertaining article about the experience.

On a related note, “My Name is New York” is the name of a recently published guide book (in paperback and audio format) to the city written by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie. The book follows the traces of Guthrie’s movements and residences around the city – click here to get your copy today.

Guthrie was living in a community of like-minded artists and musicians in New York around 1943 when he first applied to the Rosenwald Fund for assistance writing a book. During his Rosenwald grant period, Guthrie worked on several projects, the most prominent of which, entitled House of Earth, was finally published last year.

You can read more about Guthrie landmarks in the Big Apple in the online version of the New York Times article, which also includes a video of Canoni and Rotante exploring some of the locations in New York inhabited by their famous grandfather.

Cosby collection show opening at Smithsonian in November

Posted September 28th, 2014 by

The Washington Post reports that the William H. and Camille O. Cosby collection, which contains masterpieces by many great African and African American artists, will have a rare exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art starting in November of this year. In keeping with Camille Cosby’s statement on the importance of “[showing] people that African American artists have been working for a long time,” the collection has many works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries by artists of color. 20th century pieces in the collection include works by Rosenwald Fund-supported artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Eldzier Cortor and Augusta Savage.

Don’t miss this chance to see the Cosby collection in person. Read more about the show at The Washington Post.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools: September 16, 2014

Posted September 28th, 2014 by

First we filmed an interview with Steven Nasatir, the longtime president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, an organization whose first president was Julius Rosenwald. Nasatir recounted how Rosenwald became president of the new organization in 1923, after he engineered the merger of the Associated Jewish Charities, primarily composed of German Jews, and the Orthodox Federated Charities, primarily composed of Eastern European Jews. Rosenwald took at as his mission to unite these two charitable organizations into one large federation, a combination that resulted in greater efficiency and potency for both.


Steven Nasatir and Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

Nasatir helped reveal the roots of J.R.’s philanthropy, which came out of his Jewish faith, and the roots of his famous motto:

J.R.’s motto of “Give while you live” was in some ways an English way of talking about tzedakah, which is righteous action. In the Jewish tradition, we don’t talk about “charity,” we talk about “righteous action.” J.R.’s whole life was being a righteous man and [working] on repairing the world, this notion of tikkun olam.

In the Jewish faith, tzedakah is a form of obligatory charity. Rosenwald felt that it was his responsibility to promote justice through philanthropy, not only to give to the less fortunate, but to give in such a way that they would be able to help themselves. Rosenwald’s challenge grants to African American communities in the South are the greatest example of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. By giving a portion of the funds needed to build a rural schoolhouse, he created a scenario where reluctant counties and their underserved African American residents both contributed to the improvement of educational opportunities.

Next we talked to David R. Mosena, the president of the Museum of Science and Industry. MSI is a great museum that received virtually all of its initial funding from Julius Rosenwald before it opened in 1933. Unfortunately, Rosenwald died in 1932, and never saw the completed museum. Since then, however, hundreds of thousands of visitors to the museum have been inspired by its exhibits. Rosenwald’s vision of the museum as a hands-on showcase for America’s industrial technology has survived to this day. Mosena explained the way the concept for the Museum of Science and Industry was developed by J.R. and his son, William.

[The museum] came about when Julius Rosenwald took his son to Munich around 1911. The two of them spent quite a bit of time at the Deutsches Museum, which is in Munich. It was then and is still one of the grandest industrial museums in the world, and his son fell in love with that museum. They had never seen a museum that was interactive before, where people got to push levers and turn knobs and do things.

So Julius Rosenwald came back to Chicago and decided that he would take on the task of trying to [create] a museum like the one he and his son discovered in Munich, a museum that was very hands-on, that showcased what he called America’s inventive genius and demonstrated America’s growing prowess in science and technology.


David R. Mosena, president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

After shooting some retakes and a short interview with Peter Ascoli (the grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald and one of our primary interviewees) we also interviewed Bill Buckner, a man who attended an Arkansas Rosenwald School. As a child, Mr. Buckner voiced the question that was on the minds of many children who attended a school supported by Rosenwald and saw the portrait of him that often graced one of the walls in these schools.

Once while walking down the hall I saw three pictures above a door in the hall. And I asked the principal about who they were. And there was Booker T. Washington. W.E.B. Du Bois, and Julius Rosenwald. And I wanted to know, why was a white man’s picture in our school? And he said he was our benefactor and that he built the school and that when it burned down he rebuilt it.

Seeing Rosenwald’s picture prompted Mr. Buckner to learn more about the school’s benefactor. He was especially inspired by the way the Rosenwald Fund responded after the school burned to the ground – probably the result of arson, an all too common form of backlash against African American schoolhouses during the Jim Crow era. Undeterred, the Rosenwald Fund and community members rebuilt their school. It was actually this “second” Rosenwald School that Mr. Buckner attended as a child.


Bill Buckner with Peter Ascoli
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

Thanks as always to our great interviewees.

Art installation inspired by Jacob Lawrence is on display in Washington D.C.

Posted September 24th, 2014 by

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, a monumental work of 60 paintings that depicts scenes from the early 20th century migration of African Americans away from the Jim Crow South, was made possible through support from the Rosenwald Fund in the early 1940s. The stoic figures and powerful compositions in Jacob Lawrence’s panels have inspired a New York-born artist to capture what she terms “The New Migration” of African Americans, who are compelled by gentrification and urban renewal to return to their roots in the South. The installation is part of 5×5, an annual project supported by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

During a 10-day trip from Washington D.C. to Florida, Abigail Deville collected ephemera, debris, stories and photographs, which are now on display in a storefront gallery in Southeast Washington D.C. Deville followed historical rail routes used by the migrants depicted in Lawrence’s work to collect the materials, which she has transformed into a collage installed at a gallery in a gentrifying area of the nation’s capital.

Click here to read more about the artwork in Deville’s artistic statement. You can view Deville’s Instagram account, which contains photos documenting her trip, here.

TCM showcases “The Jewish Experience on Film”

Posted September 15th, 2014 by

Every Tuesday in the month of September, the cable TV network Turner Classic Movies has been playing films with Jewish themes starting at 8 PM.

The series began on September 2nd, with Jewish-themed classics like The Jazz Singer and Hester Street. Last Tuesday, September 9th, TCM tackled the post-WWII Jewish experience on film by screening The Stranger, The Pawnbroker and Judgment at Nuremberg. Here’s the schedule for the remaining three Tuesdays of September:

Tuesday, September 16th:

8:00 PM – Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer (1955)
10:00 PM – Sallah (1964)
12:15 AM – Sword in the Desert (1949)
2:15 AM – Exodus (1960)

Tuesday, September 23rd:

8:00 PM – The House of Rothschild (1934)
10:00 PM – Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
12:15 AM – Crossfire (1947)
2:00 AM – Focus (2001)
4:00 AM – The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Tuesday, September 30th:

8:00 PM – The Young Lions (1958)
11:00 PM – The Way We Were (1973)
1:15 AM – Hearts of the West (1975)
3:15 AM – The Chosen (1981)

Plan to stay up late on Tuesday nights this month or just set your cable box to record some of these great films. Click here to read more about the series at TCM.com, or click here to browse TCM’s schedule.

Announcement: The 2015 National Rosenwald Schools Conference

Posted September 8th, 2014 by

Share the Past and Shape the Future of Rosenwald Schools!

Join us in Durham to experience: Hands-on Workshops and Demos, Documentaries, Educational Presentations, Field Tours, Poster Sessions, Exhibitors, Networking Opportunities, and Book Signings. To receive conference updates and future mailings enter your contact information at: www.preservationnation.org/rosenwald

Click here to propose a conference session

Excellent film on 1919 Chicago Race Riots to screen in Rochester, NY

Posted September 4th, 2014 by

An excellent, but under-seen film made in 1984 by Bill Duke called The Killing Floor will screen at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York on September 26th.

Produced for American Playhouse and a prize-winner at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival, this well-researched film finds drama in the Great Migration of African Americans to the industrial north. Weaving together a dramatic narrative with both real and fabricated newsreel footage, Duke’s film manages to be engaging while sticking close to the historical details of a complicated and tense part of American history. The scenes depicting the Chicago Race Riots are particularly affecting.

The Killing Floor touches on many of the same topics and events as our upcoming documentary film, The Rosenwald Schools. Part of the film takes place in the historic Wabash Avenue YMCA, an important community center for new African American arrivals in Chicago that was funded by Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald also helped address overcrowding in the wake of rapid population growth in the city’s “Black Belt” following the Great Migration. Segregation limited African American’s housing choices to this section of the city, but Rosenwald’s Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments provided hundreds of modern and well-equipped apartments. We hope to use some of the footage from Duke’s film in The Rosenwald Schools as an illustration of the milieu.

The film screens as part of The Rochester Labor Film Series. Visit the Dryden Theatre’s website for more information.

New York’s DuArt Film & Video provides shelter to forgotten films

Posted August 28th, 2014 by

The New York Times reports that the top floor at DuArt, “the premiere hatchery of American independent cinema,” is home to hundreds of films stored by independent filmmakers at the lab over the years, many of which were forgotten and orphaned by their owners. As digital distribution continues to expand, original film prints can fall by the wayside, surprisingly even by the filmmakers who created them.

The article lists some intriguing titles that are currently housed at DuArt, including Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, a 1984 adaptation of Twelve Years a Slave directed by Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks, and Simbiopschotaxiplasm, an experimental film by William Greaves, a great documentary filmmaker who passed away on Monday.

Until recently, The Ciesla Foundation was storing some old prints of our previous films at DuArt, where we processed all our films. DuArt is the premiere lab for independent filmmakers and is headed by the wise and kind Irwin Young, who is the best friend to independent filmmakers. Because of a heads up from Young and Steve Blakely we’re happy to say that we already retrieved our negative a few months ago.

Click here to read more at The New York Times.

More bad news for Sears Holdings

Posted August 27th, 2014 by

According to The New York Times, Sears Holdings, owner of Sears and Kmart stores, lost “nearly a billion dollars” in the first half of this year. Although recent retail earnings among its competitors have been “lackluster” across the board, Sears has performed among the worst. While Sears has worked to expand its “Shop Your Way” rewards program, with personalized deals for loyal shoppers and improve its online sales, it has lagged behind competitors in both these arenas as well.

It’s been tragic to watch the once dominant mail order (and, later, retail) giant’s decline over the years. During Julius Rosenwald’s tenure as head of Sears, the company capitalized on emerging technology in the field of mail order marketing to become a retail bohemoth. Unfortunately, as catalogue-based purchasing decreased, Sears lagged behind other companies like Walmart and Amazon.com in expanding and innovating new retail paradigms like the big box store and online mail order shopping.

Click here to read more at The New York Times.

Rosenwald School Spotlight: The San Domingo Rosenwald School

Posted August 27th, 2014 by


The San Domingo Rosenwald School
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

School is now in session.

Those were the first words by mistress of ceremonies Devoy Taylor at the dedication of the new San Domingo Community & Cultural Center at the historic Rosenwald School in San Domingo, Maryland. The Ciesla Foundation was on hand to film the ceremony, held on August 23rd, 2014, and to interview the school’s alumni and supporters.


Devoy Taylor ringing the principal’s bell
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

Chief among the school’s advocates is Newell Quinton, who spearheaded the ten year restoration process of his old school in the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland. The San Domingo Rosenwald School was opened in 1919 with funding from the Rosenwald Fund and the surrounding community. It replaced a smaller school on the same property in this hamlet where free African Americans have lived since before the Civil War. The new school was among the larger Rosenwald Schools to be built in the area, holding three classrooms and a special events space in its two floors. The restoration of the school is truly lovely, with art exhibits, artifacts, restored wooden floors and over 50 gleaming windows, the majority of which were missing and had to be replicated.


A large bank of windows, a trademark of Rosenwald Schools
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

Newell Quinton and his wife, Tanja R. Henson-Quinton, invited us to attend the dedication ceremony on Saturday, and we’re very grateful to have been a part of it. Before the ceremony, Mr. Quinton bantered with his sister, Alma Hackett (who also attended the school) about what it was like to attend a rural school before integration.


Newell Quinton and Alma Hackett
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

We also interviewed school alumni Sylvia Goslee, Charles Goslee, Rhuel Goslee and Avery Walker and even a teacher named Hattie Winder who had taught at the San Domingo Rosenwald School. It was striking how many of students had gone on to become educators themselves, including Alma Hackett and Rudolph Eugene Stanley, who shared with us a rich collection of very old photographs of the people in the community.


Rudolph Eugene Stanley
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

Stephanie Deutsch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South, also attended the ceremony. She talked about how she got interested in the Rosenwald Schools (by marrying David Deutsch, a descendant of Julius Rosenwald) and how the National Register of Historic Places selects places, like the Rosenwald Schools, that “matter.” Stephanie also presented the school’s alumni with a portrait of Julius Rosenwald much like the one that hung in historic Rosenwald Schools across the South.


Stephanie Deutsch
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

During the ceremony, Dr. Clara L. Small, a recently retired professor at Salisbury University, shared her memories of going to a different Rosenwald School in North Carolina. Dr. Small also announced some exciting news: the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture is beginning an initiative to document the history of all the Rosenwald Schools in the state. As most Rosenwald School buildings have been demolished or abandoned and alumni who remember the schools are aging, it is a crucial time to write this important piece of history.


Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

The team behind the restoration of the San Domingo Rosenwald School has made a huge contribution to the history of Rosenwald Schools in the state of Maryland. The restored building is a new center for the community, but it’s also a Rosenwald School museum and a monument to the history of San Domingo.

New interviews for the Rosenwald Schools – August, 2014

Posted August 27th, 2014 by

On August 20th, we added a new interview for The Rosenwald Schools with Elsa Smithgall, an expert on Jacob Lawrence, and a follow up interview with Stephanie Deutsch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South.

First we interviewed Ms. Smithgall, a curator at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. who is organizing an upcoming exhibition of the complete Migration Series, painted by Jacob Lawrence during his Rosenwald fellowship. It’s rare to see the series all together, because in February of 1942, after being shown at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in New York, the 60 panels were divided; half were purchased by the Phillips and half by MoMA. For the upcoming exhibition curated by Ms. Smithgall, the panels will be reunited and the series will be displayed in its entirety at both the Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Elsa Smithgall of the Phillips Collection with Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

As Smithgall explained, the series, which depicts the epic migration of African Americans to the industrial north in the early 20th century, was divided among even and odd panels for the two galleries. This was done to preserve as much as possible of the narrative thrust of the series’ sequence in both halves of the collection. Adele Rosenwald Levy (daughter of Julius Rosenwald) played in central role in MoMA’s acquisition of half the panels, and she pushed for that half to be the even panels because a certain panel, number 46, spoke to her. The panel depicts the cramped living conditions new migrant workers faced at labor camps, and both Smithgall and our second interviewee Stephanie Deutsch mused on what aspect of the painting elicited such a strong reaction from Levy.

Smithgall also related the remarkable fact that Lawrence, who created an indelible portrait of the South in his Migration Series, had not personally visited the South before painting the series. Although, according to Smithgall, Jacob Lawrence “was aware of the impact of the negative conditions of the South” he hadn’t yet seen it first hand when he captured it in his own “direct and distilled” way in the 60-panel Migration Series. However, Lawrence’s parents had participated in what’s known as the “Great Migration” and he had observed the challenges faced by the new African American population in New York City and his native New Jersey.

Although we did discuss Lawrence’s Migration Series, and especially panel number 46, with our second interviewee, Stephanie Deutsch, we changed gears a little bit to talk about Julius Rosenwald’s school-building program. Rosenwald is best known for his financial contributions to over 5,000 rural schools for African Americans and for his innovative challenge grants that multiplied his investment, but less well known is his personal interest and encouragement of the communities his fund supported. As Stephanie said:

One thing I’m very struck with is that [Rosenwald] made a personal commitment to these schools. He was a very busy man, but he often travelled down south to visit the schools. These schools were all in very rural areas–they’re hard to get to now–so a hundred years ago it was quite a commitment on his part to make a point of going to visit the schools to see the students who studied there, the parents, the community that would gather to welcome him. That was something that impressed Rosenwald very much, that the schools didn’t just benefit the children, they benefited the whole community.

We had Rosenwald’s journeys south in mind on Saturday when we visited, along with Stephanie, a Rosenwald School on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Although today the journey is not as treacherous as it was 100 years ago, it was a long trip from Washington, and it reminded us how remote many of these schools were, especially the ones built in tiny rural communities like San Domingo, Maryland. This trip will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

Rosenwald Schools spotlight: Newberry County, South Carolina

Posted August 27th, 2014 by

Recently, our intern Nat McMaster visited three Rosenwald Schools near his hometown in South Carolina. The three are in varying states of repair, but Nat captured the beauty of each with his photographs. His report and photos are below:

1. Howard Junior High School ~ 431 Shiloh Street, Prosperity SC

Also known as the Shiloh School, Howard Junior High School – located on the property of Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church – served African-American students from in and around Prosperity between 1925 and 1954. It features four distinct classrooms, an assembly area, and large walls of windows on the front and back of the building. In the 1930s, two classrooms were added to the original structure and connected by a dogtrot.

Currently, Shiloh AME Church is the process of renovating the school for use as a social hall and other church functions. The school itself is not open to visitors, but you are welcome to wander around the surrounding cemetery and take pictures.

Howard Junior High School is listed on the national register of historic places.

2. Hannah Rosenwald School ~ 61 Deadfall Road, Newberry SC

Located south of Newberry on the property of Hannah AME Church, Hannah Rosenwald School is also known as the Utopia School, after the surrounding community. The school features three classrooms, three cloakrooms, and an entry hall. It is notable for being built on a north-to-south orientation, whereas most schools in South Carolina were built east-to-west. Hannah School was closed in the 1960s when rural county schools were consolidated with the Newberry and Silverstreet school systems.

Though it currently sits in disrepair and houses some old church furniture and other assorted items, the Hannah AME Church is looking to Heritage Preservation Services for a grant to begin renovation. The church also possesses the marble dedication tablet, which reads ROSENWALD SCHOOL, ERECTED 1925.

Hannah Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

3. Hope Rosenwald School ~ 1971 Hope Station Road, Pomaria SC

Though a total of 26 Rosenwald Schools were built in Newberry County alone, Hope Rosenwald School is one of only a few to be completely renovated. The school is located on the property of Saint Paul AME Church, outside Pomaria, and serves as a community center for the surrounding area.

It was constructed in 1925 on land sold to Newberry County by the Hope family for a mere five dollars. It was consolidated with the Newberry school system in 1954. The building contains two main classrooms, a kitchen (formerly an “industrial room”), and two cloakrooms. There is no known outhouse or privy to have been located on the property; if there was one, it was lost even before the consolidation of the schools. Three batteries of large windows adorn the front of the building, and two adorn the rear, however no windows are located on the sides of the building.

Hope Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

More about the history and design of the schools is on the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History website. All photographs belong to Nat McMaster and the Ciesla Foundation.

Color photos by Gordon Parks of 1950s segregation to be exhibited in Atlanta

Posted August 15th, 2014 by

We wrote about Gordon Parks’ “Segregation Series” last June, following the surprising rediscovery of the complete series, which Parks produced for LIFE magazine in the 1950s and which was thought to be lost.

Starting November 15th, according to The New York Times, the High Museum in Atlanta is mounting an exhibition of this series that they’re calling “Gordon Parks: Segregation Story.” The exhibit will be open until June 7, 2015.

Many of the powerful photographs in this collection have never before been seen in a gallery. Out of the more than 40 color prints depicting segregation, a select few were published in a 1956 LIFE Magazine article. From the examples we’ve seen in the media, these photographs, by the first recipient of a Rosenwald grant for photography, offer a truly unique illustration of the segregated institutions of the Jim Crow South.

Read more at The New York Times.

New novel approaches “passing” with a modern twist

Posted August 13th, 2014 by

According to a review in The New York Times, the debut novel of author Jess Row, Your Face or Mine, (to be released this week) uses the science fiction concept of “racial reassignment surgery” as a jumping off point to a rumination on race and identity in the modern world. “Passing” as a member of another race is a familiar literary theme, mainly found in African American literature of the 20th century, like the works of Rosenwald fellows James Baldwin and James Weldon Johnson. Writing for the the Times, Felicia R. Lee explains:

A fan of James Baldwin’s work, Mr. Row said he set out to have “Your Face in Mine” explore the ways people try to escape their racial identities, as well as investigate their desire for racial reconciliation and deeply unconscious fears and discomforts around race.

“Passing” has been a major theme in African-American literature for over a century, and has usually meant blacks living as whites to escape bias. “Your Face in Mine” owes something to classic stories of passing like “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” by James Weldon Johnson (published anonymously in 1912 and under his name in 1927), and the 1931 satire “Black No More,” by George S. Schuyler, in which blacks rush to embrace a new scientific process to become white.

Read more about the new novel at The New York Times.

A dinner with Julian Bond

Posted August 12th, 2014 by

Writer Kelly Kleiman wrote an amusing account about meeting Civil Rights icon Julian Bond recently over dinner. It was published on the Ten Miles Square blog at Washington Monthly.

Kleiman bond-ed with Bond by talking about the Rosenwald Fund and Julian’s father, Horace Mann Bond’s involvement with it. Julian Bond, who inspired the making of The Rosenwald Schools and serves as a consultant, is interviewed in the upcoming documentary.

Happy birthday to Julius Rosenwald today!

Posted August 12th, 2014 by


Julius Rosenwald in 1917
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection

Today on August 12th would have been Julius Rosenwald’s 152nd birthday. As I am close to finishing The Rosenwald Schools I am confident that J.R. will become nationally known for his good deeds once the film is done. Every week we are receiving notice about a school being restored or how a group of people want to rebuild one. I believe that once this film is done there will be an urge to finish many more schools and know more about J.R. By his 153rd birthday the film should be traveling around the country.

Oprah would be a great choice to renew Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame

Posted August 12th, 2014 by

Much like the Rosenwald Apartments on Chicago’s South Side, construction on the famous Merchandise Mart was begun just before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. In the early years of the Great Depression, both buildings struggled to make a profit. However, in 1945, Joseph P. Kennedy (father of JFK) purchased the building from the Marshall Field Company and successfully renovated and reinvented the iconic building. Once the largest commercial building in the world by floorspace, it is an Art Deco masterpiece of massive proportions that has housed commercial showrooms and offices for most of a century. It’s located at a picturesque point at a bend in the Chicago River where the first trading post and small businesses were founded in the early days of the city.


The Chicago Loop – the Merchandise Mart can be seen in the lower left
Photo credit: Historic American Buildings Survey via Library of Congress

Part of Kennedy’s reinvigoration of the building was introducing a “Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame,” a series of eight busts of famous merchants from around the country that face the Mart. The first seven men were elected by ballot by members of the national business community and their busts were commissioned at three annual ceremonies in 1953, 1954 and 1955. As one of the great retail magnates of Chicago history, Sears president Julius Rosenwald was part of this initial group, inducted in 1954.


Julius Rosenwald’s bust
Photo credit: Zol87 (flickr)

Today, as some commercial showrooms move out, the Merchandise Mart is being reinvented once again as a center for tech start-ups in River North, a neighborhood near Chicago’s Loop that is home to Google and Groupon. The New York Times reports that floorspace in the Mart that had formerly been used for furniture and design showrooms has gradually been given over to tech businesses by Vornado Realty Group, the owner of the Mart since 1998. Especially interesting is 1871, a non-profit organization that rents a large portion of one of the Mart’s 200,000 square foot floors, and acts as an incubator for small tech start-ups, providing networking, affordable space and even investors. The name 1871 recalls the rebuilding of Chicago after the great fire, and symbolizes the rebirth of River North and the Merchandise Mart as a hub for digital technology.


The Merchandise Mart
Photo credit: Mike Desisto (flickr)

After the initial seven busts of the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame in the early 1950s, the series was revived once more in 1972, to include the famous retailer Montgomery Ward. Today, as the Mart is changing its image again, it may be an opportune time to make a new addition to the Hall of Fame. Montgomery Ward’s induction to the Hall of Fame was not done in the previous manner of advisory committee and national ballot – instead, according to Timothy Garvey (who wrote an article about the Hall of Fame in the Illinois Historical Journal in 1995) it was a more Chicago-centric celebration of a local luminary. Who should be added this time? Should it be Oprah Winfrey, who built her show and media empire in Chicago?


Bust of Marshall Field next to photo of Oprah Winfrey
Photo credits: Damon Taylor (flickr) and Alan Light (flickr)

Carter G. Woodson memorial on the way in Washington D.C.

Posted August 4th, 2014 by

The Northwest Current reported last month that plans to create a memorial to Carter G. Woodson in the District of Columbia are moving forward. The city council is reviewing plans that were recently approved by the National Capital Planning Commission.

Why Woodson? Woodson was a prominent African American educator, writer and historian who is perhaps best known today for promoting the first Negro History Week in the mid-1920s, a celebration of African American history that lives on today in Black History Month. Woodson lived for many years in Washington D.C. and his historic home, which is owned by the National Park Service, is only a few steps from the proposed memorial site at Q and 9th Streets, NW.

In 1927, around the same time he founded Negro History Week, Woodson completed the first history of the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program (which was winding down and would end in 1932). The Rosenwald Fund opened its archives (which present a rich demographic picture of rural African American communities in the early 20th century) and provided funding to Woodson to complete this important historical work. Woodson’s work was never published, but the manuscript is stored with the Rosenwald Fund Papers at Fisk University in Nashville.

At this same point in his life, while living in Washington in the mid-1920s, Woodson also crossed paths with a young Langston Hughes. Through a friend of his mother’s, Hughes got a job as Woodson’s personal assistant and began doing clerical work in Woodson’s office. Hughes writes in his autobiography that despite realizing the importance of Woodson’s research, he disliked the position so much that he soon quit and began work at the Wardman Park Hotel. Woodson was a good literary connection for Hughes, but the job at the Wardman Park Hotel gave him the opportunity to become the famous “busboy poet,” when he slipped three of his poems to a critic named Vachel Lindsay who was dining at the hotel. Lindsay introduced Hughes to publishers who would later print some of his most famous works.

Woodson was a great historian and a great Washingtonian. Kudos to the city for recognizing him with a new statue and memorial park.

Restored home and garden in Lynchburg a “window” into the Harlem Renaissance

Posted July 31st, 2014 by

Adrian Higgins writes for The Washington Post about the historic home of African American poet Anne Spencer. Spencer lived most of her life in segregated Lynchburg, Virginia, and her Victorian home became a salon of sorts for Harlem Renaissance figures. Her social circle contained many past Rosenwald fellows as well, like Marian Anderson, James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes. In Lynchburg, Spencer formed a local chapter of the NAACP and spoke out against segregation on public transportation. Spencer’s home and garden has been restored by the combined efforts of her descendants and a Lynchburg garden club, and both can be visited today.

Read more at The Washington Post.

Rosenwald Schools spotlight: Newberry County, South Carolina

Posted July 30th, 2014 by

Recently, our intern Nat McMaster visited three Rosenwald Schools near his hometown in South Carolina. The three are in varying states of repair, but Nat captured the beauty of each with his photographs. His report and photos are below:

1. Howard Junior High School ~ 431 Shiloh Street, Prosperity SC

Also known as the Shiloh School, Howard Junior High School – located on the property of Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church – served African-American students from in and around Prosperity between 1925 and 1954. It features four distinct classrooms, an assembly area, and large walls of windows on the front and back of the building. In the 1930s, two classrooms were added to the original structure and connected by a dogtrot.

Currently, Shiloh AME Church is the process of renovating the school for use as a social hall and other church functions. The school itself is not open to visitors, but you are welcome to wander around the surrounding cemetery and take pictures.

Howard Junior High School is listed on the national register of historic places.

2. Hannah Rosenwald School ~ 61 Deadfall Road, Newberry SC

Located south of Newberry on the property of Hannah AME Church, Hannah Rosenwald School is also known as the Utopia School, after the surrounding community. The school features three classrooms, three cloakrooms, and an entry hall. It is notable for being built on a north-to-south orientation, whereas most schools in South Carolina were built east-to-west. Hannah School was closed in the 1960s when rural county schools were consolidated with the Newberry and Silverstreet school systems.

Though it currently sits in disrepair and houses some old church furniture and other assorted items, the Hannah AME Church is looking to Heritage Preservation Services for a grant to begin renovation. The church also possesses the marble dedication tablet, which reads ROSENWALD SCHOOL, ERECTED 1925.

Hannah Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

3. Hope Rosenwald School ~ 1971 Hope Station Road, Pomaria SC

Though a total of 26 Rosenwald Schools were built in Newberry County alone, Hope Rosenwald School is one of only a few to be completely renovated. The school is located on the property of Saint Paul AME Church, outside Pomaria, and serves as a community center for the surrounding area.

It was constructed in 1925 on land sold to Newberry County by the Hope family for a mere five dollars. It was consolidated with the Newberry school system in 1954. The building contains two main classrooms, a kitchen (formerly an “industrial room”), and two cloakrooms. There is no known outhouse or privy to have been located on the property; if there was one, it was lost even before the consolidation of the schools. Three batteries of large windows adorn the front of the building, and two adorn the rear, however no windows are located on the sides of the building.

Hope Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

More about the history and design of the schools is on the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History website. All photographs belong to Nat McMaster and the Ciesla Foundation.

Douglas Brinkley to appear twice in Washington D.C.

Posted July 30th, 2014 by

Douglas Brinkley, who (with Johnny Depp) co-edited and wrote the introduction for the 2013 posthumous release of Woody Guthrie’s lost novel, House of Earth, will discuss his new book (co-written with Luke Nichter) The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 at two locations in the District of Columbia next week. House of Earth was a powerful novel written by Guthrie under his Rosenwald fellowship in the early 1940s.

First on August 6th at 7PM, Brinkley and Nichter will be at Politics and Prose, a bookstore in Northwest Washington. Then, on August 8th at noon, the two will appear at the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives.


Douglas Brinkley in 2007
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sons of James Baldwin

Posted July 21st, 2014 by

Were he still alive, James Baldwin would have been 90 years old this year. His thoughts, words and the way he used them to analyze the racial climate of the time touched readers and fellow authors alike.

After winning a Rosenwald grant in 1948, Baldwin could start work on his first novel: Go Tell It On The Mountain. In this novel, he explored religion and its effect on the nature of relationships and interactions within a community. For African Americans specifically, Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain looks at the repressions, moral hypocrisy and inspiration that comes from being entrenched in the church community.


Portrait of James Baldwin, 1955
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten Collection

The experiences of racial tension in Harlem, life in France with the expatriates, and travels around the country during the Civil Rights era shape the the enduring image and legacy of Baldwin. In the 1940s he fled the abuse, frustration and despair that came with being a young black man in America.

For him, “It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge,” he told the Paris Review.

The characters in Baldwin’s work, reflect this feeling. They’re as frustrated and downtrodden as Baldwin, hiding their fear and clutching on to their anger. But he reaches beyond this to the everyday interactions, manifestations of love and compassion that humanized the characters. Black youth for generations to come have identified with his stories, such as “Sonny’s Blues”.

Walter Dean Myers, who made a career writing children’s stories, was one of the many inspired by Baldwin to write stories where, as Myers explained, “black children [are] going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be.”

Myers died earlier this month, but much like his mentor Baldwin, his work remains an integral part of the African American literary canon.

A friend of Myers is quoted in his New York Times obituary saying that Myers “wrote about disenfranchised black kids, particularly boys, and he wrote about them with extraordinary honesty and also with compassion.” Undoubtedly some of this honesty and compassion was passed down from Baldwin, who also created a literary space where young black males could find themselves and their sense of belonging.

By Anakwa Dwamena

Washington D.C. book event at Busboys and Poets

Posted July 18th, 2014 by

Teaching for Change Bookstore at Busboys and Poets welcomes…

Matt Herron, Dorie Ladner, and a panel moderated by Askia Muhammad to discuss the book, This Light of our Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement.

Thursday, July 24, 2014
6:30 to 8:30 PM
Busboys and Poets – 14th & V
Langston Room

For more information, go to Busboys and Poets’ website.

Sponsors:
Julian Bond
Aviva Kempner
Institute for Policy Studies
Lessons of the 60’s Project
NAACP – Washington D.C. Branch
SNCC Legacy Project
WPFW
Teaching for Change
Busboys and Poets

Alabama community gathers Rosenwald School memorabilia for new Smithsonian

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

Gene Thornton, an alumnus of the Randolph County Training School, is reaching out to members of his community for any historical items or images they may have salvaged from their school before it closed in the 1970s. RCTS was a Rosenwald School built in 1919, and historic materials from the school have been requested for an exhibit at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Read more at The Randolph Leader.

Exhibit at MCA Chicago features Rosenwald Apartments

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

A new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago reportedly features recently-shot footage of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, built by Julius Rosenwald in 1929 on Chicago’s South Side.

According to MCA’s exhibition listing, the video installation, Unititled (Structures), by Leslie Hewitt and Bradford Young “is comprised of a series of silent vignettes, filmed at sites connected to the Civil Rights movement and the struggle for racial equality in the United States.” The present day images that Hewitt and Young have filmed of these locations in Memphis, Arkansas and Chicago belie their historic significance and cast a static, anti-nostalgic eye at structures that are still heavy with symbolism.

We got a tip from someone who attended the exhibition that the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments appear in the installation. Based on the description, images of the storied apartment complex should fit into the installation’s thematic context. At the time of its construction, the Rosenwald Apartments represented a significant step forward for African American housing opportunities in the city of Chicago, and modeled a way towards decent housing for all. Today “The Rosenwald” lies dormant and unheralded, just another vacant structure in a part of the city that is accustomed to derelict buildings and vacant lots. Fortunately, there is a plan in the works to rehabilitate the complex and provide affordable housing and retail space.


The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments in 2007
Photo credit: SilverRaven7 (flickr)

Get more details on the exhibit at MCA’s website. MCA will hold an event with Leslie Hewitt on August 23rd and the exhibit will be open until August 31st.

The HistoryMakers collection to be acquired by Library of Congress

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

The HistoryMakers, a huge archive of interviews with African Americans (both famous and not) who accomplished great things, will be added to the collection of the Library of Congress soon, according to The New York Times.

The archive, which contains over 9,000 hours of video interviews with 2,600 interview subjects, is an important historical endeavor and captures the stories of many amazing individuals, including some who have since passed away, such as Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee. Clips of the HistoryMakers interviews with Angelou and Dee can be viewed in the New York Times article linked above.

Adding these materials to the Library of Congress should ensure their preservation and open them up to easier access by viewers from the public as well as researchers and documentary filmmakers. Before he passed away in 2006, photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks sat for a HistoryMakers interview. In the interview, he discusses his fellowship from the Rosenwald Fund that helped his photography career early on. We hope to use this footage in our upcoming documentary, The Rosenwald Schools.

The founder of The HistoryMakers, Julieanna Richardson, should be commended on her vision and the years of work it took to realize it. Read more about this new stage of the HistoryMakers at The New York Times.

Rosenwald School spotlight: Pleasant Plains School

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

In May, we spotlighted the Rosenwald Schools of Pender County, North Carolina on this blog. Today we turn our attention to the northeast corner of the state: the Pleasant Plains School of Hertford County. Marvin T. Jones recently recounted the history of the school for us:

Pleasant Plains Church was founded in 1851 by free people of color who were mixed-race. In order to establish the church, A local White Baptist church oversaw the church and the pastor had to be white. During the Civil War, at least 40 men from the Pleasant Plains community joined the United States Colored Troops. After the war, the church founded its school in 1866. Four schools later came out of Pleasant Plains Baptist Church and the school: the Cotton School, the Walden School, the Union School and what became the 12-year Calvin Scott Brown School, the first high school in the region for people of color. I attended Brown for 9 years and transferred to a previously all-white high school.

Around WWI, the Rosenwald Fund encouraged Pleasant Plains Church to build a successor schoolhouse, the Rosenwald school that I am now working to preserve. In 1950, the county closed the school and sold it to the church for $1. Since then it has served as a community center, and it is now dormant.

The church, Pleasant Plains Baptist, where I am a member, has accepted my proposal to preserve the schoolhouse. The first steps are just now being made. On June 27th an NC State Historic Preservation officer will visit the site and advise us. Part of my proposal is to put the building back in use by the church and community.


The Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School in the 1980s
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marvin T. Jones

As with all Rosenwald Schools, the African American community in Pleasant Plains partially funded the construction of the school (40% of constructions costs in this case, according to the Rosenwald Database at Fisk University). But community involvement didn’t end at the funding of the school. Here’s an account of daily life at the school that really showcases the way the community stepped up to support it.

It was a true family school in which teachers and parents cooperated in various aspects of the school experience. According to former student Calvin Weaver, a family living across the road from the school provided wood for the pot-bellied stove in each classroom and made the fire early in the morning before teachers and students arrived. In summertime the mothers gathered together to can string beans, corn, lima beans, and tomatoes for their children’s lunches. On cold winter mornings they took turns sending jars of food to school. After organizing the day’s lessons, the teacher opened the jars, poured the contents into a large pot, and set the pot on top of the stove to warm. Because the room was cold, the contents took a long time to heat. By lunchtime, however, the pot was warm and everyone enjoyed the delicious soup made from vegetables their own mothers had canned.

From Black Heritage Sites: The South, by Nancy C. Curtis, 1996.


The Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School, circa 1940
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marvin T. Jones

A portrait of Julius Rosenwald, which was a feature of many Rosenwald Schools, still hangs in the Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School:


Julius Rosenwald’s portrait in the Pleasant Plains School
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marvin T. Jones

Interestingly, this portrait seems to be identical to the one Lester Mae Hill retrieved for us at the Cairo Rosenwald School in Tennessee when we visited earlier this year:


Lester Mae Hill with the Cairo School’s portrait of Mr. Rosenwald
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

The Pleasant Plains Rosenwald School can be found near the junction of US-13 and Pleasant Plain Road in Hertford County, North Carolina (between the towns of Winton and Ahoskie). Many thanks to Marvin Jones for sharing these pictures and this information about his school.

Rosenwald connection at the National Gallery of Art

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

Ever since the new Degas/Cassatt show opened at the National Gallery of Art here in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, I’ve been meaning to check it out. The NGA came up recently on The Rosenwald Schools production when I interviewed Linda Levy, whose grandfather Lessing Rosenwald (JR’s first son) donated a substantial amount of art to the venerable gallery.


Lessing Rosenwald in later years
Photo credit: The estate of Nancy Salazar

Because I had two good reasons to visit the NGA this weekend I decided to make the trip with my editor, Marian Hunter. When I arrived at the gallery, I asked a tour guide where I might find Lessing Rosenwald’s contributions to the museum and she directed me to Room 75 upstairs.

It was only once I arrived at the “Lessing Rosenwald Room” that I realized his donated artworks were part of the wonderful temporary exhibition of works by Degas and Cassatt. Six pieces donated by Rosenwald have made their way into this show.

It’s great to know that Lessing Rosenwald’s contributions to the NGA remain vital and interesting to museum-goers and remain publicly available, as was his wish. Rosenwald also donated many materials to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and they have a “Rosenwald Room” that is set up to resemble Lessing’s reading room at “Alverthorpe,” his home in suburban Philadelphia (which is now a park belonging to the borough of Jenkintown, PA).

The Degas/Cassatt exhibition is open at the NGA until October 5th, so take the time to visit before then.

Legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee passes away

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

CNN reports that Ruby Dee, the remarkable actress and Civil Rights activist, passed away peacefully on June 11th at her home in New Rochelle, New York.

During the 1960s, Dee was acquainted with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. With her husband Ossie Davis, she was a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington.

Ossie, who passed away in 2005, will be featured in our film, The Rosenwald Schools, talking about Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Davis was a student at Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1939. He was inspired by the optimism of Anderson’s rendition of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee on the National Mall, a wonderful performance made more poignant by the D.A.R.’s refusal to allow her to appear at Constitution Hall. Ossie, who passed away in 2005, was filmed discussing the concert for a 1993 documentary entitled The Great Depression discussing the impact of Anderson’s concert on him as a young man.

Ruby Dee was a remarkable actress of stage and screen for more than half a century, starring on Broadway and in films like 1989’s Do the Right Thing and 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun. We will include excerpts from the latter film in The Rosenwald Schools‘ section on Chicago’s crowded “kitchenette” apartment buildings.


Ruby Dee with Sidney Poitier in the 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

eBay find – James Weldon Johnson and Julius Rosenwald

Posted July 15th, 2014 by

Recently, while searching online for vintage copies of books written under Rosenwald fellowships, we came across a truly unique copy of the very first book written under a Rosenwald fellowship. Black Manhattan, written by James Weldon Johnson in 1930, is a sociological study that traces the history of African Americans in New York City up until the 1920s.


James Weldon Johnson in 1932
Photo Credit: The Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten Collection

The copy for sale on eBay (for $7,500.00 or best offer) is not just a first edition. Its title page is also signed by Johnson to none other than Julius Rosenwald, “with great admiration and deep regard.”

Below is a screenshot of the auction listing, in case it disappears. Click the image for a larger version.

It’s amazing what can turn up on eBay. This is an artifact that really showcases the historical impact of the Rosenwald Fund’s fellowship program.

Rosenwald fellow’s work a key part of Corcoran collection

Posted July 15th, 2014 by

A few weeks ago, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. announced a new partnership with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University that will radically change the makeup of the historic museum. As the Corcoran prepares to enter into a new phase of its existence, The Washington Post asked chief curator Philip Brookman to talk about some of the works of art that have made the gallery what it is today.

One of the works Brookman, who we interviewed last year about Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks, mentioned was by another Rosenwald fellow, Aaron Douglas. In 1996, Brookman remembers, the Corcoran Gallery acquired “Into Bondage”, a panel from a mural by Douglas that depicts slaves being led to ships in chains. According to Brookman, this was “a moment of important collecting,” for the Gallery, which has an outstanding collection of African American art.

You can see and read about the rest of the works of art named by Philip Brookman and Corcoran’s manager of curatorial affairs Lisa Strong here.

Interview with Rita Dove – July 2014

Posted July 14th, 2014 by

On July 1st, director Aviva Kempner had the pleasure of interviewing the poet Rita Dove for our upcoming film, The Rosenwald Schools. Dove, who has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and served as the United States Poet Laureate, gave a wonderful interview. She told us about several of the luminaries who received Rosenwald fellowships early in their careers: Marian Anderson, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston.

In her interview, Dove delved into the particulars of Langston Hughes’ two Rosenwald fellowship periods, beginning in 1931 and 1941. During his first Rosenwald fellowship, Langston traveled to almost every Southern state to do poetry readings at black colleges and universities. When he received the Rosenwald fellowship in 1931, Langston was living at the Harlem Rosenwald YMCA. The grant money allowed him to purchase a car and print copies of his work to bring along on his trip South. Click here to see a picture of Langston in front of his new car, at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Dove related the origins of Langston’s journey to the South in her interview. It was Mary McLeod Bethune who influenced him to undertake the trip, suggesting that there were many residents of Southern states who weren’t aware of his work and would respond strongly to it. Stephanie Deutsch (author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South) recently blogged about Mary McLeod Bethune’s connection to another Rosenwald fellowship recipient, Zora Neale Hurston. The 135th anniversary of Bethune’s birth was last Thursday (July 10th) and she has a statue in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park.


Mary McLeod Bethune in 1938
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection

While in Alabama, Langston held a reading at Tuskegee and also visited the Scottsboro Boys on death row. We wrote about this important visit in November of last year, on the occasion of their posthumous pardon by the state of Alabama.

In her interview, Dove pointed out how important it was for African American artists of that time to travel South:

Many artists who grew up in the Midwest or the urban north in fact were the progeny from the Great Migration. For them to go south was a very, very brave thing [and] sometimes it ended up producing remarkable work.

Dove described this as a theme in the Rosenwald fellowships. Artists like Hale Woodruff, Eldzier Cortor and Jacob Lawrence (who made the amazing “Great Migration” series) used their Rosenwald grants to travel the South and depict it in their artworks. In fact, Dove herself grew up in Ohio, and she poignantly described her experience visiting Georgia for the first time as a child in the early 1960s.


Rita Dove, poet
Photo Credit: The Ciesla Foundation, July 2014

Many thanks to Rita Dove for agreeing to be interviewed and for hosting our crew in her home.

Legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee passes away

Posted June 13th, 2014 by

CNN reports that Ruby Dee, the remarkable actress and Civil Rights activist, passed away peacefully on June 11th at her home in New Rochelle, New York.

During the 1960s, Dee was acquainted with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. With her husband Ossie Davis, she was a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington.

Ossie, who passed away in 2005, will be featured in our film, The Rosenwald Schools, talking about Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Davis was a student at Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1939. He was inspired by the optimism of Anderson’s rendition of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee on the National Mall, a wonderful performance made more poignant by the D.A.R.’s refusal to allow her to appear at Constitution Hall. Ossie, who passed away in 2005, was filmed discussing the concert for a 1993 documentary entitled The Great Depression discussing the impact of Anderson’s concert on him as a young man.

Ruby Dee was a remarkable actress of stage and screen for more than half a century, starring on Broadway and in films like 1989’s Do the Right Thing and 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun. We will include excerpts from the latter film in The Rosenwald Schools‘ section on Chicago’s crowded “kitchenette” apartment buildings.


Ruby Dee with Sidney Poitier in the 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

New documentary about Jensen, who designed grounds of Rosenwald’s Ravinia home

Posted June 9th, 2014 by

A new documentary by filmmaker Carey Lundin, entitled Jens Jensen: The Living Green will be shown at Millennium Park in Chicago on June 19th, with a simultaneous broadcast on the Chicago area public television channel WTTW.

The film is about Jensen, a Danish-born landscape architect, naturalist and designer of many Chicago area green spaces. In addition to Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory and Columbus Park, Jensen designed two parks on the north shore connected with the Rosenwald family. We’ve written about them on this blog. Jensen designed the estate of Julius Rosenwald’s suburban home in Ravinia (which today lives on as “Rosewood Beach”) and was a close acquaintance of Augusta Rosenwald, who has a commemorative boulder in the town of Highland Park’s downtown pocket park, “Jens Jensen Park.”

Lundin’s film looks to be an excellent history of Jensen’s life that also brings out what his work can offer for those designing and improving today’s urban spaces. For more information about the screening in Chicago, go to jenjensenthelivinggreen.org.

Rosenwald connection at the National Gallery of Art

Posted June 9th, 2014 by

Ever since the new Degas/Cassatt show opened at the National Gallery of Art here in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, I’ve been meaning to check it out. The NGA came up recently on The Rosenwald Schools production when I interviewed Linda Levy, whose grandfather Lessing Rosenwald (JR’s first son) donated a substantial amount of art to the venerable gallery.


Lessing Rosenwald in later years
Photo credit: The estate of Nancy Salazar

Because I had two good reasons to visit the NGA this weekend I decided to make the trip with my editor, Marian Hunter. When I arrived at the gallery, I asked a tour guide where I might find Lessing Rosenwald’s contributions to the museum and she directed me to Room 75 upstairs.

It was only once I arrived at the “Lessing Rosenwald Room” that I realized his donated artworks were part of the wonderful temporary exhibition of works by Degas and Cassatt. Six pieces donated by Rosenwald have made their way into this show.

It’s great to know that Lessing Rosenwald’s contributions to the NGA remain vital and interesting to museum-goers and remain publicly available, as was his wish. Rosenwald also donated many materials to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and they have a “Rosenwald Room” that is set up to resemble Lessing’s reading room at “Alverthorpe,” his home in suburban Philadelphia (which is now a park belonging to the borough of Jenkintown, PA).

The Degas/Cassatt exhibition is open at the NGA until October 5th, so take the time to visit before then.

Chance meeting with the great-great-grandson of famed peddler philanthropist

Posted May 28th, 2014 by

And I don’t mean Julius Rosenwald.

I was at a dinner party Sunday night and was discussing the new work in progress of The Rosenwald Schools which is all about Julius Rosenwald’s father, Samuel, who worked as a pack peddler when he first arrived in Baltimore in the 1850s. Because of this great story, mid-19th century Jewish peddlers are a central subject in the new work in progress (which premiered here at the Washington D.C. JCC on April 13th). One of the guests at the dinner party, Art Allen, said his great-great-grandfather had been a peddler of some renown, and went on to describe a photograph of him, Mr. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, as a young pack peddler in Kentucky.

It didn’t take long before I realized that I knew this photo well and had actually included in the peddlers section of my new work in progress. I first encountered the image on the cover of Dr. Hasia Diner’s book A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration, 1820-1880. Dr. Diner will be in the film, describing Samuel Rosenwald and the fascinating trade of the Jewish peddler. The original photograph lies in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Louisville, and we licensed it from them for use in The Rosenwald Schools.


A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration, 1820-1880

Like Samuel Rosenwald, Bernheim quickly made his way out of the profession of peddler and became a very wealthy man who established the the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest near Louisville, Kentucky. Art tells a colorful version of his great-great-grandfather’s story, which I’ll share with you here with his permission:

As for I.W., he was cranky and short and settled in Louisville after creating his whiskey business in Paducah, Ky., where he and a former Civil War vet called their whiskey I.W. Harper. Last I heard it was popular in Japan. I heard a lot of stories about I.W., many of which may even be true. Someone told me that when Prohibition hit, I.W. sold the whole business. He went into philanthropy and became an advocate of extreme assimilation, once holding a debate with Rabbi Stephen Wise over his (I.W.’s) proposal to change the Sabbath to Sunday and rename synagogue “church.” He committed suicide at age 95 in 1945 by jumping out of the window of a hotel in San Francisco. He left $1 million to each of his five kids, who fought over the money. They were known in Cincinnati circles as “the battling Bernheims.” One of his sons became a famous Johns Hopkins surgeon — Bernard Burnham (many of the kids WASPified their names); a skinny little grandson everyone called Tubby Burnham created Drexel Burnham Lambert. He died a few years ago.

Many thanks to Art for sharing this wonderful coincidence with me.

Arthur Allen is an editor at Politico and a freelance writer in Washington D.C. He’s the author of Vaccine: the Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver (WW Norton, 2007), Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato (Counterpoint, 2010) and The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl (WW Norton, July 2014).

Edit, May 28, 2014: After reading this blog post, one of our recent interviewees, Rabbi Howard Berman shared some more information about Bernheim with us. Isaac Bernheim endowed the first library building on the campus of America’s first rabbinical seminary, the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. This library became the home of the American Jewish Archives in 1948

Maya Angelou, who will appear in The Rosenwald Schools, dies at 86

Posted May 28th, 2014 by

The great American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou has passed away. The New York Times has posted an obituary that includes a video of Angelou delivering the inaugural poem at the 1993 swearing-in of President Bill Clinton.

According to the Times, Angelou had been in poor health for some time, but she appeared here in Washington last month at the unveiling of her portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. We covered the event on this blog.


Maya Angelou speaking in 2007
Photo credit: NPS via Wikimedia Commons

Angelou recorded an interview for the 1993 documentary entitled The Great Depression in which she described growing up under Jim Crow in rural Arkansas. One of the bright spots she talks about was the Rosenwald School she attended (the Lafayette County Training School in Stamps, Arkansas) where she began her love of reading. We are using parts of this marvelous interview in The Rosenwald Schools documentary.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on “The Case For Reparations”

Posted May 28th, 2014 by

In a much-discussed new article in The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a compelling case for reparations. The whole article is worth reading, but we took note of a specific passage about one Coates characters, Clyde Ross. Ross, who later became a housing activist in Chicago, was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi and yearned to attend his local Rosenwald School as a child:

Clyde Ross was a smart child. His teacher thought he should attend a more challenging school. There was very little support for educating black people in Mississippi. But Julius Rosenwald, a part owner of Sears, Roebuck, had begun an ambitious effort to build schools for black children throughout the South. Ross’s teacher believed he should attend the local Rosenwald school. It was too far for Ross to walk and get back in time to work in the fields. Local white children had a school bus. Clyde Ross did not, and thus lost the chance to better his education.

You can read more at The Atlantic. Coates will appear at sixth&i in Washington D.C. on June 12, 2014.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools – May in New York

Posted May 14th, 2014 by

We added five great interviews to our project (the upcoming documentary The Rosenwald Schools) at a two day shoot last week in New York City. First up was George C. Wolfe, Tony Award-winning playwright and director, known for Broadway productions like Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, last year’s Nora Ephron-written Lucky Guy and the 2005 HBO film Lackawanna Blues.

FEROCIOUS CONFIDENCE

Wolfe was born in Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky, a state where over 150 Rosenwald Schools and schools had been built with the support of the Rosenwald Fund. By 1932, over 100,000 African American schoolchildren had been educated in a Kentucky Rosenwald School. Wolfe, who was born in 1954, was part of the generation after the Rosenwald Schools’ biggest impact. By the time he started school, the Rosenwald-funded school in his community had been replaced with a more modern building where his mother was a teacher. The school Wolfe attended was nonetheless officially known as the Rosenwald School, probably in recognition of the importance of the previous school, which was still extant when Wolfe was a child. Wolfe treasures his time at “Rosenwald,” and he shared some of his formative experiences there with us. For example:

It became the mission of all the teachers at Rosenwald to make sure we were fortified and that we were confident and that we were able to go forth into the world. I remember at one point we were invited to perform at this other school, and we were singing this song. And I remember very specifically the lyrics: “These truths we are declaring, that all men are the same. That liberty’s a torch, burning with a steady flame.” And [our principal] told us that when we got to the line, “That liberty’s a torch, burning with a steady flame,” if we sang it with full conviction, we would transform all the energy in the room, we would cause all the white people in the room to shed their racism. So I remember very specifically us singing this song, “These truths we are declaring, that all men are the same.” And then we got to this line and we practically screamed it: “That liberty’s a torch, burning with a steady flame.” And it wasn’t so much that it happened, the amazing thing about that story for me is that we believed it. I’ve gone on to work in theater and film and to become a writer, and her saying that to me, to us, at that time lives inside of me to this very day and informs the kind of work that I do and the kind of work that I believe in. In many respects I received the grounding or the nurturing or the watering of the seeds that I became at that school, from those extraordinary teachers, who were all so committed and so dedicated and so ferociously involved in making the students feel special. And I don’t think I would become the person I became had I not gone to that school.


George C. Wolfe with Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 6, 2014

“GENERAL MERCHANDISE”

Next up, we filmed a granddaughter and two great-granddaughters of Julius Rosenwald. First we interviewed Elizabeth Varet, daughter of William Rosenwald, the youngest child of five born to Julius and Augusta Rosenwald. Varet related a funny story that we first read about in Peter Ascoli’s biography of Julius Rosenwald about J.R.’s service in World War I. Along with some other business magnates, Rosenwald moved to Washington during the war and advised the federal government on procurement for the troops, taking a salary of a dollar per year. In 1918, he sailed to Europe and toured the U.S. military camps in France dressed in military fatigues, but with no insignia or marking of rank. According to Ascoli, J.R. was uncomfortable in the uniform and often used it to get a laugh in the opening remarks of his speeches to the troops.


Aviva Kempner with Elizabeth Varet, granddaughter of Julius Rosenwald
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 6, 2014

Toward the end of J.R.’s trip, he crossed paths at a camp with Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. Early one morning, Secretary Baker was meeting with the various military personnel at the camp. Elizabeth Varet picked up the story there:

This is told by my grandfather: as Secretary Baker came down the aisle, he said that each general should step forward, salute and introduce himself – “I’m General So-and-so.” And then they came to my grandfather and as a dollar a year man, a businessman, he didn’t have any insignia. And he stood forward and said, “I am General Merchandise.”

This line got a big laugh and became a family story for years to come. Although Rosenwald never served in combat, he proved extremely valuable in his advisory capacity and by all accounts was a hit at the French camps he visited in 1918. At the National Archives, we recently came across a silent film produced by the Department of Defense that captured one of Rosenwald’s speeches to the troops. Since it’s so rare, it’s always exciting to find footage of Rosenwald, but we typically can’t share it on the blog due to copyright concerns (although last April we shared another brief glimpse of J.R. found at the National Archives). Here’s JR addressing an unknown U.S. encampment in France:


From “Activities and Reviews at Headquarters S.O.S., Tours, France, 1918-1919”
Credit: NARA Local Identifier 111-H-1448

THE BOOK COLLECTOR

Each of Julius and Augusta Rosenwald’s children went on to achieve significant things in their lives. Elizabeth Varet’s father William helped three hundred members of the extended Rosenwald family in Europe escape the Nazis during World War II. Marian Rosenwald Ascoli and Adele Rosenwald Levy devoted their lives to charitable causes; Marion to health services for children and Adele to the Museum of Modern Art and supporting Holocaust survivors through the United Jewish Appeal. And Edith Stern was a major supporter of the cause of Civil Rights for African Americans in New Orleans, as we learned from our interviewee, Anne Hess, and from Cokie Roberts, who we interviewed last September.


Linda Levy, granddaughter of Lessing Rosenwald
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 6, 2014

Perhaps the most well-known of the Rosenwald children, however, was their eldest, Lessing Rosenwald. Lessing, who was an avid collector of rare books, prints and engravings, is remembered today for the collections he donated to the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. His invaluable donations include the Giant Bible of Mainz, drawings and engravings by Albrecht Dürer and William Blake and etchings by Rembrandt.

Lessing had 19 grandchildren, most of whom grew up in the Philadelphia area where he spent most of his adult life. We spoke to one of his grandchildren, Linda Levy, who had many fond memories of visiting her grandfather at his home in Jenkintown, a suburb north of Philadelphia. Linda mentioned that Lessing did work at Sears (at their Philadelphia plant) but that his real passion was rare book collecting. Lessing always told his grandchildren he felt very fortunate to be able to make his life’s work something he loved. As Linda put it, Lessing

…greatly respected, greatly admired the books that he had and the prints. When I saw my grandfather Lessing take a book out of the case, it was with such love, such reverence, admiration, respect for this artifact. The books and prints were in very good hands when they were in Lessing’s hands.

The interview shoot was a reunion of sorts for the three Rosenwald descendants. Linda and Elizabeth hadn’t seen each other in awhile and I was glad they got a chance to catch up and discuss their remarkable family tree.


Elizabeth Varet and Linda Levy
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 6, 2014

“ROSENWALD SCHOOLS” IN LIBERIA

The third Rosenwald descendant we spoke with was Anne Hess, the granddaughter of Edith and Edgar Stern. Anne shared stories about her grandparents’ progressive support for voting rights in New Orleans during the 1930s and 1940s, but her own experience following in the footsteps of her famous great-grandfather, Julius Rosenwald, caught our attention:

[Julius Rosenwald] viewed education as the path to equality. In addition to that, he viewed one of the responsibilities of wealth as doing responsible things with it. About five years ago, I had the opportunity to help with an effort to build more schools in Liberia. The method that my great-grandfather used was that the community in the South had to put the land up, had to want to have the school there and had to participate in making the school a reality. In Liberia, they had the same model without knowing that it was connected to my great-grandfather. The community had to identify the property, they had to be willing to oversee the construction of the schools and then the government would provide the funding for the teachers and the materials. I went around to my various family members, cousins of which I have many, and raised enough money for a school in Liberia. There’s a Rosenwald School in Northern Liberia, and to this day it operates and serves children in a very rural area.

It’s inspiring to see that this kind of philanthropy that Julius Rosenwald innovated, built on matching grants and community involvement, still works today.


Aviva Kempner with Anne Hess, granddaughter of Edith and Edgar Stern
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 6, 2014

THE “ROLLING STORE MAN”

Our final interviewee was Eli Evans, author of several books on the Jewish experience in the South. Eli painted a picture of the history of the “special relationship” between Jews and blacks in Southern states. After talking about the tragic Leo Frank case (which resulted in the lynching of a Jewish factory manager) and Civil Rights partnerships between Jews and blacks, Eli went back to the very beginning of their interactions, when Jewish peddlers and shopkeepers began to do business in the 19th century South.

Slaves who had been mistreated often by whites, [began] discovering a white man who was different than any other they’d ever met. He spoke with an accent, he came to them to sell and be kind to them. He did not own slaves, he had never owned slaves. He came to serve and he also brought news from elsewhere. Like a visitor, he brought trinkets for the children, and everybody was excited when he came. A black writer whose parents had been slaves told me that the name for the Jews who came was the “rolling store man,” because he drove horses in a carriage. It’s a wonderful image to me: you can see the people running out of the house, kids running out of the house saying, “The rolling store man is here.” There was a relationship, there’s no question about it, a relationship on both sides. There’s stories of [Jewish peddlers] who left their kosher cooking gear with the same family every time because they knew they would come by there to spend the night and they needed that to eat with. It’s sort of wonderful story, but it’s true also. It was one of the elements in the development of the relationship between blacks and Jews which became a very special one through history.


Aviva Kempner with Eli Evans
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 6, 2014

Thanks to our great interviewees and the new crew we worked with: Roger Grange, Dan Bricker and Judy Karp.

Dramatic soprano was influenced by Marian Anderson at a young age

Posted May 14th, 2014 by

Beloved American opera singer Jessye Norman recently released her memoir, Stand Up Straight and Sing!, which tells of her amazing life story and the people who inspired her to greatness.

Born in 1945, in Augusta, Georgia, she became interested in singing after listening to recordings of Rosenwald fellow Marian Anderson. As a teenager she took part in a Philadelphia vocal competition named after Anderson (a Philadelphia native) where Norman received an offer for a full scholarship to Howard University in Washington D.C. Like Marian Anderson, she began her singing career in Europe but went on to achieve international fame.

I had the pleasure of hearing a lovely discussion with Ms. Norman and briefly meeting her at a book signing hosted by Darren Walker, head of the Ford Foundation during my recent trip to New York. Here’s a photo of us together:


Jessye Norman and Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, May 2013

Last month, Ms. Norman performed as part of a Marian Anderson tribute concert at Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall, the very venue that Anderson was barred from appearing in back in 1939.

Valerie Jarrett on her mother, Barbara Bowman, for Mother’s Day

Posted May 14th, 2014 by

Sunday’s Washington Post had a lovely set of columns by women from Washington, and elsewhere, writing about their mothers. Among women like D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier and Rep. Jackie Speier, there was Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama.

Ms. Jarrett talks about respecting her mother, Chicago educator Barbara Bowman, for her promotion of early childhood education since the 1960s. “I feel that I stand on her shoulders,” she writes, complimenting Ms. Bowman for unapologetically choosing to be a working mother in spite of criticism and admiring her steady navigation of the inevitable household issues of marriage.

Barbara Bowman is a professor, author and expert on early childhood education. The daughter of Robert Rochon Taylor, she grew up in the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, Julius Rosenwald’s groundbreaking housing project for African Americans on Chicago’s South Side. Ms. Bowman speaks warmly about growing up in the comfortable, expansive building in our upcoming documentary, The Rosenwald Schools.


Barbara Bowman, talking to us about the Rosenwald Apartments
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2011

Take the time to read about Barbara Bowman and other remarkable women in Ms. Jarrett’s, and the other columns, at the Washington Post.

Rosenwald Schools spotlight: Pender County, North Carolina

Posted May 13th, 2014 by

Residents of Pender County, along with filmmaker Claudia Stack (http://www.underthekudzu.org/) and the Historic Wilmington Foundation are on the move recently, commemorating and sharing the history of the Rosenwald Schools in their part of North Carolina, a rural county north of Wilmington. North Carolina was the state that built the most schools with the Rosenwald Fund’s assistance and Ms. Stack has said that Pender County has perhaps the most extant Rosenwald Schools in the state.

In April, Ms. Stack joined Glen Harris at Poplar Grove Plantation in Scotts Hill, North Carolina to talk about the impact of the Rosenwald School movement in the South. Tickets are on sale now for a May 31st bus tour organized by Ms. Stack, the Canetuck Community Center and the Historic Wilmington Foundation.

Here’s Ms. Stack talking about the Rosenwald school building program, North Carolina’s Rosenwald Schools and her film, Under the Kudzu:

This is the second annual celebration and tour of the area’s Rosenwald Schools. In March of last year, Stephanie Deutsch (author of You Need a Schoolhouse and a consultant on our upcoming film, The Rosenwald Schools) joined a panel discussion at University of North Carolina Wilmington about the area’s Rosenwald legacy and also visited the Canetuck Community Senior Center, a lovely restored Rosenwald School in Pender County.

Wilmington’s StarNews also wrote a recent article about a community center in the Pender County town of Willard that has served the area since the 1980s. It’s in a building that was not funded by the Rosenwald Fund school-building program, but followed the plans for schools provided by the Rosenwald Fund. There are a surprising number of historic schools out there that aren’t “Rosenwald Schools” but used the Rosenwald plans. We blogged last year about one in South Carolina, the beautifully restored Jane Hamilton School on Daufuskie Island. The Willard Outreach community center will be part of the bus tour on May 31st.

The area has another connection to the Rosenwald story as well. Robert Robinson Taylor, founding architect of Tuskegee University, grew up in Wilmington in an integrated community made up largely of recently freed slaves. Taylor of course went on to design many of the original buildings on Tuskegee’s Alabama campus, head the school’s heralded architecture department and contribute to the architectural plans for the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program across the South, but his years in Wilmington were formative for him. According to R.R. Taylor’s granddaughters Barbara Bowman and Lauranita Dugas, who we interviewed for The Rosenwald Schools, Taylor’s father Henry was not freed until the Civil War, but had been a semi-independent contractual builder in Wilmington even before he achieved his freedom. The integrated community in Wilmington provided an excellent upbringing for Henry Taylor’s four children, three of which attended Howard University in Washington D.C. Robert Taylor, who befriended a schoolteacher and architect from Boston, went to MIT instead, got a degree in architecture and worked at a firm in Cleveland before he was recruited by Booker T. Washington to design Tuskegee’s campus.


Robert Robinson Taylor in his later years, back in Wilmington
Photo credit: Collection of Lauranita Dugas

We’ve written more thoroughly on this blog about Robert Rochon Taylor, Robert Robinson Taylor’s son, and his partnership with Julius Rosenwald in Chicago. Robert Taylor the younger helped design and then managed Julius Rosenwald’s pioneering apartment building for African Americans on Chicago’s South Side, and dedicated his life providing high quality affordable housing for Chicagoans. He wrote a series of articles in the 1930s in the Chicago Defender that laid out his and Rosenwald’s belief in the promise of private capital to redevelop deteriorated, overcrowded urban neighborhoods like the area known as the “Black Belt” in mid-century Chicago.

The history of Pender County and Wilmington, North Carolina is rich and has some interesting connections to the work of Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund. Kudos to Claudia Stack, Historic Wilmington and the Rosenwald School alumni and former teachers of North Carolina for organizing these events and keeping the memory alive.

The Rosenwald Schools work in progress screens in Maryland

Posted April 30th, 2014 by

Historic Takoma and We Are Takoma invited Aviva Kempner (director of The Rosenwald Schools documentary) and Stephanie Deutsch (author of You Need A Schoolhouse and a consultant on our film) to take part an excellent program about a historic school in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C. The event, entitled “Takoma Park’s Black School & The Rosenwald Legacy,” was held at the Takoma Park Community Center on April 29th.

Attendees first heard musical selections by African American composers, played by the Takoma Park band. One of the selections was “Lift Evr’y Voice and Sing,” by James Weldon Johnson, the recipient of the first Rosenwald fellowship. Then, Diana Kohn (the event organizer) introduced the night’s discussion topic. A work in progress excerpt of the upcoming documentary, The Rosenwald Schools, was then screened for the audience.


The Takoma Park Band
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, April 2014

After the screening, Aviva and Stephanie discussed their work and the history of the two-room Rosenwald School that was built in Takoma Park on Geneva Avenue. Alumni from the school were present and shared their memories of attending the school.


Alumni of the Geneva Avenue Rosenwald School
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, April 2014

Thank you to Diana Kohn, Historic Takoma and We Are Takoma for making this event possible.

Aviva Kempner sits in on Nashville Film Festival panel discussion

Posted April 23rd, 2014 by

Women in Film and Television, Nashville, gathered together a great panel of filmmakers for the Nashville Film Festival last weekend. Along with Aviva Kempner, other panelists included Joanna Lucchesi, Sr Vice President, Entertainment Division, City National Bank of Beverly Hills, who has more than 30 plus years of experience in the film and television industry, Guy Noffsinger, Senior Producer, Multimedia Specialist NASA, Washington, DC with multiple credits as producer, director and writer of NASA released Television and Film projects such as; Space Shuttle, NASA Remembers Neil Armstrong and Friendship 7, 50th Anniversary and Beth Harrington, multi award-winning independent producer, director and writer, who has been making media professionally since 1977.

Harrington premiered her new film, The Winding Stream at the festival. The Winding Stream – The Carters, The Cash Family and The Course of Country Music is a music history and performance film. Her film features members of the Carter and Cash families and includes an interview with the legendary Johnny Cash who was interviewed by Ms. Harrington 3 weeks before his death in 2003. Local television personality Demetria Kalodimos emceed the program. Kempner also showed the two work in progresses of The Rosenwald Schools to an enthusiastic audience.


Guy Noffsinger, Beth Harrington, Deborah Gordon, Demetria Kalodimos, Joanna Lucchesi, and Aviva Kempner

Thanks to Women in Film and Television, Nashville, for putting together a great event!

Two new works in progress of The Rosenwald Schools screen at DC JCC

Posted April 23rd, 2014 by

Thanks to the Washington Jewish Film Festival, a brand new work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools with the added interview with Rep. John Lewis screened last Sunday, April 13th at the Washington D.C. JCC. The large audience saw both the new work in progress and a special premiere of a 9 minute sequence about Julius Rosenwald’s immigrant father and the philanthropist’s childhood in Springfield, Illinois that will be near the beginning of the film.

The event was co-sponsored by Docs In Progress, The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and Women in Film & Video.

The audience was very responsive to the program; many who attended gave valuable suggestions to us for how to improve the film. Thanks to all those who attended for your wonderful input!

If the funds are raised we hope to have the film ready for release in March 2014 and have a premiere at the Washington Jewish Film Festival, 25 years after director Aviva Kempner founded the festival with Miriam Morsel Nathan.

For ways to see the work in progress of the film and show it at a fundraising parlour party, contact cieslafdn@gmail.com. We would be most grateful for help in finishing the film and you would be listed among the end credits. All contributions are tax deductible.

New work in progress of The Rosenwald Schools screens at DC JCC

Posted April 23rd, 2014 by

A brand new work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools with the added interview with Rep. John Lewis screened last Sunday, April 13th at the Washington D.C. JCC. The large audience saw both the new work in progress and a special premiere of a 9 minute sequence about Julius Rosenwald’s immigrant father and the philanthropist’s childhood in Springfield, Illinois that will be near the beginning of the film.

The event was co-sponsored by Docs In Progress, The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and Women in Film & Video.

The audience was very responsive to the program; many who attended gave valuable suggestions to us for how to improve the film. Thanks to all those who attended for your wonderful input!

If the funds are raised we hope to have the film ready for release in March 2014 and have a premiere at the Washington Jewish Film Festival, 25 years after director Aviva Kempner founded the festival with Miriam Morsel Nathan.

For ways to see the work in progress of the film and show it at a fundraising parlour party, contact cieslafdn@gmail.com. We would be most grateful and you would be listed among the end credits.

Denzel Washington in a new Broadway production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

Posted April 21st, 2014 by

A new production of A Raisin in the Sun, starring Denzel Washington, debuted in the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York last week. The show is getting good reviews, including one by Ben Brantley of The New York Times.

Describing the set, Brantley writes:

A claustrophobic fatigue pervades the cramped, South Side Chicago apartment in which “A Raisin in the Sun” is set. And despite its often easygoing tone, a happy ending feels far from guaranteed. As designed by Mark Thompson, the Youngers’ living room cum kitchen is a narrow corridor that keeps its three generations of inhabitants in close, erosive proximity.

The kitchenette apartment where the action of A Raisin in the Sun takes place is based on the tiny shared-bath apartments that many African Americans called home in overcrowded, segregated early 20th century Chicago. After seeing the cramped conditions in the area of Chicago known as “The Black Belt,” Julius Rosenwald built the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, a spacious, modern, well-equipped building in the heart of the neighborhood in 1929. A scene from the 1961 film adaptation, starring Sidney Poiter, will be included in The Rosenwald Schools documentary and is already incorpoated in the twenty minute work in progress, which is used for fundraising to complete the movie. For ways to see the work in progress of the film and show it at a fundraising parlour party, contact cieslafdn@gmail.com. We would be most grateful and you would be listed among the end credits.

You can read more about the new Broadway production at The New York Times.

Birth of a Nation mentioned in EW interview

Posted April 21st, 2014 by

Jeff Labrecque interviews World War Z author Max Brooks in Entertainment Weekly about his new graphic novel, The Harlem Hellfighters. The new book, about a black infantry unit during World War I, looks great. One moment in the interview caught our eye, in connection to some research we’ve done for The Rosenwald Schools.

You use pop culture from the period as crucial plot elements, including D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a blatantly racist film that reflected attitudes of the time — so much so that Woodrow Wilson screened it at the White House.
I had seen Birth of a Nation in college, and it just blew me away. The movie itself didn’t blow me away; it was the reaction to it. Like you said about Wilson, people loved that movie — white people. That was the Star Wars of its day.

Despite its overtly racist themes and imagery, the release of Birth of a Nation (arguably the first significant feature-length film) was indeed a major event. We learned, however, that in addition to playing to some white viewers’ racism (and even inciting racial violence in some cases), the film also galvanized the nascent NAACP. The film provided them with a nationwide target to organize against and boycott, which helped new organization find its footing and become one of the major advocacy groups for minority rights in American history. We interviewed historian David Levering Lewis about the White House screening of Birth of a Nation and its effect on the NAACP.

You can read the complete interview at Entertainment Weekly.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools, March 2014 edition

Posted April 21st, 2014 by

More lovely interviews for The Rosenwald Schools were filmed earlier this week in Washington D.C. First of the day was Stephanie Meeks, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ms. Meeks told us about the National Trust’s involvement in Rosenwald School rehabilitation projects across the South, and their goal of restoring 100 of the roughly 800 extant structures in honor of the 100th anniversary of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington’s school-building program.

Ms. Meeks said that when she initially learned about the tri-fold funding structure of the original Rosenwald Schools, she was “astounded” that the often impoverished local African American residents were expected and able to raise a third of the money necessary to build each school in the program. This matching grant strategy amplified the effect of Rosenwald’s philanthropy dollar for dollar, but it also helped community members get emotionally invested and protective of their community’s new school. Meeks sees a parallel to this in her own experience with Rosenwald School rehabilitation projects of today:

In many ways that same model is being replicated today in the rehabilitation of the Rosenwald Schools. The National Trust is working to provide technical assistance to communities as well as grant funding that we’ve been able to accrue from other philanthropists. And the communities, the students and graduates themselves, are perpetuating this virtuous circle by reaching into their own pockets, putting money forward to help with the rehabilitation costs of some of these buildings. They understand that the preservation and the restoration of the Rosenwald schools is a way of keeping this story alive and continuing to contribute to the community.


Aviva Kempner and Edwin B. Henderson, II
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, March 25, 2014

Next up was Edwin B. Henderson, II, who we met at a panel discussion last month. Mr. Henderson is a historical preservationist living in Falls Church, Virginia. His mission is to preserve the legacy of his grandfather (with whom he shares his name), an early 20th century educator who established the first black athletic league in the District of Columbia. Dr. E.B. Henderson is known for his work in physical education, but as his grandson explained to us, he always had a broader scope for African American achievement:

My grandfather, Dr. E.B. Henderson, his philosophy was that, given equal access for African Americans to physical training and fundamentals of the sports, that they would be equal or superior to their white counterparts. [He] used physical education and athletics as a tool, not in and of itself, but as a way to send qualified African Americans to Northern colleges and debunk the myth of racial inferiority.

E.B. Henderson taught students like Robert Weaver (who went on to become the first African American to serve on a presidential cabinet) and his basketball program in Washington D.C. produced such luminaries as Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing and John Thompson. Henderson’s work was given a boost in 1912 when the Julius Rosenwald-funded 12th Street YMCA opened in the U Street area of Washington, providing a basketball court to a community that was severely lacking in recreational spaces. Having failed to convince the public schools to invest in large gymnasiums for young ballplayers, Dr. Henderson was extremely grateful when the Rosenwald Y was constructed.


A student studyinh in a dorm room at the 12th Street YMCA, circa 1910-1930
Photo credit: Library of Congress via Addison N. Scurlock

We also spoke to Rabbi Howard A. Berman about the Reform synagogue Julius Rosenwald attended in Chicago, which was headed by the dynamic Rabbi Emil Hirsch. Hirsch kept Temple Sinai at the forefront of progressive Judaism by breaking down cultural barriers with other Chicago communities, harshly criticizing racism and experimenting with radical ideas like services on Sunday. By way of explaining just how far ahead of the curve Hirsch, Sinai and Rosenwald were, Berman related this anecdote:

[Rabbi Emil Hirsch] asked Jane Addams to preach the sermon during one of those Sundays [at Sinai]. This was regarded as the first time that a woman–let alone a woman, but a non-Jewish woman–would speak from a Jewish pulpit. Her topic was the moral imperative of birth control for women in the 19th century. This was an unbelievable kind of a combinations of factors. If you wanted to have the perfect storm of shock value, it happened in Sinai Temple sanctuary on that particular Sunday. But that was very much Hirsch’s vision.


Rabbi Howard A. Berman
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, March 25, 2014

Our final interviewee of the day is a Professor of English at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. Lisa Page teaches Langston Hughes’ poetry in her university courses and she graciously related some stories of Hughes’ life during his two Rosenwald Fund fellowships (1931 and 1941).


Aviva Kempner and Lisa Page, March 25, 2014
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, March 25, 2014

Page grew up in Chicago nearby the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the most visible legacies of Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald paid for the reuse of the historic 1893 World’s Fair building and the new museum, which original bore his name. You can read more about the Museum of Science and Industry’s history on our blog here. Page had some great memories about attending the museum as a child that she shared with us:

The Museum of Science of Industry was our playground, my sister and I, growing up. Every weekend, especially in Chicago in the winter when you can’t be outside it’s so cold. The Museum of Science and Industry was a few blocks away from our house, so every Saturday we headed to the museum of Science and Industry and lived there. We lived inside the human heart, the coalmine. We’d go see the baby chicks. All of these wonderful exhibits that you got to interact with. The whisper gallery. We just went over and over again to these same places. The German submarine, Colleen Moore’s dollhouse. We just lived down there dreaming of shrinking down to size and being able to live in that palace that she put together. It was this wonderful place for us to be.


Chicks hatch every day at the Museum of Science and Industry, showing genetic diversity at work
Photo credit: Lenny Flank (flickr)

Thanks to all our great interviewees!

Research and filming for The Rosenwald Schools in the “Music City”

Posted April 21st, 2014 by

Last week, the Ciesla Foundation’s Aviva Kempner and Michael Rose took a much-anticipated trip to Nashville to work on The Rosenwald Schools production. The purpose of the trip was bifold. The first was to explore the archives of Fisk, an historically black university that holds the Rosenwald Fund’s papers. After beginning in Tuskegee as a result of Booker T. Washington’s collaboration with Julius Rosenwald, the Fund’s school-building program was headquartered in Nashville for most of its duration. The second purpose was to film the alumni of a very special Rosenwald School located 35 miles northeast of Nashville in Cairo, Tennessee. Local historian Velma Brinkley coordinated our visit with alumni who still live in the area and about 15 former students graciously traveled out to their old school to talk to us on a cold, rainy day in early February.


Alumni gathered in front of the Cairo Rosenwald School
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

One of the best surprises of the trip to Cairo was brought to us by Lester Mae Hill, an aluma of the school. When we first arrived at the Cairo School, Ms. Hill and Ms. Brinkley showed us the school’s collection of historic photographs. In one of the photos (pictured below) Ms. Brinkley pointed out a mostly obscured photograph of Julius Rosenwald hanging above the door. While we have often read of Rosenwald’s portrait hanging in a place of honor in the schools he helped to fund, this was the first photographic evidence we’ve come across.


Students at the Cairo School. Ms. Hill is first on the left.
Photo credit: Cairo School alumni, unknown date

When we showed interest in the portrait of JR, which we didn’t see on the wall, Ms. Hill told us she had it stored in a safe place and immediately ran home to get it. Within a few minutes, she returned with a lovely, large portrait of the Sears president and educational benefactor. Some of her family members had taken the photo when the school was being remodeled and Ms. Hill was pleased to return it to its rightful place above the school’s front door. One former student told us that when he attended the school he was told it was of a benefactor of the school but did not know the name of Julius Rosenwald until recently.


Lester Mae Hill with the Cairo School’s portrait of Mr. Rosenwald
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

For this shoot we worked with a Nashville-based crew, Chris Conder and Steve LePard. Chris and Steve did some great work for us despite the chilly conditions in the Cairo School, which has inadequate heat for the cold spell Tennessee was experiencing during our trip.


Aviva Kempner and Chris Conder lining up a shot in the Cairo School
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

At the Cairo School we filmed 5 individual interviews with alumni and some group conversations. Interview topics ranged from everyday life at the school (cooking meals, playing sports and the school’s “privies”) to their childhood understanding of segregation and the struggles they went through to gain an education in a society that openly discriminated against African Americans. Many of the alumni mentioned that the entire Cairo community pitched in to support the school any way they could, and they all spoke fondly of their teacher, Professor Brinkley, who showed an uncommon dedication to his students and would often buy extra milk for students who could not afford it. His own children, including Frank who we interviewed, all became educators.


Aviva Kempner speaking the Cairo School alumni about our documentary project
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

In addition to filming the Cairo School alumni, we spent the better part of 3 days poring over the documents and photos that make up the Julius Rosenwald Fund Papers in the Special Collections section of Fisk’s Franklin Library. We found some great photos, including one of Julius Rosenwald with some children in front of a Rosenwald School. We plan to share it as soon as we secure permission. We couldn’t have done it without the help of Special Collections Librarian Aisha Johnson, and we’re very grateful to her. Ms. Johnson, who’s studying the Rosenwald Fund’s lesser-known library-building program, informed us that the Rosenwald Fund Papers are not only the biggest collection at Fisk’s library but also its most requested. Regular readers of our blog will know that we often link to Fisk’s outstanding Rosenwald Schools database, an online catalogue of construction information, funding totals, dates and images of virtually every Rosenwald School constructed under the Fund’s school-building program. It’s an easy to use database that should be stop number one for anyone looking into the history of a specific Rosenwald School.


Aviva Kempner with Aisha Johnson, just before Ms. Johnson’s interview
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

Along with Ms. Johnson, we also filmed interviews with the Dean of Fisk’s Franklin Library, Dr. Jessie Carney Smith, archivist volunteer Michael A. Powell, Fisk professor Dr. Reavis Mitchell and Middle Tennessee State University’s Dr. Mary Hoffschwelle, who has written a wonderfully well-researched and informative study of the school-building program called The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. Between visits to the library, we also got a chance to tour a bit of the historic Fisk campus. While looking at the 1873-built Jubilee Hall, we started talking to a student who turned out to be an official campus tour guide, and she gave us a little of the history of the building. While the all-female dorm’s “courting room” is no longer used for that purpose, the residents of Jubilee Hall still do keep a curfew.


Entrance to Jubilee Hall
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

The centerpiece of Fisk’s campus is Cravath Hall, which houses a beautiful and renowned collection of permanent murals by the great artist (and Rosenwald fellow) Aaron Douglas. Today the former library is used as the university’s administration building, but we were able to walk in and view the lovely Douglas murals in the old card catalogue room.


Aaron Douglas mural above built-in card catalogue
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

All in all, a great trip to Tennessee. It was made even better when we found a great Jewish deli right behind our hotel.


Noshville, on Broadway in Nashville’s West End
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

By Aviva Kempner and Michael Rose

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg to screen in Silver Spring, Maryland

Posted April 21st, 2014 by

The AFI Theater in Silver Spring is screening a series of baseball films in March and April, including one of the Ciesla Foundation’s previous productions, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1999). Their description is below:

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG
April 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm
AFI Silver Theatre, Silver Spring, MD

Tickets $5!
In person: filmmaker Aviva Kempner

This Peabody Award-winning film is a humorous and nostalgic documentary about an extraordinary baseball player who transcended religious prejudice to become an American icon. Hammerin’ Hank’s accomplishments for the Detroit Tigers during the Golden Age of Baseball rivaled those of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. America’s first Jewish baseball star was a beacon of hope to American Jews who faced bigotry during the Depression and World War II.
DIR/SCR/PROD Aviva Kempner. US, 1999, b&w and color, 95 min, 35mm. RATED PG
Co-presented by the Washington Jewish Film Festival and Women in Film & Video of Washington, DC.

Rosenwald School replica to be built in Huntsville

Posted April 21st, 2014 by

A story was recently posted on AL.com about a Huntsville, Alabama museum’s plans to build a replica of a Rosenwald School according to original Rosenwald School plans. According to architect Greg Kamback, the four-room schoolhouse would “replicate the look of [a Rosenwald School] as much as possible on the inside and outside.” During the building process, Burritt on the Mountain museum solicited input from community members who had attended Rosenwald Schools in the area. When completed, the building would become a place for visitors to learn about the history of African American education in Alabama.

Back in September, we heard about another effort to rebuilt a Rosenwald School in Alabama. A group of students in Phenix City, Alabama, planned to rebuild a Rosenwald School in their town. Unfortunately, they contacted us a couple months later and indicated that their project had been put on hold indefinitely due to lack of funding.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see that, along with the numerous Rosenwald School restorations in progress, people are also attempting to rebuild examples of this vital piece of American history. For decades, many Rosenwald Schools suffered from neglect, and indeed thousands of them have been demolished since the end of the program in the 1930s. Perhaps public interest and engagement has turned a corner and many of the remaining Rosenwald Schools will be preserved.

Newly renovated museum of Civil Rights reopens in Memphis

Posted April 21st, 2014 by

I read in The New York Times about the recent renovation of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The museum, which is at the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, commemorates the long pathway to Civil Rights for African Americans.

Among its many exhibits is one on Charles Hamilton Houston, a Civil Rights lawyer who we’ve written about on this blog. In order to mount his argument that separate education facilities were not equal in the Jim Crow South, Houston shot a good deal of 16mm footage of the conditions in the South during the 1930s, which is today stored in the National Archives in the Harmon Foundation Collection. Since Houston filmed several of the Rosenwald Schools, we plan to use some of this footage in our upcoming documentary on Julius Rosenwald’s life.

You can read more on the museum’s website. Prominently displayed there is a powerful quote by Houston:

“Maybe the next generation will be able to take time out to rest, but we have too far to go and too much work to do.”


Charles Hamilton Houston with Mary McLeod Bethune, from the outtakes of A Study in Educational Inequalities in South Carolina
Film still credit: National Archives, College Park, Harmon Foundation Collection, 200 HF 265×3

Portrait of Maya Angelou unveiled at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Posted April 11th, 2014 by

Last weekend, Maya Angelou was on hand for the unveiling of her portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. The image of the poet and author was created by Ross Rossin and donated to the gallery by former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, according to The Washington Post.

Angelou attended a Rosenwald School in Stamps, Arkansas. She described her experience growing up under segregation for the 1993 documentary The Great Depression. Although she said her school (the Lafayette County Training School) was “grand,” she remembered the hand me down books her school got from the white school in town, and how the students were expected to make repairs to the bindings. One of Angelou’s teachers saw her potential and was able to get her some new books:

I had never seen a new book until Mrs. Flowers brought books from the white school for me to read. The slick pages, I couldn’t believe it, and that’s when I think my first anger, real anger at the depressive and the oppressive system began.

We plan to incorporate parts of this interview in The Rosenwald Schools documentary.

Short film about Dr. E.B. Henderson, founding father of basketball

Posted April 1st, 2014 by

Edwin B. Henderson II, who we interviewed last week, shared a link to a short video made about his and his wife Nikki’s quest to establish the legacy of his grandfather Dr. E.B. Henderson, a historic basketball pioneer in Washington D.C.

After Mr. Henderson came across a box of papers, letters and photographs belonging to his grandfather, he began advocating for Dr. Henderson to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. Finally, in 2013, that goal was achieved due to Edwin and Nikki’s hard work. Dr. E.B. Henderson’s home in Falls Church, Virginia has also been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

GVI of Washington D.C. has put together a lovely short feature on the Hendersons. You can watch the video here.

Poem inspired by the Rosenwald Museum in Chicago

Posted April 1st, 2014 by

Inspired by his son’s love for the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Julius Rosenwald founded the Museum of Science and Industry for “every young growing mind in Chicago” (Tribune, Apr 17, 1926). Years later, Rosenwald’s vision for an interactive, awe-inspiring experience has been cemented as an icon of the Chicago cultural landscape and continues to be a must-see attraction for natives and visitors alike. In her poem, “Doll’s House,” Chicagoan Donna Katzin fondly remembers visits to the Museum of Science and Industry with her father. Like for many young girls, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle captured her imagination and created a lasting impression.


A room from Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle
Photo credit: kthypryn (flickr)

Doll’s House

Every Sunday we visit the museum.
My father takes my hand, leads me
to the miniature glass mansion
of pinpoint lights embroidered on midnight
like winking opals on taffeta.

He never breaks the spell,
as if fine filaments strung through the rooms
might shatter with a word,
wears the smiling mask
I never lift or question.

We hold our breaths,
do not risk a whisper
that might snuff out the magic,
condemn us to the darkness
of duties and debts.

I tiptoe through the corridors,
sit on matchbox thrones, ascend spiral stairs,
waltz in the vaulted ballroom to imagined melodies —
a princess in a palace
abandoned by the king.

These years later, his wrinkled hand is gone
with letters of his pen, notes of his violin.
Now he is the museum. I am still
the one on the outside
watching.

Donna Katzin
January 31, 2014
New York City

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools, March 2014 edition

Posted March 28th, 2014 by

More lovely interviews for The Rosenwald Schools were filmed earlier this week in Washington D.C. First of the day was Stephanie Meeks, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ms. Meeks told us about the National Trust’s involvement in Rosenwald School rehabilitation projects across the South, and their goal of restoring 100 of the roughly 800 extant structures in honor of the 100th anniversary of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington’s school-building program.

Ms. Meeks said that when she initially learned about the tri-fold funding structure of the original Rosenwald Schools, she was “astounded” that the often impoverished local African American residents were expected and able to raise a third of the money necessary to build each school in the program. This matching grant strategy amplified the effect of Rosenwald’s philanthropy dollar for dollar, but it also helped community members get emotionally invested and protective of their community’s new school. Meeks sees a parallel to this in her own experience with Rosenwald School rehabilitation projects of today:

In many ways that same model is being replicated today in the rehabilitation of the Rosenwald Schools. The National Trust is working to provide technical assistance to communities as well as grant funding that we’ve been able to accrue from other philanthropists. And the communities, the students and graduates themselves, are perpetuating this virtuous circle by reaching into their own pockets, putting money forward to help with the rehabilitation costs of some of these buildings. They understand that the preservation and the restoration of the Rosenwald schools is a way of keeping this story alive and continuing to contribute to the community.


Aviva Kempner and Edwin B. Henderson, II
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, March 25, 2014

Next up was Edwin B. Henderson, II, who we met at a panel discussion last month. Mr. Henderson is a historical preservationist living in Falls Church, Virginia. His mission is to preserve the legacy of his grandfather (with whom he shares his name), an early 20th century educator who established the first black athletic league in the District of Columbia. Dr. E.B. Henderson is known for his work in physical education, but as his grandson explained to us, he always had a broader scope for African American achievement:

My grandfather, Dr. E.B. Henderson, his philosophy was that, given equal access for African Americans to physical training and fundamentals of the sports, that they would be equal or superior to their white counterparts. [He] used physical education and athletics as a tool, not in and of itself, but as a way to send qualified African Americans to Northern colleges and debunk the myth of racial inferiority.

E.B. Henderson taught students like Robert Weaver (who went on to become the first African American to serve on a presidential cabinet) and his basketball program in Washington D.C. produced such luminaries as Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing and John Thompson. Henderson’s work was given a boost in 1912 when the Julius Rosenwald-funded 12th Street YMCA opened in the U Street area of Washington, providing a basketball court to a community that was severely lacking in recreational spaces. Having failed to convince the public schools to invest in large gymnasiums for young ballplayers, Dr. Henderson was extremely grateful when the Rosenwald Y was constructed.


A student studyinh in a dorm room at the 12th Street YMCA, circa 1910-1930
Photo credit: Library of Congress via Addison N. Scurlock

We also spoke to Rabbi Howard A. Berman about the Reform synagogue Julius Rosenwald attended in Chicago, which was headed by the dynamic Rabbi Emil Hirsch. Hirsch kept Temple Sinai at the forefront of progressive Judaism by breaking down cultural barriers with other Chicago communities, harshly criticizing racism and experimenting with radical ideas like services on Sunday. By way of explaining just how far ahead of the curve Hirsch, Sinai and Rosenwald were, Berman related this anecdote:

[Rabbi Emil Hirsch] asked Jane Addams to preach the sermon during one of those Sundays [at Sinai]. This was regarded as the first time that a woman–let alone a woman, but a non-Jewish woman–would speak from a Jewish pulpit. Her topic was the moral imperative of birth control for women in the 19th century. This was an unbelievable kind of a combinations of factors. If you wanted to have the perfect storm of shock value, it happened in Sinai Temple sanctuary on that particular Sunday. But that was very much Hirsch’s vision.


Rabbi Howard A. Berman
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, March 25, 2014

Our final interviewee of the day is a Professor of English at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. Lisa Page teaches Langston Hughes’ poetry in her university courses and she graciously related some stories of Hughes’ life during his two Rosenwald Fund fellowships (1931 and 1941).


Aviva Kempner and Lisa Page, March 25, 2014
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, March 25, 2014

Page grew up in Chicago nearby the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the most visible legacies of Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald paid for the reuse of the historic 1893 World’s Fair building and the new museum, which original bore his name. You can read more about the Museum of Science and Industry’s history on our blog here. Page had some great memories about attending the museum as a child that she shared with us:

The Museum of Science of Industry was our playground, my sister and I, growing up. Every weekend, especially in Chicago in the winter when you can’t be outside it’s so cold. The Museum of Science and Industry was a few blocks away from our house, so every Saturday we headed to the museum of Science and Industry and lived there. We lived inside the human heart, the coalmine. We’d go see the baby chicks. All of these wonderful exhibits that you got to interact with. The whisper gallery. We just went over and over again to these same places. The German submarine, Colleen Moore’s dollhouse. We just lived down there dreaming of shrinking down to size and being able to live in that palace that she put together. It was this wonderful place for us to be.


Chicks hatch every day at the Museum of Science and Industry, showing genetic diversity at work
Photo credit: Lenny Flank (flickr)

Thanks to all our great interviewees!

Visionaries of Black Education: Julius Rosenwald & Dr. E.B. Henderson

Posted March 28th, 2014 by

The Ciesla Foundation, D.C. Basketball Institute and the Historical Society of Washington D.C. joined forces last Thursday night for a very special Black History Month event. Clips from the work in progress of Aviva Kempner’s upcoming documentary, The Rosenwald Schools, were screened along with the trailer of the exciting upcoming documentary (produced by Pennington Greene, John Ershek and Bijan C. Bayne) Supreme Courts: How Washington DC Basketball Changed The World.


From left: Bijan Bayne, Pennington Greene, Aviva Kempner, Stephanie Deutsch, Bob Kuska and Edwin B. Henderson II.
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

The panel, moderated by Bijan Bayne and consisting of Aviva Kempner, Stephanie Deutsch, Bob Kuska (author of Hot Potato: How Washington and New York Gave Birth to Basketball and Changed America’s Game Forever) and Edwin B. Henderson II (grandson of Dr. E.B. Henderson) shared their knowledge on a wide variety of topics. Ms. Kempner spoke about what drove Julius Rosenwald to support black education, Ms. Deutsch discussed the shared interest of J.R. and Booker T. Washington in black YMCAs, Mr. Kuska talked about the rise of basketball in early 20th century urban neighborhoods and Mr. Henderson shared some amazing anecdotes about his well-known grandfather, an educator, basketball coach, and as we learned, a prolific newspaper editorialist. It was also great to hear from Bijan Bayne about his new project.


From left: Bijan Bayne, Aviva Kempner, Edwin B. Henderson II, unknown, Bob Kuska, Stephanie Deutsch and Pennington Greene
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, February, 2014

The panelists’ projects all overlap at the 12th Street YMCA, a building funded by Rosenwald, where Dr. Henderson played and coached and where many great young players who contributed to the vibrant D.C. basketball scene (the subject of Supreme Courts) got their start.

Thanks to the panelists for illuminating these historic connections.

Before “The Rosenwald Schools”… “Becoming American” at Philly’s Jewish Culture Museum

Posted March 18th, 2014 by

I had a wonderful time last week at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. I visited the museum for the opening of “Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American,” a great new exhibit that shows how the game of baseball has impacted American minority communities over the past century. My 1999 film, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, commemorates the uncommon devotion Jews had for the first great Jewish slugger, Hammerin’ Hank. NMAJH’s new exhibit strikes a similar tone, commemorating the reverence for Jewish ballplayers felt by lifelong fans. We were thrilled that the exhibit asked for two key interviews from my film and its DVD extras.

I was also honored to write the chapter on Hank Greenberg for the companion book to the exhibit, Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American. Josh Perelman edited together a great group of essays about “Becoming American” through baseball for the book. I contributed a chapter to the book entitled “Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Call Him the Hero of Heroes.” You can get more details about the book–and also buy yourself a copy–here.

Here are some snapshots of the exhibits featuring Hank Greenberg:


A display of Hank Greenberg memorabilia


The headline image for the exhibit, Hank admiring a long ball off his own bat


An excerpt from my interview with Arn Tellem that appeared in The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg


A “ladder” of the great Jewish ballplayers comes down to a face-off between Hank and Sandy Koufax. This chart was made by baseball aficionado Dan Okrent who went to school with me in Detroit.

By Aviva Kempner

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg to screen in Silver Spring, Maryland

Posted March 18th, 2014 by

The AFI Theater in Silver Spring is screening a series of baseball films in March and April, including one of the Ciesla Foundation’s previous productions, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1999). Their description is below:

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG
April 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm
AFI Silver Theatre, Silver Spring, MD

Tickets $5!
In person: filmmaker Aviva Kempner

This Peabody Award-winning film is a humorous and nostalgic documentary about an extraordinary baseball player who transcended religious prejudice to become an American icon. Hammerin’ Hank’s accomplishments for the Detroit Tigers during the Golden Age of Baseball rivaled those of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. America’s first Jewish baseball star was a beacon of hope to American Jews who faced bigotry during the Depression and World War II.
DIR/SCR/PROD Aviva Kempner. US, 1999, b&w and color, 95 min, 35mm. RATED PG
Co-presented by the Washington Jewish Film Festival and Women in Film & Video of Washington, DC.

Congratulations to a very deserving Oscar-winner

Posted March 5th, 2014 by

Mazel tov to Steve McQueen and the whole creative team behind 12 Years a Slave. The Ciesla Foundation team is thrilled that the film won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at last night’s Academy Awards and that Lupita Nyong’o was honored as well with the Best Supporting Actress award.

Slavery was the insidious American legacy that Julius Rosenwald responded to in his giving

The significance of this win was best described to me by former D.C. Council Member Charlene Drew Jarvis, who was interviewed about her father, Dr. Charles Drew, for our upcoming documentary, The Rosenwald Schools:

“And the whole membership voted for best picture. Folks are ready to let the tragedy of slavery really pierce their consciousness, and perhaps their consciences.”

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools

Posted February 20th, 2014 by

Marian Anderson was one of the most beloved of the Rosenwald grant artists, so we knew we needed a great interview for the film with an expert on her life. We found that expert in Dr. Dwandalyn Reece, curator of Music and Performing Arts at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, who spoke to us a few weeks ago on January 30th. Reece gave us a good background on Anderson and spoke about the timeliness of her Rosenwald grant (you can read more about Anderson’s 1930 trip to Europe on a Rosenwald grant in a previous blog post). Especially poignant was Reece’s description of Anderson as a “reluctant icon.” Anderson became an icon of the period before Civil Rights when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to perform at Constitution Hall in 1939 and Anderson instead gave a free concert on the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Newborn descendants of Julius Rosenwald take his name

Posted February 19th, 2014 by

Two of Julius Rosenwald’s grandchildren paid homage to the illustrious philanthropist by naming their new babies after him. Recently, Julius Kim Varet was born on January 16, 2014 in California. He would be the great-great grandson of Julius Rosenwald.


Julius Kim Varet

On January 15, 2012, Julius Cogburn Deutsch, was born in Washington, D.C. He would be a great-great-great grandson of Julius Rosenwald.


Julius Cogburn Deutsch

The Rosenwald Schools work in progress to screen in Takoma Park, MD

Posted February 11th, 2014 by

This Thursday, February 13th, The Rosenwald Schools filmmaker Aviva Kempner will join Stephanie Deutsch (author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South) will join a group of alumni of the Takoma Park Colored School, a Rosenwald School that stood less than a mile from the District of Columbia on Geneva Avenue in Takoma Park. The event, which will include musical selections from the Takoma Park Community Band, a panel discussion, and a screening of Aviva Kempner’s documentary work in progress The Rosenwald Schools will take place at 7:30 on the Thursday at the Takoma Park Community Center Auditorium (7500 Maple Ave).

Click here to read a flier (PDF format) for the event. For more information on the historic school’s funding and layout, you can consult Fisk University’s excellent Rosenwald School database, which has an entry for the Takoma Park school and for 14 other Rosenwald Schools that were built in Montgomery County, MD.

Rosenwald School alumni in Tennessee look to draw attention to their old school

Posted February 11th, 2014 by

A report by a local news station in West Tennessee about a group of alumni from a Rosenwald School in Trenton, Tennessee caught our eye recently, and not just because our crew visited the state (to film at the Cairo Rosenwald School and to do research at Fisk University Special Collections) just last week. Our visit was a great success and will be the subject an upcoming blog post.

According to the report by WBBJ ABC 7, the alumni group has pushed for their alma mater, the Trenton Rosenwald School, to be included on the National Register of Historic Places for over a year. Although the story doesn’t explain why they have as yet been unsuccessful in their campaign for recognition from Tennessee’s Historic Preservation Office, it may be that they have hit a snag on the “integrity” portion of the National Register’s evaluation criteria. In order to be registered, a property should closely resemble its appearance during its period of significance. Judging between Google’s Street View of the property and two historical photographs, (one from Fisk University’s Rosenwald School database and one from the Tennessee State Archives website), its facade appears to be have been substantially altered some time since its construction in the late 1920s.

If anyone has more information about the alumni group’s efforts, please post a comment on our blog. Best of luck to the group in their campaign, as we know recognition of Rosenwald Schools on the National Register can both raise awareness about a community’s history and build momentum to preserve increasingly rare historic treasures.

The Rosenwald Schools work in progress to screen at upcoming D.C. event

Posted February 11th, 2014 by

The Historical Society of Washington D.C. presents “Visionaries of Early Black Education and Basketball: Julius Rosenwald and Dr. Edwin B. Henderson,” a special Black History Month event that will take place at the historic Carnegie Library (801 K Street NW) on Thursday, February 20th from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. A full flier (PDF format) is available here.

The evening promises a fascinating glimpse of the origins of basketball in the District. After Julius Rosenwald collaborated with Washington’s African American community to build a YMCA, Dr. Edwin B. Henderson (an influential physical educator) organized the new Y’s first basketball team. Henderson, who earned the moniker “the grandfather of black basketball,” is just one of the basketball greats connected with the YMCA: as we learned in an interview with Norris Dodson a year ago, John Thompson, Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing also graced its walls.


The 12th Street YMCA, Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: Michael Rose, March, 2012

We wrote about how Rosenwald came to support D.C.’s storied 12th Street YMCA in a previous blog post, and we have since shot interviews in the historic structure with local preservationists Lori Dodson and Norris Dodson. The modern building, built for the black residents of Washington, was the first of 24 YMCAs that Rosenwald supported with challenge grants between 1911 and 1933.

The program is co-sponsored by The Ciesla Foundation, the D.C. Basketball Institute, and the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Get your tickets today ($10/HSW member; $15 non-member)!

Featured films clips include:

  • The Rosenwald Schools, a work in progress produced by Aviva Kempner
  • Basketball, More than a Game: the Story of Dr. Edwin B. Henderson, a short film produced by Beverly Lindsey-Johnson
  • Supreme Courts: How Washington DC Basketball Changed The World, trailer produced by Pennington Greene, John Ershek and Bijan C. Bayne

Panelists will include:

Moderated by: Bijan Bayne, author, Elgin Baylor: The First Superstar

Upcoming Marian Anderson tribute concert in Washington D.C.

Posted January 31st, 2014 by

The Washington Post reports that Marian Anderson, one of the most notable of the long list of Rosenwald fellows, will soon be honored with a tribute concert at Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall. Anderson famously performed a concert on the National Mall in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused her request to perform at the segregated Constitution Hall, which at the time accepted only white performers.

The upcoming event (“Of Thee We Sing”) will be held on April 12 of this year and will feature soprano Jessye Norman, WPAS’s Men and Women of the Gospel, soloist Solomon Howard and others.


Marian Anderson in 1947
Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress

In March of last year, we wrote about Marian Anderson’s 1930 Rosenwald fellowship, which she used to make two trips to Europe. These early trips to Europe developed her international reputation as a top flight contralto at a time when African American singers struggled to find acceptance at major concert venues in the U.S.

You can read more about the tribute concert at The Washington Post.

Rosenwald School Spotlight: Hempstead, Texas

Posted January 23rd, 2014 by

The Rosenwald Fund supported the construction of over 500 schools in Texas, placing the state in the upper echelon of those that participated in the school-building program. Only North Carolina and Mississippi built more schools with Rosenwald funding. Given the significant impact these schools have had on the history of Texas communities and on generations of students, it is unfortunate that this history is not better known and that, today, there are only 10-15 Rosenwald Schools still standing in the state. Click the map below to be taken to a Google Map of known Rosenwald Schools in Texas.

Although Texas Rosenwald Schools that have been remodeled (such as the Pleasant Hill Rosenwald School in Linden) offer a plethora of fascinating stories, even among those schools that have been lost to time there are stories worth telling. One such example is the Hempstead School in Waller County, also known as the Sam Schwarz School. Built in 1928 at a cost of $20,200 with room for eight teachers, this was one of the largest Rosenwald Schools in the state. During school consolidation and desegregation, the original Sam Schwarz School was razed along with many of the historical materials it contained. The destruction of the Sam Schwarz School may have suppressed some of the bad memories of school segregation, but its loss affected the community deeply and its history can be used as a way to teach a new generation about the painful legacy of segregation.

Like other Rosenwald Schools, the Sam Schwarz School was built under a combination of funding from the Rosenwald Fund and local residents. The school’s namesake comes from a prominent Jewish family in Hempstead that was instrumental in its construction. Born in Prussia in the mid-1800s, the Schwarz brothers moved one by one to Hempstead, where they became local leaders in a burgeoning Jewish community. Sam Schwarz, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, kept the largest general store in the city and his brother Chayim was the rabbi for Hempstead’s only Jewish congregation (which bore his name). Together, the men built the city’s first synagogue.

Before the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program, Hempstead’s school for African Americans was substandard and built in a low-lying area known as the “frog pond.” In the 1920s, Hempstead, like many communities, moved to leverage one of the Rosenwald Fund’s “challenge grants” to fundraise for a new, modern school. In addition to his other roles in the community, Sam Schwarz was a charter member of the local school board. Although Schwarz passed away in 1918, his daughters donated some family land located on higher ground in the city as the site for the new Rosenwald School. In honor of Schwarz’s legacy as a community leader and philanthropist, the school was named for him. In fact, even after the original Rosenwald School was replaced in the 1950s, the new building still bore Schwarz’s name, a testament to his enduring legacy of education and community uplift.


The Hempstead Rosenwald School (The Sam Schwarz School)
Photo courtesy of Fisk University’s Rosenwald School Database

The intersection between the Rosenwald Fund and the Schwarz family of Texas goes beyond their combined efforts in Hempstead. Like Sam Schwarz, Julius Rosenwald’s lineage can be traced back to Prussia. Also like the Schwarz family, Julius Rosenwald’s father Samuel settled west of the Appalachians, in Springfield, Illinois, where he too helped establish the city’s first synagogue. The Rosenwald Schools will portray the experience of Rosenwald’s father, Samuel, as an immigrant from small town in Prussia who made a new life in the American Midwest. By looking for opportunity in the wide-open spaces of Texas, the Schwarz family shares with the Rosenwalds this lesser known version of the Jewish immigrant experience in America.


Samuel Rosenwald
Image courtesy of Fred Fields

Because Texas is home to so many Rosenwald Schools as well as a Rosenwald-funded African American YMCA and a historical Sears distribution plant, the state will certainly have a prominent place in our film.

Calvert Rosenwald School, Texas

Posted January 6th, 2014 by

The Calvert Colored School, a C-shaped, red-brick building with an auditorium and stage, opened in 1929 for children in 1st through 11th grade. Previously “most black children attended elementary grades in the ‘plantation’ schools and only attended to the 8th grade at most,” according to the Tour Guide of Historic Calvert. The Calvert Colored School’s first principal, W.D. Spigner (spy-g-ner), inspired the local African American community and convinced the school board to make improvements such as indoor plumbing in 1948, the addition of a 12th grade class in the early 1950s, and a gymnasium in 1957. As annual enrollment climbed to 375, around half the senior class went on to college, often at historically black Texas colleges such as Prairie View A&M and Huston-Tillotson University. The school’s most famous former student is Tom Bradley, who was elected mayor of Los Angeles.


The Calvert Colored School, now a multi-purpose center in Calvert, Texas
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

The school building became an elementary in the 1970s and was renamed W.D. Spigner Elementary, in honor of its longtime principal. In 2010, the school closed due to declining enrollment city wide. The school district gave the land and the building to the Calvert Colored W.D. Spigner Alumni Association Inc., which is based in Dallas and is turning it into a multi-purpose center. The association holds its quarterly board meetings and annual reunions on the premises.


James Whitaker, Calvert Class of ’56, president of the alumni association
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

Alumni president James Whitaker, Class of ’56, recalled that all of his school teachers lived in the surrounding neighborhood and knew each child’s family. “The teachers were committed. They expected more,” he said. “Today’s students feel their teachers are not committed. Ours kept the bar high.” He reminisced about helping the janitor shovel coal. “Every room had a heater. Around 1950 they put in gas, which was lousy!” Whitaker didn’t realize how good an education he got at Calvert until he entered the military and began comparing himself to other young men from around the nation.


Detail from the Calvert School
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

By Hollace Ava Weiner

Interview Shoot in Georgia

Posted December 24th, 2013 by

I just got back from a wonderful shoot in Valdosta, Georgia.


Barney Rosenwald School
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, December, 2013

The Valdosta, Georgia area was home to at least two Rosenwald Schools. After the Morven Rosenwald School was demolished, alumni of both Morven and the Barney Rosenwald School, joined together to restore the Barney School. While in Valdosta, I interviewed seven of these local residents who graduated from the schools and who are working together to save Barney from decay: Barbara and Gerald Golden, Delois Baker, Evelyn Morrison, Jerry Gilbert, Jonathan Smallwood and Lillie Pearl Thompson. Many thanks to our Valdosta interviewees for sharing their stories! Special thanks to the Goldens and the others for their hard work in bringing the school back to life and the warm memories of being educated there. I am especially grateful to the Goldens for making all the arrangements for me to film.


Aviva Kempner with Gerald Golden
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, December, 2013

I also conducted an interview with Alfred Perkins, author of Edwin Rogers Embree: The Julius Rosenwald Fund, Foundation Philanthropy, and American Race Relations, who was gracious enough to travel to southern Georgia from his home in Florida in order to meet me. In his interview, Perkins did a great job bridging the gap between the two most salient Rosenwald Fund projects, the school-building program and the fellowship program. The Fund’s decision in the late 1920s to discontinue the school-building program was due to new Fund president Edwin Embree and Julius Rosenwald’s shared belief that the program had run its course as a demonstration of what the states could be doing for rural black education. From then on, it would be up to state governments to provide educational facilities for their residents, while the Rosenwald Fund could devote its efforts to improving education itself and to a magnanimous grant program for budding artists, writers and scholars.

It was not that all the needs had been met, but that Embree’s understanding of foundation work was to start the ball rolling, so to speak, to get an innovation well-established, but not to continue to fund it. In the case of the school-building program, the key purpose was to change the consciousness of public officials in the South so that they recognized that they had an obligation to provide adequate education for all the citizens, including the black population of the South.

Perkins also related the story of the very first Rosenwald grant recipient: James Weldon Johnson, who also wrote the “Negro National Anthem,” “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” After lobbying for increased pay for South Carolina teachers, Embree planned a new project with the then head of the NAACP, Johnson. Some people may think Johnson received the first Rosenwald grant as a kind of reward for his role in the formation of the program, but Perkins argued that it was more due to two other reasons:

Having such a prestigious person receive the award gave it a kind of luster that otherwise it might not have had from the outset. The other consideration is that Mr. Johnson had some quite elaborate projects in mind to carry out. He used that period to write the first history of Harlem. He had in mind creating a kind of oratorio based on God’s Trombones. He wanted to write [and publish] some poems and there were several others significant projects that recommended him as the first recipient of an award.


Alfred Perkins, Edwin Embree’s biographer
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, December, 2013

Perkins described the purpose of the Rosenwald Fund fellowship program like this:

There were many creative talents within the black community that were not fully developed, and what was needed for those talents was an opportunity to devote full-time for a year or so to writing a book or doing a series of paintings or completing sculptures. That was the genesis of the Rosenwald program.

Indeed, while heading the Rosenwald Fund, Embree was driven to raise the ceiling for black achievement, taking a cue from W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of the “talented tenth.” Along with the fellowship program, Embree engineered a deal with University of Chicago that led to the hiring of Allison Davis, the first black faculty member at a historically white university. Likewise, Embree convinced Harold Ickes (Secretary of the Interior under Franklin Roosevelt) to take on a staff member to act as a liaison for the African American community and the White House, with the Rosenwald Fund paying his salary. Although the first man to take this position, Clark Foreman, was white, he was quickly replaced with Robert C. Weaver, an African American economist. Under Embree’s guidance, the Rosenwald Fund successfully pushed for the development of a “black cabinet” during FDR’s administration.

The Rosenwald Fund under Embree became a great supporter of higher education for African Americans. Perhaps most importantly, Embree engineered the formation of Dillard University, the first major black institution of higher education in New Orleans, through the consolidation of the two smaller schools. In its early years, Dillard was staffed and administrated mainly by Rosenwald Fund figures like Horace Mann Bond, Will Alexander and Edgar Stern (son-in-law of Julius Rosenwald). In the Fund’s later years, it became more difficult to give direct financial support to black higher education, but Embree’s creativity and energy continued to show through. Unable to send money directly to Tuskegee Institute to build Moton Field (the airfield where the famous Tuskegee Airmen trained) Embree brokered a loan to the college from the Rosenwald Fund that allowed the airfield to be built.

Along with Johnson, Perkins also talked about the very last Rosenwald fellow: Pearl Primus, a dancer and anthropologist who was born in Trinidad. Ms. Primus performed at the June 4th, 1948 closing ceremony for the Rosenwald Fund at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago. Although she had been turned down for a Rosenwald grant in the past, Perkins explained that “her performance was so captivating on this occasion that after the ceremony, the selection committee met again and decided to award her a Rosenwald fellowship – the last one.”

Primus used her grant to study dance in Africa. She received a $4,000 grant (one of the largest given by the Rosenwald fellowship program) and departed in December of 1948. Typical of the open-ended nature of Rosenwald grants, she told the New York Amsterdam News that her only assignment had been to “go to the parts of Africa where I could find material not only to enrich our theatre but to add to our knowledge of people little understood.” In addition to enriching Primus’s dancing skills, her research of African indigenous dance styles made her a pioneering dance scholar. She shared her discoveries during her trip via dispatches to American newspapers (like the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American) and later, with her many students over the years after she became a university instructor.

Update: December 24, 2013. Clarification of Ickes’ first Rosenwald-funded black staff member, Robert C. Weaver.

My trip to Chicago

Posted December 6th, 2013 by

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago and met with some fascinating people in connection with my upcoming film, The Rosenwald Schools.

First, I visited Chicago Sinai Congregation, where Julius Rosenwald worshiped in the early twentieth century. In Rosenwald’s day, the congregation was located on the south side of the city – today, it’s located in a modern building in the busy near north side. I met with Rabbi David Levinsky, who shared with me some stories about Rabbi Emil Hirsch, Rosenwald’s rabbi who so inspired him to dedicate himself to social justice.


Display at Chicago Sinai Congregation
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Next I visited the Standard Club to meet with its president Alison Pure-Slovin about shooting there in the future. Rosenwald was a member of this prestigious Jewish club and there’s a wonderful painting of him in the 2nd floor library. Slovin is the Midwest Region Director of the Wiesenthal Center.


Peter Ascoli and Aviva Kempner in front of Rosenwald’s portrait at the Standard Club
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

I also met with the dynamite Marilyn Katz, who was the publicist for Peter Ascoli’s book on his grandfather Julius Rosenwald. She has been a great fundraising resource as we attempt to finish the film.

Peter Ascoli (Rosenwald’s grandson) and I went to lunch at the East Bank Club, founded by Daniel Levin, a contributor to the film. Mr. Levin’s son Josh took his future wife Debra on an unusual first date. Knowing that she had written her master’s thesis on Julius Rosenwald, Josh took her 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. It was good to see Dan briefly and the meal was fantastic.


Peter Ascoli and Aviva Kempner at the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Next I met with 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell and Robert Charles of Strategic Precision Management, Inc. Charles is a consultant on the development team that’s rehabilitating the Rosenwald Apartments and Dowell has spearheaded the preservation effort. She is committed to preserving the glorious legacy of the original building. Together we visited the Rosenwald Apartments (AKA Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments) building site. Since we last filmed there a couple years ago the brush has been cleared. Most importantly the building is being restored to its original glory, including elevators and housing for hundreds. I ate lunch with Mr. Charles and Ms. Dowell at a nearby restaurant called Pearl’s, my favorite soul food place in Chicago.


Pearl’s Place, Chicago
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

At the Jewish Federation of Chicago, I met with Steven Nasitir, head of the JUF, about their annual Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award, which is given to an inspiring leader in the community each year. Nasatir was the proud recipient in 2011.


The Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award along with a list of past winners
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Mr. Nasatir is proud of Rosenwald’s leadership at the Federation. Rosenwald was the first president of the Associated Jewish Charities, which brought together the entire Jewish community of Chicago into an organization that would later become the JUF. This accomplishment will be addressed in the film.


Julius Rosenwald’s portrait at the JUF/JF
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Lovely couple Don and Isabel Stewart put on a wonderful fundraiser for the film, generously opening their home for us. I interviewed Don a couple of years ago for the film about the Wabash YMCA and Rosenwald’s generosity. Stewart, who has headed Spelman College and the Chicago Community Trust, knows the importance of Rosenwald’s generosity.


Don Stewart, Peter Ascoli, Aviva Kempner and Isabel Stewart
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

As with the other Ciesla Foundation films these parlour parties are a great opportunity to show people the work in progress and gain support for funding to finish the film. I am so grateful to the Stewarts for a memorable evening.


Lauranita Dugas, Aviva Kempner and Don Stewart
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013


Aviva Kempner introducing the work in progress version of the film
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Also on my trip, I did a pre-interview with 90 year old Bill Buckner. Mr. Buckner is part of the generation of Southerners educated in the Rosenwald Schools. Buckner has warm memories of attending a Rosenwald School just outside of McGehee, Arkansas before he came to Chicago as part of the great migration. I’m planning to film him when I return to Chicago.

I also had dinner with Tamara, Michael and Charlotte Newberger who have become friends and help me in figuring out strategy for my filmmaking and fundraising.

Before I left town, I stopped at the White Sox stadium to meet with Joe Black’s daughter, Martha Jo Black. Martha is part of the White Sox organization and is planning to publish a book about her father, the pioneering African American pitcher Joe Black. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is included in the new DVD of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (available here) and has a great story to tell about Hank Greenberg.

By Aviva Kempner

My Trip to Chicago

Posted December 6th, 2013 by

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago and met with some fascinating people in connection with my upcoming film, The Rosenwald Schools.

First, I visited Chicago Sinai Congregation, where Julius Rosenwald worshiped in the early twentieth century. In Rosenwald’s day, the congregation was located on the south side of the city – today, it’s located in a modern building in the busy near north side. I met with Rabbi David Levinsky, who shared with me some stories about Rabbi Emil Hirsch, Rosenwald’s rabbi who so inspired him to dedicate himself to social justice.


Display at Chicago Sinai Congregation
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Bill Cosby supports Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Posted December 4th, 2013 by

Old time TV fans are thrilled with the news that Dr. Huxtable, AKA Bill Cosby, is plotting a return to television. We can only speculate that an irritable and loveable grandfather character is in the works. And admirers can watch his new act starting on Comedy Central this past weekend.

Lucky for some of us in Washington, DC we saw him recently in person as the Master of Ceremonies at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s 25th Awards Gala. Dr. Bill Cosby at 76 was in perfect form as the hilarious MC for this worthy organization.

In August of this year, the head of the Fund, Johnny Taylor, participated with me on the education panel at “Reflections on Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances,” a conference co-sponsored by the Ciesla Foundation.


Johnny Taylor and Bill Cosby at the TMCF Gala

In a traditional vaudeville-like bit, Cosby set up the Fund’s staff person, budding actor Christopher Lopez, as his straight man. Lopez, thinking he was just handing the comedian notes on the script backstage, found himself right next to Cosby onstage and answering his comic questions. Just like in the old days of comedy, the two entertained the jam-packed audience with their exchanges.

Lopez described how the “entire night was unscripted.” He said “my role was to be the innocent, sweet handler/stage manager (this is why in the beginning of the night, I came out with my active headset on) and he said he will be Bill Cosby.” Cosby’s concept worked and a star was born.

The organization itself supports rising stars. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund offers African American students merit and need-based scholarships to attend public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). TMCF has made a huge difference providing scholarships to needy students since 1987.

Remember the Rosenwald Fund also supported such HBCU institutions like Tuskegee, Fisk and Dillard.

Especially gratifying to see were the young students dressed to the nines and sprinkled at tables throughout the Washington Hilton Hall. Two gave moving testimonies of how important their scholarships were to them.

Civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis was also there signing autographs in his latest book, graphic novel March. An extra special treat was a free copy of his book as well as a big chocolate kiss as door prizes. Soviet expert Susan Eisenhower was also in attendance.

Also speaking was the tiara wearing, gorgeous new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, who plans to attend medical school after her reign. She admitted to entering the contest because there was a scholarship that comes along with the crown. The first Indian American to win the beauty contest, Davuluri is destined for a great future.

In a scene right out of another classic TV favorite, The Millionaire, Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup and Chairman of TMCF’s board, announced during the dinner a grant of one million dollars to the organization. He explained that it was his wife Susan who impressed upon him the need to give generously to the scholarship fund. This kind of spontaneous giving makes for many future Cinderella college tales and reminds us of Julius Rosenwald’s giving.

The Fund’s President Johnny Taylor was beaming from the dais. He described why Cosby was the perfect master of ceremonies. “Dr. Cosby’s commitment to higher education generally, and HBCUs in particular, is unmatched. He and his straight man, Christopher Lopez (a former TMCF Leadership Institute Scholar), entertained the crowd and helped us raise $3.8 million to support publicly-supported HBCUs and their deserving Student Scholars.”

Washington attorney and film producer Thomas Hart, the Director of Strategic Planning for TMCF, has introduced a new initiative of a bilateral student exchange program with Israel. Hart explains how “the bilateral student and faculty exchange will allow a deeper understanding of cultural differences in an environment that fosters leadership skills in diplomacy and public policy. In the long run, this exchange will contribute to the improvement of the relationship between the United States and Israel.” Again reminiscent of the great African American and Jewish alliance during Rosenwald’s time.

Jennifer Holliday, famous for her role in Dreamgirls, sang to the crowd. An extra high note treat was a local Wilson High School junior, Paris McMillian, who also belted out notes. Like an audition in The Voice, she brought the house down for her rendition of the national anthem. Count that as another star is born.


Jennifer Holliday at the TMCF Gala

Beaming at the evening’s success was former board member Noel Hankin, who was a Miller Lite brand manager. He claimed, “We created the Thurgood Marshall College Fund as a way to make education the centerpiece of our community involvement. It is consistent with research confirming that people identify education as the best way for corporations to contribute to their community.”

Cosby was not all laughs as he turned serious at the end. He recalled a story of his son who was cruelly told by a fellow student that he got an A because of “affirmative action.” He challenged the attending students to study hard and make their education years worthy. I am sure they listened.

By Aviva Kempner

The Hammerslough building in Manhattan

Posted November 27th, 2013 by

Click here to read an interesting blog post on the colorful history of the Manhattan building that housed the clothing store of Julius Rosenwald’s uncles, the Hammerslough Brothers, just before the turn of the century. Blogger Tom Miller gives the history of occupants of the building along with an appreciation of its innovative and influential architecture in the section of Manhattan that is known today as SoHo. A young Julius Rosenwald likely worked at this clothing store (which is still standing at 482 Broadway) before he struck out with his own store in downtown Manhattan. Before he bought into Sears Roebuck, Rosenwald also started his own clothing business in Chicago with his cousin called Rosenwald & Weil.

For a photo of the building from the time it was occupied by the Hammerslough Brothers and Collins, Downing & Co., click here (registration required).

“Scottsboro Boys” receive posthumous pardon

Posted November 22nd, 2013 by

According to the New York Times, three of the famous “Scottsboro Boys” recently received official pardons from the state of Alabama, over 80 years after they were wrongfully convicted of rape and sentenced to death. Their trial was an infamous miscarriage of justice and was emblematic of institutionalized racism in the Jim Crow South. Since the defendants have all passed away, pardoning them required writing a new law that allowed for posthumous pardons in cases of “social injustice associated with racial discrimination.” Although it is merely a symbolic gesture, this is an important repudiation of Alabama’s racist history.

The great poet Langston Hughes took an interest in the case in 1931, when he visited the “Scottsboro Boys” on death row in Alabama. At the time, Hughes was on a trip across the South funded by his 1931 Rosenwald grant and inspired by Mary McLeod Bethune, who had encouraged him to spread his poetry to a Southern audience that was largely unfamiliar with his work. On the trip, Hughes visited all the Southern states, reciting and distributing his poetry at various venues, including many historically black colleges. A year later, Hughes would publish Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play in Verse, a virulent denunciation of the unjust treatment of the defendants by the Alabama legal system.

This posthumous pardon calls to mind President Clinton’s official apology for the notorious “Tuskegee Syphilis Study”. In his May 1997 apology speech, Clinton said that an official apology was “the first step [in] a commitment to rebuild that broken trust” engendered by the inhumane study. Unlike the recent Scottsboro pardon, four survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, each over 90 years old, attended that apology at the White House.

In other Alabama history-related news…

Those of you who tuned into Jeopardy! last night saw all three contestants unable to come up with the name of the author of Up from Slavery and Tuskegee & Its People. Whatever your opinion of Booker T. Washington’s work (which remains controversial to this day) it’s astounding that three schoolteachers competing in the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament would be unaware of the most famous book written by the “Wizard of Tuskegee.” Washington is undeniably one of the major figures in African American history and he will play a prominent role in The Rosenwald Schools – one of his most interesting and lesser known projects is the school-building program he devised near the end of his life with Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools

Posted November 11th, 2013 by

October brought three great new interviews to The Rosenwald Schools. Read on to get a preview of three D.C.-area residents who will appear in our film: a rabbi, a poet and a curator.

Rabbi David Saperstein

David Saperstein is a lawyer and rabbi, active for decades in the Union for Reform Judaism and on the board of trustees for the NAACP. In his interview, he described the way Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropy adheres to the rich tradition of social justice in Reform Judaism:

Jewish leaders and Rabbis have always spoken out in universal terms, in terms of our obligation to be God’s partners in shaping a better world. So it’s not surprising that Rosenwald was able to deal both internally with Jewish causes of social justice – helping the Jews from Eastern Europe, as one example – but also get involved in universal concerns, working with Jane Addams in Hull House, the NAACP and eventually building this extraordinary set of schools.


Aviva Kempner and David Saperstein
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, October 28, 2013

The first system of universal education, at least for boys, was derived by the rabbis at the beginning of the Common Era, during the Talmudic Era of Rabbinic Judaism, 2,000 years ago. Every Jewish boy, rich and poor alike, not only was entitled to be educated, but it was the obligation of the society to ensure that it would happen. The Talmud says “be sure to educate the children of the poor, for out of them will come our great rabbis.” This was a belief that has been part of the Jewish community for 2,000 years.


Julius Rosenwald, 1917
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection

When the abysmal lack of education for African Americans was brought to Rosenwald’s attention, the recognition that there couldn’t be equality without education transformed his life. And he did one of the most extraordinary acts of social justice in the history of humankind, single-handedly building this network of schools that transformed the history of America, and certainly of African Americans. One of the most extraordinary undertakings in all of human history on social justice [was] building this remarkable network of schools. It transformed the destiny of the African American community, and therefore of America.

E. Ethelbert Miller

E. Ethelbert Miller is a poet and activist living in Washington D.C. He is inspired by Hughes’s poetry and by his commitment to bringing it to new audiences.


Aviva Kempner with E. Ethelbert Miller
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, October 28, 2013

Hughes got two Rosenwald fellowships, in 1931 and in 1941. When he applied to the Rosenwald Fund for a second time, Miller explained, it was at a low point in his career. Having run out of money, he had been forced to sell the rights to his previous books to his publisher, Knopf, for just $400. The Rosenwald money was very timely for Hughes, as Miller pointed out:

Langston saved everything, down to receipts and stuff like that, so we can see he never had a lot of money. I think the worst thing to be is a writer and you have to lose the rights to your work. To me, it’s the equivalent of being like a great jazz musician and you have to pawn your horn. That’s the real part where you have to say, “Okay, how committed am I to this?”


Langston Hughes, 1936 (between his two Rosenwald grants)
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten Collection

In 1941, his major work had not even been done yet, [such as] his Montage of a Dream Deferred. A lot of his Simple stories had not been written. But you can see he was at that point where many of us maybe would have given up or lost the rights to our work, our stories. But you see why, when an award does come, it comes at a particular time, like that old TV show The Millionaire, where somebody knocks on your door and gives you this money. And not only are they giving you money, they’re giving you hope and they’re giving you the ability to continue to pursue your dreams.

Philip Brookman

Philip Brookman is the chief curator at Washington D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery. An expert on photography, Brookman knew Gordon Parks personally. On a Rosenwald fellowship in 1942, Parks moved from Chicago to Washington D.C. to shoot photos for the Farm Security Administration, quickly producing what would become perhaps his most iconic photograph, American Gothic.


Washington, D.C. Government charwoman (also known as “American Gothic”)
Photo credit: Gordon Parks, Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

The story of Parks’ Rosenwald fellowship will be prominent in the film, but Brookman gave us a wide variety of other interesting information on Parks’ life that will be included in the DVD of the film. Brookman discussed the way Parks approached his subjects, a method that began with his very first series of photographs of Ella Watson.

Gordon got to know a lot of the people that he photographed very well. I think that’s one of the things that distinguishes his photography. He really had to know and understand the people he photographed.


Aviva Kempner with Philip Brookman
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, October 28, 2013

One of the people he photographed is Richard Wright. He made a portrait a little bit later that I think focuses on Wright’s face and it puts him in a very modern looking environment. Not an environment that one would think when representing an author who had written so much about coming up from poverty in difficult conditions. Gordon wanted to represent the artist who was Richard Wright and I think he was very good at understanding how to actually convey a sense of who people were. His friendship with Wright had initially inspired him to become a photographer and to represent with images the way that Wright represented with words the kind of experiences they both had had growing up.


Richard Wright, 1943
Photo credit: Gordon Parks, Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

I think that it was this kind of sensibility that came out of the Rosenwald era that gave artists a way of understanding what the power of their work could be and what it would mean for the world.

Teach For America’s early office space

Posted November 11th, 2013 by

As an organization committed to ending education inequality in America, Teach for America has spearheaded the modern day efforts to achieve Julius Rosenwald’s dream of a quality education for all Americans. But the connection does not just end with Teach for America and Rosenwald’s parallel missions. The early headquarters of Teach for America coincidentally was housed in the childhood home of Peter Ascoli, Rosenwald’s grandson. The building, located in New York City’s Gramercy Park neighborhood, has certainly seen its fair share of inspirational individuals!

Charles Spurgeon Johnson, grandfather of new Secretary of Homeland Security nominee

Posted October 22nd, 2013 by

Last week, President Obama nominated a new Secretary of Homeland Security to succeed Janet Napolitano, who resigned the position in August. Jeh Johnson, the president’s nominee, is a former Department of Defense lawyer and has been a trusted adviser to Obama on issues of national security. Most profiles of him in the news this week have mentioned that his grandfather, Charles Spurgeon Johnson, was a Harlem Renaissance figure and sociologist, but as his grandson moves into the national spotlight, now seems like a great time to bring out the fascinating life and work of this lesser-known historical figure.

Charles Spurgeon Johnson’s decades-long career as a sociologist is interwoven from the very beginning with Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund. It begins in 1919, during the Chicago Race Riot. After serving overseas in World War I, Johnson returned to Chicago and enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Chicago. Just days after marching in a military parade for black veterans, Johnson witnessed the outbreak of the riot on his way home from the Chicago Urban League office. As Rosenwald Fund official Edwin Embree describes in 13 Against the Odds, Johnson made his way through rioting crowds to his apartment and immediately sat down and began outlining what would become his first great work of sociology, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot.

The Negro in Chicago was a product of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, a board made up of local businessmen. One of its most prominent members was Julius Rosenwald, who early on during the riot had pushed a reluctant Mayor Bill Thompson to restore peace. Rosenwald had also made some incisive comments about the root causes of racial antagonism in Chicago to reporter Carl Sandburg, some of which foreshadowed his later interest in improving housing for African Americans. Johnson, acting as Associate Executive Secretary of the CCRR, wrote the majority of its report, illuminating how Chicago’s systematic exploitation of new African American arrivals to the city (as part of the Great Migration) coupled with housing segregation and employment discrimination had led its citizens to violently riot in the streets.


Charles Spurgeon Johnson in 1948
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten collection

A decade later, when the Rosenwald Fund began its syphilis control demonstration (a very different project than the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, as James Jones explained in our interview with him last month) they tapped Johnson to study the outcomes, efficacy and future potential for the kind of treatment program they had demonstrated in six rural southern communities. Johnson received a Rosenwald fellowship in 1930 and began working for the Rosenwald Fund in this capacity in 1931. While the Fund’s involvement in syphilis treatment ended in 1933, Johnson’s field work in Macon County, Alabama became the basis of his Shadow of the Plantation, a classic sociological study of the lingering effects of slavery on southern communities.

Johnson is perhaps best known for being the president of Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville that was home to the Rosenwald Fund’s southern offices. Initially hired by Fisk because of his behind the scenes work promoting Harlem Renaissance authors and artists, he was a professor of sociology for twenty years before becoming president in 1948. At Fisk, he wrote many important sociological studies, including Shadow of the Plantation (1934) and Growing up in the Black Belt (1941). According to Sarah M. Howell of Middle Tennessee State University, in 1944 the Rosenwald Fund helped Johnson put on a series of Race Relations Institutes. These were conferences on the state of race relations held at Fisk University and attended by scholars from all over the nation. As chair of the Department of Sociology at Fisk, Johnson also worked with Edwin Embree, head of the Rosenwald Fund, to produce The Monthly Summary, a publication that documented race relations in communities nationwide. Johnson was a close adviser to Embree, and he was often consulted when the Fund was considering fellowship candidates.

It may seem surprising that such an influential researcher is not more well-known, but Johnson seems to have purposely avoided the spotlight during his career. Johnson’s dedication to studying and improving race relations must have been an influence on his grandson, who was born 11 months after his death. If Jeh Johnson is as perceptive and driven as his grandfather, he will make an excellent public servant.

Charles Spurgeon Johnson, grandfather of new Secretary of Homeland Security nominee

Posted October 22nd, 2013 by

Last week, President Obama nominated a new Secretary of Homeland Security to succeed Janet Napolitano, who resigned the position in August. Jeh Johnson, the president’s nominee, is a former Department of Defense lawyer and has been a trusted adviser to Obama on issues of national security. Most profiles of him in the news this week have mentioned that his grandfather, Charles Spurgeon Johnson, was a Harlem Renaissance figure and sociologist, but as his grandson moves into the national spotlight, now seems like a great time to bring out the fascinating life and work of this lesser-known historical figure.

Charles Spurgeon Johnson’s decades-long career as a sociologist is interwoven from the very beginning with Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund. It begins in 1919, during the Chicago Race Riot. After serving overseas in World War I, Johnson returned to Chicago and enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Chicago. Just days after marching in a military parade for black veterans, Johnson witnessed the outbreak of the riot on his way home from the Chicago Urban League office. As Rosenwald Fund official Edwin Embree describes in 13 Against the Odds, Johnson made his way through rioting crowds to his apartment and immediately sat down and began outlining what would become his first great work of sociology, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot.

The Negro in Chicago was a product of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, a board made up of local businessmen. One of its most prominent members was Julius Rosenwald, who early on during the riot had pushed a reluctant Mayor Bill Thompson to restore peace. Rosenwald had also made some incisive comments about the root causes of racial antagonism in Chicago to reporter Carl Sandburg, some of which foreshadowed his later interest in improving housing for African Americans. Johnson, acting as Associate Executive Secretary of the CCRR, wrote the majority of its report, illuminating how Chicago’s systematic exploitation of new African American arrivals to the city (as part of the Great Migration) coupled with housing segregation and employment discrimination had led its citizens to violently riot in the streets.


Charles Spurgeon Johnson in 1948
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten collection

A decade later, when the Rosenwald Fund began its syphilis control demonstration (a very different project than the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, as James Jones explained in our interview with him last month) they tapped Johnson to study the outcomes, efficacy and future potential for the kind of treatment program they had demonstrated in six rural southern communities. Johnson received a Rosenwald fellowship in 1930 and began working for the Rosenwald Fund in this capacity in 1931. While the Fund’s involvement in syphilis treatment ended in 1933, Johnson’s field work in Macon County, Alabama became the basis of his Shadow of the Plantation, a classic sociological study of the lingering effects of slavery on southern communities.

Johnson is perhaps best known for being the president of Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville that was home to the Rosenwald Fund’s southern offices. Initially hired by Fisk because of his behind the scenes work promoting Harlem Renaissance authors and artists, he was a professor of sociology for twenty years before becoming president in 1948. At Fisk, he wrote many important sociological studies, including Shadow of the Plantation (1934) and Growing up in the Black Belt (1941). According to Sarah M. Howell of Middle Tennessee State University, in 1944 the Rosenwald Fund helped Johnson put on a series of Race Relations Institutes. These were conferences on the state of race relations held at Fisk University and attended by scholars from all over the nation. As chair of the Department of Sociology at Fisk, Johnson also worked with Edwin Embree, head of the Rosenwald Fund, to produce The Monthly Summary, a publication that documented race relations in communities nationwide. Johnson was a close adviser to Embree, and he was often consulted when the Fund was considering fellowship candidates.

It may seem surprising that such an influential researcher is not more well-known, but Johnson seems to have purposely avoided the spotlight during his career. Johnson’s dedication to studying and improving race relations must have been an influence on his grandson, who was born 11 months after his death. If Jeh Johnson is as perceptive and driven as his grandfather, he will make an excellent public servant.

Rosenwald Courts funding package approved

Posted October 16th, 2013 by

The rehabilitation of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments moved one step closer to reality on Friday. The package of grants, tax-free bonds, tax credits and TIF funds proposed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in September to help finance the construction of over 200 affordable apartments was approved at the Finance Committee meeting on October 11th. 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell posted a press release on the front page of her website, which you can read here.

It’s great to see this project finally coming together. Stay tuned to this blog for more updates.

Rosenwald Courts funding package approved

Posted October 16th, 2013 by

The rehabilitation of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments moved one step closer to reality on Friday. The package of grants, tax-free bonds, tax credits and TIF funds proposed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in September to help finance the construction of over 200 affordable apartments was approved at the Finance Committee meeting on October 11th. 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell posted a press release on the front page of her website, which you can read here.

It’s great to see this project finally coming together. Stay tuned to this blog for more updates.

Chicago to have a school named for Jesse Owens again

Posted October 7th, 2013 by

According to an article in Chicago Sun-Times Chicago will once again have a school named for one of its most famous residents, Olympian Jesse Owens. In June, a school named for Owens in the far South Side community of West Pullman closed to consolidate with another school, which is named for Samuel Gompers. It’s expected that the city’s Board of Education will take the Gompers local school council’s recommendation to rename the consolidated Gompers school for Owens.

The Sun-Times story includes quotes from Owens’ daughter, Gloria Owens Hemphill, who was dismayed when the original Owens school closed and is happy to see that he will be honored once again. Hemphill recalled that, to her father, “every child was a champ, all they needed was the opportunity to be one.”


Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe in 1936
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Those comments echoed what Chicago historian Timuel Black told us while we were interviewing him about the Rosenwald Apartments, a large block of apartments built by Julius Rosenwald in 1929 that was home to many of Chicago’s black middle class at the time. Some of the famous people that made their home there were Robert Taylor, Joe Louis, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, Ralph Metcalfe and Jesse Owens. Black described the remarkably close relationship Metcalfe, Louis and Owens had with the children in the neighborhood. While working out in nearby Washington Park, Black said, Owens and Metcalfe would run alongside the kids. “For those of my generation,” Black said, they were “like our big brothers.”


Timuel Black
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, 2011

Click here to read more at the Sun-Times.

Stay at the “Rosenwald Suite Retreat”

Posted October 2nd, 2013 by

Welcome Inn Manor is a bed and breakfast located in a mansion on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, across the street from the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments.

Among their lovely rooms is one named for the creator of that apartment block at 47th and Michigan, Julius Rosenwald. Colloquially known as “The Rosenwald,” the building was opened in 1929 and is in the process of being rehabilitated after standing vacant for decades.

Click to enlarge
Photo credit: The Welcome Inn Manor

The Rosenwald Suite is graced by an illustration of Julius Rosenwald on the wall. Mell from Welcome Inn Manor told us that it was created and gifted by a former guest, Ian Young. It appears to have drawn its source from a 1929 image of J.R. on the White House steps, seen here:


Photo credit: The Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection

Click here to book your stay in the Rosenwald Suite Retreat.

Ralph Ellison memorial in Harlem

Posted October 2nd, 2013 by

In a small, tranquil traffic island park next to tree-lined Riverside Drive in the western part of Harlem, New York, stands a memorial to the great writer of The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison. The bronze sculpture is a large slab with the outline of a figure cut out of it, symbolizing the “universal, genderless” invisible man. After moving to New York in 1936, Ellison lived in a building across the street for much of his life.

The sculpture is by Elizabeth Catlett, an extraordinary teacher, sculptor and print-maker who died last year. She is probably best known for her series of prints called “The Negro Woman.” Although her work is on display in many major museums and galleries, this sculpture was her only commissioned work in New York when it was unveiled in 2003. Both Catlett and Ellison were Rosenwald fellows.

We were recently able to visit the memorial in person and take some photographs, which are posted below. The building pictured is 730 Riverside Drive, Ellison’s home. Be sure to click through the images to see larger versions. To learn more about the memorial click here.

Click here to enlarge
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, September 2013

Click here to enlarge
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, September 2013

Click here to enlarge
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, September 2013

Click here to enlarge
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, September 2013

Click here to enlarge
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, September 2013

Click here to enlarge
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, September 2013

First lady lauds artistic heritage in Harlem

Posted September 27th, 2013 by

On Tuesday, during the United Nations General Assembly, First Lady Michelle Obama held a luncheon for the spouses of heads of state at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Obama talked about the great artists that had lived and worked in Harlem during the twentieth century, mentioning several Rosenwald fellows including Langston Hughes, Aaron Douglas and Zora Neale Hurston. The event brought spouses of world leaders together with area artists, art students and high school students.

Read more at The New York Times.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools – D.C. Edition

Posted September 26th, 2013 by

After filming in Tuskegee we’ve kept up the fast pace of The Rosenwald Schools production schedule by filming 8 more interviews right here in Washington. Read on for pics and interesting tidbits from the two days of interviews shot with two Congressmen, the president of the NAACP, two authors, and a Rosenwald relative, family friend and two fans of the great philanthropist.

Two Congressmen Interviewed

Our first stop on September 10th was the House of Representatives office buildings. After unpacking all of our equipment through the security scanner, we made our way to the office of Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. Mr. Lewis grew up in Alabama and attended the Dunn’s Chapel Elementary School, a Rosenwald School. While Mr. Lewis discussed his harrowing memories of living in the Jim Crow South, the thirst for education by he and his peers and, later, Jewish participation in the Civil Rights movement, we found it interesting that both he and Representative Danny Davis remembered ordering from the Sears Roebuck catalogue as children. In fact, both men talked about ordering live chickens from the catalogue. Mr. Lewis had this to say about Sears:

As a child I remember my parents ordering things from the Sears Roebuck catalogue. This big, thick, heavy book. Some of us called it the ordering book and other of us called it the wish book. We would turn the pages and say “I wish I had this, I wish I had that.” And that book inspired me that I needed to get an education if I wanted certain things. I needed to be prepared; I needed to earn some money to be able to buy.


Aviva Kempner and Congressman John Lewis
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

After Congressman Lewis, we interviewed Congressman Danny Davis of Illinois, whose district includes several Rosenwald-related landmarks in Chicago. Illinois’s 7th Congressional District has within its borders the Rosenwald YMCA on South Wabash Avenue, the massive Sears campus that Rosenwald built on the West Side and the Rosenwald Apartments on the South Side. Mr. Davis mused that during his life he had crossed paths with Sears a remarkable number of times. As Davis put it, from ordering chickens out of the Sears catalogue as a child in Arkansas for a 4-H project, to working at the Sears store as a summer job when he first moved to Chicago, to keeping office space in the old Sears building early in his career as an Illinois Representative, it’s like Sears has been “a part of my life” since childhood. Coincidentally, Davis mentioned that he was about to see the Sears Holdings Associate Gospel Choir perform at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on September 19th.


Aviva Kempner and Congressman Danny Davis
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

Davis described Sears as a center of Chicago’s North Lawndale community when he first moved to Chicago as a young man, both figuratively because of its large tower and sprawling campus and economically because so many people from the community. including himself, found work there in various capacities. As you might expect, Davis is also excited about the rehabilitation of a major landmark in another Chicago community, the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments:

It’s kind of a delight that a fellow like Julius Rosenwald saw [overcrowding in Chicago] back then and decided to do something about it in terms of the development of mixed income housing. When I hear people talk about having lived in the big development right on Michigan Avenue and 47th Street [The Rosenwald Apartments], and to know that right now plans are seriously underway for the redevelopment and revitalization of that structure- every time I run into the alderman of that area, Pat Dowell, we never miss having a conversation about it and she’s always smiling.

The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

After Davis, we interviewed Gary Krist, who published City of Scoundrels in 2012, a crackling book about the summer of 1919 in Chicago, a tumultuous but formative time in the city’s history. Krist has written a couple of popular history books and he has a great talent for painting a picture of a fascinating moment in history that is not well-known outside of Chicago. Take his description of the beginning of the 1919 race riot:

Intense competition for jobs and housing was really creating a volatile situation between blacks and whites throughout 1919, and eventually on one of those classic 97 degree summer days, things just exploded. It started with a group of boys from the Black Belt who decided they wanted to go to the beach on this hot Sunday afternoon. They went to this place they called the hot and cold, because the icehouse on the shore released cold water and the brewery on the shore released hot water and it mixed in this place. This was located in a no man’s land between the 25th Street beach, which was called the African American answer to Atlantic City, and the 29th Street beach, which was a de facto white beach.

Beaches were not officially segregated in Chicago at this time, but they were unofficially segregated. It just so happened on this day, several couples, African American couples, had come to the 29th Street beach to forcibly integrate it. They encountered some hostility from the bathers; there was some rock throwing, some shoving. But it might have ended there, if not for these boys who had gotten their raft in the hot and cold and now had drifted down the coast into the waters off the 29th Street beach. A young white man on the shore started throwing rocks at them and unfortunately one of the rocks hit one of the boys and he slid off the raft and ultimately drowned. This proved to be the event that precipitated the violence. Police arrived, shots were fired. It spread throughout the entire south side, and over the next 5 days people were just brutally killing each other in the streets.

The main instigators were the so-called athletic clubs, which were groups of young, usually Irish, white boys, located in the neighborhoods just to the west of the south side. They had been spoiling for a fight all summer long, because of all of these tensions, so they started just arming themselves with knives, with brickbats, bricks, and going around attacking people. They would get into automobiles and drive down State Street and fire at people on the street. They would go to streetcars, climb on top and pull down the trolley assembly so that the streetcar would be immobilized, and then they would take out any black passengers in that car and beat them on the street.

Interestingly, this was one of the first American riots where black people actively fought back, and sometimes, in some instances, were the aggressors. Soon you had black snipers shooting at white rioters from rooftops and windows. Ultimately the scenes played out almost like the war scenes they had just seen in Europe [in World War I] because a lot of the soldiers were among the rioters. It was nightmarish 5 days in Chicago.


Gary Krist and Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

James Jones has written the definitive study of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (Bad Blood, 1993) so we were fortunate to be able to interview him about the Rosenwald Fund’s brief connection to a precursor study. When Edwin Embree took over as head of the Rosenwald Fund, he reoriented its scope somewhat to include more health-related initiatives, one of which was a syphilis treatment program. Because treatment for syphilis at the time was intense and prolonged and because of the inherent difficulties in serving a rural, impoverished population, many doctors had written off treating the African American community as a lost cause despite the shocking prevalence of the disease.


Aviva Kempner and James Jones
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

In 1929, Dr. Jones explained, the Rosenwald Fund organized a syphilis “control demonstration” that consisted of six targeted county treatment programs designed to demonstrate to unmotivated Southern healthcare officials the potential efficacy of syphilis treatment in the African American population. The demonstration was effective, but short-lived, as the Great Depression caused the Fund to withdraw its support prematurely. As Jones put it, while the Rosenwald Fund left the program with regrets because it hadn’t made enough progress combating syphilis in the African American community, the Fund “came out smelling like roses” in regards to the later, infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Unlike the Rosenwald Fund’s anti-syphilis endeavor, which was targeted towards immediate treatment of a suffering populace, the later federally-funded Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was non-therapeutic and actually withheld new effective treatments (e.g. penicillin) from its participants in order to study the long-term effects of the disease.

The Sterns

Julius Rosenwald must have been a great father, as it seems each of his children did something remarkable in their own lives to “repair the world,” whether through giving money or personal efforts to worthy causes. Edith Rosenwald, and her husband Edgar Stern, became notable philanthropists in their own right in New Orleans, helping to found Dillard and working to increase voting rights for African Americans. As The Rosenwald Schools is going to primarily be about the life of Rosenwald, stories about the Sterns will probably not play a big part, but they deserve to be better known. Fortunately, we were able to interview Cokie Roberts, who grew up as a family friend of the Sterns. Ms. Roberts spoke highly of the Sterns’ commitment to social justice, and it was fitting that we spoke to her on the anniversary of Edith Stern’s death in 1980. One of the stories Roberts related was about a meeting between 1930 Rosenwald fellow Marian Anderson and the Stern family:

One of [Edith’s] cooks told her that there was a wonderful singer at her church, and so Aunt Edith decided to go and hear the singer. In fact, she was a wonderful singer: her name was Marian Anderson and Aunt Edith decided to have her come to their home. This was 1932; this was really in the dark ages of black-white relations, particularly in a city like New Orleans. And so she decided to not only invite Marian Anderson to sing at her home but also to have her as the guest of honor. But truly that was not done, I mean really not done. Edgar Stern was a little concerned about it, as the story goes, he said to [Edith] “We could lose some friends over this.” And she said “Well then we’ll see who our friends are.”


Cokie Roberts and Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

Anderson’s concert at the Stern’s house apparently went over without major incident, but she continued to face discrimination in concert venues. Most people know the story of her being barred from singing at Constitution Hall (which lead to her iconic 1939 performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial) but it’s less well-known that when she was invited to sing in New Orleans’ Municipal Auditorium a year later, it was the first concert in that venue that allowed black patrons to attend. Even though there was a black singer on stage, the black concert-goers were limited to balcony seating, a segregated arrangement that lead to protests by the NAACP.

Rosenwald and the NAACP

On the topic of the NAACP, our next interviewee was Ben Jealous, current president of the Association. Jealous is an amazing source for the history of the NAACP and a great spokesman for its mission. In his interview, (in addition to discussing life in the Jim Crow South, the Great Migration, “The Crisis” and even Marian Anderson) Jealous echoed some of the points made in the Ciesla Foundation’s recent symposium on the anniversary of the March on Washington.

The NAACP has always been a very black organization, [but] we have always been explicitly a multi-faith, multi-race organization from our very beginning. Jews were active in the NAACP because they were against the racism of the South, but they were also inspired by their fears of what was happening to their own community. And if that could happen to people here based on their color, well, given what was happening to be people based on their faith in Europe, what might happen here soon?


Ben Jealous
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

On a similarly inclusive note, Jealous cleared up a misconception about the origin of the NAACP’s name:

In fact, our name was changed very early on. We were named the National Negro Association in 1909. We became the NAACP in 1910, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. So what happened? Well, some people think that maybe between 1909 and 1910, the word for black people changed. Quite the contrary. At the time, “colored people” meant what people of color means today. It was a much broader category than “Negro,” which just meant black folks.

And so Du Bois comes into a meeting in 1910 and he says, “We have to change our name.” Think about how the other founders must have felt. “Our organization is a year old. We have to do a whole lot of things. One thing we don’t have to do is change our name.” But Du Bois walks in and says, “We’re not trying to simply promote black people; we’re not trying to replace white supremacy with black supremacy. We’re trying to equalize humanity; we’re trying to get everybody at the same level. We don’t want to push white people down; we just want to lift everybody else up.” And colored people in that case referred to the everybody else.

Other interviews

Other interviewees included David Deutsch and Debra and Joshua Levin. Deutsch is Julius Rosenwald’s great-grandson, but he was surprised to learn later in life that his grandmother Adele Rosenwald Levy, who he had spent Thanksgivings with as a child, was a remarkable philanthropist and art collector who had the foresight in 1941 to acquire Jacob Lawrence’s amazing Great Migration series for the Museum of Modern Art.


David Deutsch and Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

Debra and Joshua Levin, who are now married, told us a charming story about their unusual first date. Debra had written a master’s thesis on the work of Julius Rosenwald, so Josh had the idea to take her around to various Rosenwald-related sites in Chicago, such as the Sears plant on Homan Avenue, the Rosenwald Apartments and even his grave in Rosehill Cemetery.


Debra Fried Levin and Joshua Levin
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September 2013

Thanks to all our interviewees for taking the time to add your voice to The Rosenwald Schools.

New Interviews for The Rosenwald Schools – Tuskegee Edition

Posted September 24th, 2013 by

On August 22nd and 23rd, Aviva Kempner, director of The Rosenwald Schools traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama to film nine interviews with experts on a variety of topics related to Julius Rosenwald, the Rosenwald Fund, Booker T. Washington and, last but not least, Tuskegee University itself.

We recently finished processing the 5+ hours of footage Aviva and the Alabama crew shot. Below you’ll find some interesting excerpts from the interviews along with photos from the shoot.

The Interviewees


Aviva Kempner and Shirley Baxter, (National Park Service Ranger)
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2013

The first two interviews of the day were shot in Booker T. Washington’s study in the historic home, known as “The Oaks,” that was built for him on Tuskegee’s campus. Shirley Baxter of the National Park Service introduced us to The Oaks. With its Victorian details and unusual features (a dry sauna, for example, which Washington requested after visiting Europe) the house was not typical of the Tuskegee area at the time it was built and, interestingly, it was the first building in the area with electricity. While some have criticized it for being opulent and out of place, designing and building it allowed students to study valuable architecture and construction techniques. It also served as a showpiece to the northern philanthropists Washington would entertain at Tuskegee (such as Julius Rosenwald, who stayed there several times). Both Baxter and Dana Chandler, Tuskegee University’s Archivist, described the parades, choir performances and dinners that greeted Rosenwald and his guests when they visited Tuskegee. According to Dana Chandler, while the dinners were designed to impress out of town guests, for someone like Rosenwald, who had spent his entire life in the North, they offered a real opportunity to experience another culture.

[The Oaks was] classy, but not over the top. The people that would come down with Julius Rosenwald would be treated to the local cuisine. They would eat turnip greens; they would eat grits: you know, the local foods. And from what I understand, many of them went back to their homes with a better appreciation of what we had here.

In addition to building the house, Tuskegee students staffed and even grew the food for these dinners. Washington, Baxter noted, was an avid gardener when he was not traveling, rising at 5:30 in the morning to feed his chickens and tend to his garden behind The Oaks.


Booker T. Washington feeding his chickens at The Oaks
Photo credit: Library of Congress, unknown date

Later that day, Aviva stopped by the Shiloh School to interview Edith Powell. The Shiloh School is a Rosenwald School nearby Tuskegee, and was the 2nd school built in a community that housed one of the original pilot schools of the Rosenwald School building program. Ms. Powell has been active in the school’s restoration for years, and Shiloh School stands among the finest examples of restored Rosenwald Schools in the country. Ms. Powell described the restoration process and also spoke about what the school meant for Notasulga, Alabama:

In the past, the school represented a way for children to get a quality education. Before this school was built in this area, [education for African Americans] was not of a level that could even compare to the whites. This school was state of the art and it represented the will of the community and the parents to have their children get a quality education at whatever cost. And they are the ones who raised the money.


The Shiloh Rosenwald School
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2013

Along with The Oaks, there’s another National Park site in Tuskegee with a Rosenwald connection. In 1941, nine years after Rosenwald’s death, new Rosenwald Fund board member Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee in support of the nascent flight-training program and took a test flight with a black pilot (Charles Alfred Anderson) to prove to the rest of the country that black aviators were ready and able to serve in the military. Roosevelt’s visit to Tuskegee is a great story (that you can read more about in a previous blog post) and it resulted in the Rosenwald Fund giving a loan of $175,000 for the construction of an airfield and basic training facility called Moton Field that still stands today. Park Ranger Robert Stewart told us that around 1,000 pilots trained at Moton Field, almost half of which saw overseas action in World War II in places like Morocco, Tunisia and Sicily. We filmed Mr. Stewart in front of the very airplane (a J-3 Piper Cub) that Roosevelt and Anderson went up in back in 1941 (the plane is also visible below). Stewart talked about the heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen during the war, but he also stressed the way the program impacted the lives of pilots after the war:

When I think about what this site personally means to me, I think about all the men who came here that learned how to fly that went overseas to fight against fascism and then came back home and fought against racism. Many of the Tuskegee Airmen, when they went overseas and they had a chance to fly and defend their country, had their eyes opened. Because of the things they were taught here, they went off and helped to start what we know as the Civil Rights movement.


Aviva Kempner, Robert Stewart and another NPS Park Ranger at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2013

Anyone who visits or attends Tuskegee University cannot help but experience the work of one of its important, but less well known ‘founding fathers’. Aviva interviewed Dr. Richard Dozier, Dean Emeritus of the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science, about the Tuskegee architecture school’s namesake. In 1892, Booker T. Washington recruited Robert Taylor, the first black graduate from MIT in architecture to establish an architecture school that could design and produce all the necessary buildings for Tuskegee’s future campus. It’s amazing that Taylor was able to train his students not only to design and build each campus building from scratch, but also to use whatever local materials that were available or could be created (such as bricks). Of course, one of Taylor’s most important legacies is his impact on the design of many of the Rosenwald Schools. The schools were frequently built according to a design Taylor invented that maximized natural light and usable space in small (by modern standards) floorplans. Dr. Dozier made an interesting point about this in his interview:

We find that Taylor was responsible for making a good many of those decisions that we call “green architecture” long before we arrived here today. The ventilation, the orientation of the building on the site and also the utilization of the space. In hot humid weather [Taylor and his students] were able to design buildings that you could open the windows, you could raise the ceilings, let the air flow through. The rooms were flexible. They didn’t have that much electricity so they had to provide light. [Tuskegee] had a very practical architecture – this is all green architecture and this is all avant-garde of architecture.


Robert R. Taylor, 1906
Photo credit: Library of Congress (not online)

Other interviewees included Gilbert Rochon, president of Tuskegee University and his wife Patricia Saul Rochon. Dr. Rochon spoke of the amazing legacy Booker T. Washington left at Tuskegee and talked about what a daunting task it must have been for Washington to build the campus from the ground up:

It was no mean feat for Booker T. Washington, with only $2,000 and at the time no campus, no faculty, no students, to get this place established. Notwithstanding that, it had to come to pass within a city that was very much segregated. In order for Tuskegee to survive it had to provide everything; it had to be a world unto itself. They produced their own food, they raised their own animals, they had their own mortuary, they established a bank; they established everything that was needed in order to be a self-sufficient town. There was a railroad that came through and I’m told that it was the only railroad where there was a black conductor.


Dr. Gilbert Rochon, president of Tuskegee University
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2013

Patricia Rochon told us about the less well-known contributions of Washington’s three wives to life at Tuskegee. Rochon especially stressed the role of Margaret Murray Washington in the early days of Tuskegee, explaining that she had the same clarity of vision as Booker Washington and that she would act in an administrative role on his behalf during the many times when he was away speaking or fundraising. We also interviewed Dr. Kenneth Hamilton of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, author of an upcoming book that reorients the legacy of Booker T. Washington in the history of racial progress in the United States. Dr. Hamilton defended Booker T. Washington from the common latter-day criticisms of accommodationism by emphasizing his passionate pursuit of economic justice.


Aviva Kempner and Dr. Kenneth Hamilton
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2013

Many thanks to these wonderful interviewees for giving their time and knowledge to our project.

2013 Rosenwald Award bestowed on Lawrence E. Glick

Posted September 23rd, 2013 by

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago recently gave its 50th annual Julius Rosenwald Award to Lawrence E. Glick. Play the video below to see Glick’s acceptance speech.

More press for the new Rosenwald Apartments

Posted September 23rd, 2013 by

Click here to read an article about the new funding plan for the Rosenwald Courts, at Chicago Development News.

Exposition Chicago 2013 to feature artwork by Rosenwald fellows

Posted September 19th, 2013 by

EXPO CHICAGO, which brings together over 125 leading international galleries at Chicago’s Navy Pier, will feature the work of Rosenwald artists such as Richmond Barthe, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage and Charles White. The exposition is only this weekend (September 19-21) so make sure to stop by if you are in the area!

Read more at:
http://www.expochicago.com/
http://www.michaelrosenfeldart.com/

New financial backing for rehabbed Rosenwald Apartments from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Posted September 16th, 2013 by

David Roeder of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has offered a package of grants, tax-free bonds, tax credits and TIF (tax increment financing) funds to support the rehabilitation of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments. The MBGA was a huge block of apartments built by Julius Rosenwald in Chicago in 1929 at a time when housing for African Americans in the city was scarce and frequently subpar. At a press conference, Emanuel conveyed his enthusiasm for the project:

“The Rosenwald has a long and storied history,” Emanuel said, “but the city’s support for its comprehensive rehabilitation will ensure its best days are yet to come.” (Chicago Sun-Times, Sep 11, 2013)


The Rosenwald Apartments have been vacant for some years
Photo credit: SilverRaven7 (flickr)

Emanuel also announced the donation of 5 adjacent city-owned lots for “Rosenwald Courts” parking. That information was new to us; if you know which lots these are, please leave us a comment on this post.

Read more at the Sun-Times.

Washington Post article about Civil Rights era symposium

Posted September 4th, 2013 by

The Washington Post has written a nice article about “Reflections on the Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances,” a symposium co-produced by the Ciesla Foundation and On The Potomac Productions. From the article:

Jews were extremely active in the civil rights movement, and they played a role that was especially remarkable in light of their making up such a small part of the nation’s population. Prominent rabbis marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and several were involved in the founding of the NAACP.

Read more at The Washington Post.

Ernest Everett Just

Posted September 3rd, 2013 by

Ernest Everett Just was a great scientist, but his story is equally interesting today for what it reveals about the unique pressures faced by one of the earliest African Americans biologists in a field that was not very open to him. In 1983, Kenneth R. Manning published an excellent biography of Just called Black Apollo of Science, which ably brings out the tensions produced by Just’s excellence in his field in spite of the difficulties he faced.


Ernest Everett Just, date unknown
Photo credit: The Marine Biological Laboratory Archives

For us, the most interesting facet about Just’s story as Manning tells it is his special relationship with Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund. In the late 1910s, Just was a well-liked instructor at Howard University, but he wanted more time to pursue independent research. It was with this in mind that he met with Julius Rosenwald in early 1920. Just’s work had attracted several ‘mentors’, one of which was Abraham Flexner of the Rockefeller Foundation. Because the Rockefeller Foundation wasn’t able to support Just, Flexner set up a meeting with Julius Rosenwald. It was unusual for the Rosenwald Fund to give a grant to an already established researcher; for example, Dr. Charles Drew received his Rosenwald grant while still in medical school at McGill. However, Flexner eloquently argued on Just’s behalf that “service would be rendered to humanity through giving a fitting opportunity and support to a really able scientist of the Negro race.” Rosenwald agreed, electing to give Just an independent research grant of $1,500 a year (to which he added $500/year to support Just’s summer research at Woods Hole, Massachusetts).


Just relaxing at Woods Hole
Photo credit: The Marine Biological Laboratory Archives

The only problem with this arrangement was that Howard’s administration didn’t want Just to give up his full time teaching position, which didn’t pay well. They didn’t see his research as increasing his value to the university. But once again Flexner came to his aid. Howard University agreed to let Just cut back his course load to allow time for research in exchange for Flexner securing a large donation for the university through the Rockefeller Foundation.

Although Flexner was a strong supporter of Ernest Just, Manning describes him as holding casually racist attitudes: he was interested in alleviating the plight of African Americans but his support was marked by paternalism and he was shortsighted about the possibility for African American achievement in the sciences. Rosenwald’s work has been criticized on these grounds as well, and an example from Manning’s book paints him this way. When deliberating over whether to extend a permanent endowment to Just’s work, Rosenwald asked Just and his mentor Ralph Lillie whether Just’s attitude towards other blacks was one of “helpful association or aloofness.” This extra hurdle is not one that he or other philanthropists would have felt necessary to require with white grant beneficiaries, who would have been judged on the merits of their work.


Abraham Flexner
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, Just seems to have had a special affection for Rosenwald. Just’s bond with Rosenwald was best demonstrated by his request to list his official title as “Julius Rosenwald Fellow in Biology.” This was an unusual request, Manning notes, as Rosenwald rarely allowed his name to be used in connection with his philanthropic work. The request was granted. Manning also writes that Just often sent letters to Rosenwald with personal details about his life and upbringing and the professional problems he faced getting hired because of race. Just consistently shared his successes (being asked to speak at national and international conferences, being cited in major publications, his own work on fertilization being lauded) with Rosenwald and this strategy of personal appeals lead to Rosenwald renewing the grant several times, to 7 years in total. In his letter to Rosenwald at the end of the 7-year grant period, Just described their relationship as “an almost holy alliance–a thing of spirit which I shall always remember” (qtd. in Manning, 155).


Julius Rosenwald in 1917
Photo credit: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress

In fact, Rosenwald’s support wasn’t over. He soon came back and supported Just with a more modest 3 year grant, which Just used to support the work of his student, Roger Arliner Young (a notable marine biologist in her own right). Later, Just appealed to Edwin Embree, who ran the Rosenwald Fund after Julius Rosenwald’s death, for support for Howard’s biology department. Just successfully convinced Embree, who was typically against endowments, to make a large donation to the department. Embree followed through even when planned-upon support from the General Education Board was not forthcoming.

Manning describes Just as driven and often overworked, which eventually took a toll on him. Whether his benefactors (like Flexner, Rosenwald and Embree) intended to be overbearing in the administration of their support or not, Just felt pressure to excel because of the trust placed in him. Not only did he have to produce quality research (as his Rosenwald grants were administered by the National Research Council) he felt he constantly had to promote his work in order to maintain the fellowships he needed to stay afloat. Just’s career as a biologist was marked by this tension – trying to do great research while pleasing his benefactors and providing much needed instruction for his students at Howard.

By Michael Rose

“Reflections on Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances”

Posted August 29th, 2013 by

On Tuesday, August 27th, the Ciesla Foundation joined On the Potomac Productions to present “Reflections on Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances,” a symposium remembering the collaboration between Jews and African Americans during the Civil Rights era and considering new ways for the two communities to work together in the future. Ciesla provided 501(c)(3) sponsorship for the event, which was held at NYU’s Constance Milstein Center in Washington D.C. Ciesla Director Aviva Kempner also spoke at the symposium about the Rosenwald Schools and screened the work in progress of Ciesla’s upcoming documentary about Julius Rosenwald.

Click to enlarge
Aviva Kempner and Gloria Davidson Hart
Photo credit: Tobiah Mues, Aug. 27, 2013

The Rosenwald Schools were one of the main topics on the “Education” panel. In addition to Aviva’s presentation, Gloria Davidson Hart recounted her experience going to a Rosenwald School and talked about the esteem the community had for the comparatively high quality Rosenwald Schools that were built throughout Southern states in the early part of the 20th century.

Click to enlarge
Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner
Photo credit: Tobiah Mues, Aug. 27, 2013

Other highlights of the conference included Rabbi Dresner, who shared some stories about the time he spent with Martin Luther King Jr. and talked about the affinity he felt between the Civil Rights struggle and the Biblical Exodus. Clarence Page described his early days at the Chicago Tribune, at a time when some of his co-workers were worried that an African American employee would be too “militant.” Ron Carver implored the audience to remember that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t act alone and that young people today need not wait for a savior like King to begin collective action. Glenn Rabin chaired the communications panel and discussed the effects of the recent loss of governmental policies to promote minority ownership of media. The audience also heard a recorded message from Julian Bond, who is working on a film project about the relationship between the birth of rock and roll and the Civil Rights movement called “Crossing the Color Line.”

Click to enlarge
Clarence Page
Photo credit: Tobiah Mues, Aug. 27, 2013

The final speaker of the day was Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. As a young man, Gray’s parents encouraged him to attend George Washington University despite the fact that he would be one of the only black students on campus. While these difficult circumstances caused a few of his friends to transfer away from GWU, Mayor Gray found a home at Tau Epsilon Phi, a Jewish fraternity that accepted him as its first black member.

Click to enlarge
Mayor Vincent Gray and Mark Plotkin
Photo credit: Tobiah Mues, Aug. 27, 2013

Mayor Gray contrasted his experience as a minority at GWU with his time at the famous and predominately black Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. and named some of the remarkable alumni of the school, such as Charles Hamilton Houston and Dr. Charles Drew. Mayor Gray also mentioned Ernest Everett Just, who taught at Dunbar. Just, who had a special relationship with Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund, will be the subject of an upcoming post on this blog.

Click to enlarge
Mayor Vincent Gray with Aviva
Photo credit: Tobiah Mues, Aug. 27, 2013

Thomas Hart Jr. of On the Potomac Productions put together an amazing group of speakers for this weekday morning symposium, and the Ciesla Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to participate.

Click to enlarge
From left to right: Clarence Page, Mark Plotkin, Rabbi Dresner, Thomas Hart Jr., Aviva Kempner, Leroy Nesbitt and Susannah Heschel
Photo credit: Tobiah Mues, Aug. 27, 2013

By Michael Rose

Rosenwald Schools film project covered by Chicago Sun-Times

Posted August 28th, 2013 by

Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, published a great article today about Julius Rosenwald and The Rosenwald Schools production.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, entitled “Chicago’s ‘under-known’  hero of civil rights movement”:

The celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington — and Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech — wrap up on Wednesday with remarks by Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter at the Lincoln Memorial.

So this seems a good time to remind everyone that before the civil rights era of the 1960s, there was Chicago’s Julius Rosenwald, helping to pave the way for it.

Along with remembering Rosenwald, Sweet gives a rundown of our production to date and talks about the major stories and interviews the final film will include. Be sure to read the full article at the Sun-Times website.


Julius Rosenwald in 1929
Photo credit: Library of Congress National Photo Company Collection

Hale Woodruff’s Talladega murals continue national tour in New York City

Posted August 16th, 2013 by

Roberta Smith reports in the New York Times (Aug. 16) that Hale Woodruff’s breathtaking set of murals, made for Talladega College in 1938, has arrived at an NYU gallery (the exhibition closes on Oct. 13th). Smith praises the “indomitable optimism” of the murals, arguing that they “teach history by making it visually riveting.” Three of the six murals expressively tell the story of the 1839 uprising on the slave ship Amistad. Click the link above to see one of Amistad series.


Hale Woodruff posing in front of one of the Talladega murals depicting the Underground Railroad
Photo credit: Library of Congress via FSA/OWI

We previously reported on the murals’ national tour in Atlanta and Chicago. At the end of the tour, the murals will return to their home in Talladega, but this exhibition in New York (their first) is a homecoming of sorts. It was likely on the strength of this work that Woodruff received Rosenwald Fund fellowships in 1943 and 1944, which allowed him to move to New York where he would work and teach until he passed away in 1980.

Ciesla Foundation to co-host D.C. symposium on civil rights

Posted August 16th, 2013 by

From On the Potomac Productions’ (OTP) press-release:

OTP will be hosting, along with the Ciesla Foundation, a symposium at New York University-DC’s campus (NYU) entitled “Reflections on Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances” on August 27th on commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The “Reflections on Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances,” symposium will provide an opportunity to recognize Jewish and African American constituencies who supported the March on Washington and the Civil Rights movement. The forum will discuss the evolution of the alliances, present relations and future opportunities.

At the symposium, Aviva Kempner will discuss the Ciesla Foundation’s current project, The Rosenwald Schools, which concerns a partnership of African Americans and Jews before the Civil Rights era.

On the Potomac Productions also announced that their one-hour documentary about the effort to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday, entitled MLK: The Making of a Holiday, will air on television stations nationwide soon in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. This is the first time MLK: The Making of a Holiday has aired in HD, and it’s a great opportunity to see the iconic moments of Dr. King’s life in more detail than ever before.  Some stations that will broadcast the doc include: WMAQ Chicago NBC, WTAE Philadelphia ABC, WDIV Detroit NBC, KSTP Saint Paul ABC and WEWS Cleveland ABC.


The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: Sue Waters (flickr)

Rosenwald Apartments project moving forward

Posted August 12th, 2013 by

Today the developer of the soon to be rehabilitated Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, Rosenwald Courts Apartment LP, held a pre-bid conference at a nearby community center. You can read more on page 10 of 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell’s newsletter or at a local development blog.

The planned number of apartments hasn’t changed since the last time we reported: the project team is planning for 97 family units and 138 senior units in the rehabilitated “Rosenwald Courts.”

We will continue to post updates to this project as we get them.

New historical walking tour in Washington features famous Gordon Parks photo subject

Posted July 19th, 2013 by

Last Saturday, Mayor Vincent Gray and others helped inaugurate a new Heritage Walk in Washington D.C. Washington’s Heritage Walks are self-guided walking tours set up in historic neighborhoods around the city, each consisting of a series of plaques telling the history of the area or a specific site.


The Logan Circle Heritage Walk plaque in front of Ella Watson’s home
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, July 18, 2013

The new tour is in Logan Circle, a neighborhood that was home to Ella Watson, famously photographed in 1942 by Gordon Parks in an provocative work he titled “American Gothic.” Parks followed Watson in her daily life for about a month, and many of the pictures in his series for the Farm Security Administration were taken in her home at 1433 11th Street NW.


1433 11th Street NW, Washington: Ella Watson’s home in 1942
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, July 18, 2013

The building Watson lived in with her family still stands but is currently vacant – increasingly rare for Logan Circle, an area that has seen rapid renovation in recent history. Below you can see a picture Parks took out the front window of Watson’s second floor apartment, showing two rowhomes across the street that are also still standing at the corner of P Street NW. Click here to browse the rest of the Library of Congress’s collection of Parks’ Ella Watson photographs.


Washington, D.C. View from the bedroom window of Mrs. Ella Watson, a government worker
Photo credit: Gordon Parks, August 1942, OWI/FSA (LOC)

Another notable site on the new Logan Circle Heritage Walk is St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, designed by Calvin T.S. Brent, an early African American architect from the District of Columbia. His son, John Edmondson Brent, who designed the Rosenwald YMCA in Buffalo, was the subject of a post on this blog earlier this month.

By Michael Rose

Guthrie’s patriotic song symbolizes respect for environment at EPA building dedication

Posted July 19th, 2013 by

Wednesday night, the building that houses the Environmental Protection Agency was officially renamed for Bill Clinton, in honor of what he and his administration (including vice president Al Gore and EPA administrator Carol Browner) accomplished during his two terms as president. Darryl Fears reports in the Washington Post that Clinton requested Woody Guthrie’s famous folk song “This Land is Your Land” be performed by a youth choir at the renaming ceremony. The song’s lyrics are very appropriate for such an occasion as they proclaim common ownership over the natural beauty of the USA.


Woody Guthrie playing guitar in 1943
Photo credit: New York World Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Guthrie was granted a Rosenwald fellowship in 1943 to create works in a variety of mediums. We previously reported on this blog about a recently rediscovered novel that was potentially written during his Rosenwald grant period. Although it was written in 1940, “This Land is Your Land” was first recorded in 1944, soon after Guthrie had received his Rosenwald fellowship. Although neither House of Earth (Guthrie’s novel) or “This Land is Your Land” were immediately heralded as masterpieces upon their release, today it’s clear that they’re among the best products of a Rosenwald fellowship.

Buffalo historians uncover story of a Rosenwald YMCA architect

Posted July 18th, 2013 by

It seems that every one of the Rosenwald YMCAs has a story behind it.

We first learned the background of the Buffalo YMCA from Buffalo Research, the website of a local historian in the city named Cynthia Van Ness. The “Michigan Avenue YMCA” was part of the third wave of Rosenwald-supported African American YMCAs. In the early 1910s, Rosenwald offered $25,000 towards the construction of a new building for any city’s African American YMCA that could raise an additional $75,000 within their community. This offer was renewed twice, in 1915 and 1924.

The very first Rosenwald YMCA, built in Washington D.C., was designed by Tuskegee graduate William Sidney Pittman. However, by most accounts, it was not until 1924 in Buffalo, New York, that another of the Rosenwald YMCAs would be designed by an African American architect. John E. Brent, the architect of the Michigan Ave YMCA, was a native of Washington D.C. and actually was a student of Pittman’s at Tuskegee.

Van Ness’s website lead us to an excellent work of local history by University at Buffalo’s Lillian Serece Williams, entitled Strangers in the Land of Paradise: Creation of an African American Community in Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940. Williams includes a lengthy section on the Michigan Ave YMCA. After Brent arrived in Buffalo, he worked for a series of architecture firms (notably contributing to the Art Deco Hutchinson High School, still in use and known today as Hutch Tech). In 1926, he formed his own firm and designed the YMCA as his first commission.

As with the other YMCA building campaigns, Rosenwald’s challenge grant was successful in spurring the local community into contributing. A meter that tracked the fundraising efforts was placed in the center of city at Lafayette Square. White citizens of the city also contributed, including the owner of the Buffalo Courier George Matthews. Matthews was the biggest single contributer to the YMCA, and his $100,000 investment allowed the building to be larger than planned.

Buffalo’s citizens raised the necessary funds in a short time, and according to Williams’ book, Rosenwald’s check arrived Dec 24th, 1924. As with his gift to the Washington D.C. YMCA, the date of the check recognized the Christian spirit of the YMCA by appearing as a kind of Christmas present. While this may seem ironic given that Rosenwald was Jewish, his support of the YMCA speaks to his pragmatism and open-mindedness.

The Michigan Ave YMCA opened on April 15, 1928. Williams recounts the opening ceremonies, which Rosenwald attended, in her book. Rosenwald personally lauded Brent on “the completeness and architectural beauty of the building both inside and out,” then called Brent to the podium to congratulate him on the “beautiful and successful building he had created for the colored group of Buffalo.” Indeed, the Michigan Ave YMCA was a center of the African American community for many years, with people like Brent and Matthews staying involved in its administration. Like the Senate Avenue YMCA in Indianapolis, it hosted public forums with prestigious speakers like W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary Mcleod Bethune and Walter White of the NAACP. However, as the black population of Buffalo shifted progressively eastward, the YMCA fell victim to the disinvestment of the near East Side and was ultimately demolished in 1977.

Because of population decline and large-scale abandonment, Buffalo as a city presents unique challenges to historic preservationists. Its citizens are, however, uniquely dedicated to preserving whatever possible from Buffalo’s huge stock of architectural treasures. While some of these treasures are lost to history (such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Administration Building), others (like the gargantuan Art Deco Central Terminal) have been preserved through the sheer will of passionate citizens. Unfortunately Brent’s YMCA belongs to that former category, but its memory lives on.

Brent’s name was in the air in Buffalo recently for a different commission. After painstaking research, Everett Fly and Ellen Hunt produced a successful nomination of his “Entrance Court at the Buffalo Zoo” to the New York State Register of Historic Places (which will potentially lead to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places). The nomination was interesting because the gate, which is no longer in active use by the zoo is basically unknown, and Brent’s contribution to the historic zoo (one of the oldest in the country, nestled in a Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park) was seemingly forgotten. You can read more at Fly’s blog, which also includes a picture of Brent at work and a signed drawing of his Michigan Ave YMCA.

By Michael Rose

Museum of Science and Industry celebrates its own history with a new exhibit

Posted June 27th, 2013 by

A new exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry commemorates the museum’s 80th anniversary by displaying 80 artifacts that tell the story of the Chicago institution since its opening in 1933. In a previous blog, we told the story of the museum’s inspiration, by Julius Rosenwald and his son William while visiting the industrial museums of Europe, and the building’s transformation from the 1893 World’s Fair to a temporary home for the Field Museum, to an abandoned white elephant on the city’s south side to the beautifully restored and rebuilt Beaux Arts masterpiece that has housed the MSI ever since.


The derelict MSI building after its previous tenant, the Field Museum of Natural History, vacated it around 1920
Photo credit: Field Museum (flickr)

In the Chicago Sun-Times, a longtime volunteer at the museum, who attended its opening in 1933 at the age of 5, reminisced that the only exhibit present for the “soft opening” (as part of the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair) was the coal mine. The working coal mine, imported from Johnston City in southern Illinois, was part of Rosenwald’s original conception for the museum and remains a popular exhibit to this day.


The historic coal mine exhibit in the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo Credit: Lenny Flank, 2012 (flickr)

Two interviewees from our film, The Rosenwald Schools were on hand for the opening of the exhibit: Julius Rosenwald’s grandson and biographer, Peter Ascoli, and Kathleen McCarthy, director of exhibits and collections at the museum, who we interviewed in December. You can read more about the opening at the Sun-Times.


The Museum of Science and Industry today
Photo Credit: Brent Newhall, 2011 (flickr)

Madam C.J. Walker featured in The Root

Posted June 24th, 2013 by

In a new profile for The Root, Henry Louis Gates Jr. tells the story of a remarkable early African American entrepreneur, Madam C.J. Walker. Gates says that Walker, who was born into poverty but made a fortune by manufacturing hair care products for African Americans, deserves to be better known. After you read her fascinating story, you’ll be hard pressed to argue.

Walker will be featured in The Rosenwald Schools for her collaboration with Julius Rosenwald to build a YMCA for blacks in her adopted hometown of Indianapolis, a story that Walker’s great-great-granddaughter (and biographer) A’Lelia Bundles recounted for us in an interview a year ago. Rosenwald’s YMCA-building campaign, which resulted in over 20 urban YMCAs, was one of his first philanthropic initiatives in the African American community. Rosenwald offered substantial funding towards the construction of modern buildings for African American YMCAs, but required matching funds to be raised from the local community. Madam Walker rose to the challenge when she donated $1,000 to the Senate Avenue YMCA building fund, the largest single donation made by an African American to a Rosenwald YMCA. The Senate Avenue YMCA was demolished years ago, but many Rosenwald YMCAs are still standing.

Gates talks about Booker T. Washington’s criticisms of Walker’s products (he claimed they promoted white standards of beauty) but suggests the two had more in common than Washington thought. Indeed, after a public clash at the 1912 National Negro Business League convention, the two reconciled and worked towards common causes in both Indianapolis and Tuskegee. Gates describes a photograph, pictured below, of Washington standing with Walker in front of the newly opened Senate Avenue YMCA in Indianapolis that illustrates their mutual respect.


The dedication of Indianapolis’s Rosenwald YMCA, July 1913

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools

Posted June 19th, 2013 by

Four new interviewees were added to The Rosenwald Schools on Friday, June 7th. Director Aviva Kempner (working for the first time with our great New York crew, Dan, Seth and Chapin) shot interviews with David Levering Lewis, Hasia Diner, Gara LaMarche and Maren Stange. Below are some excerpts from interviews with the first 3 of them; Stange’s interview is covered in our latest blog post on Gordon Parks.


The crew setting up the shoot
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

David Levering Lewis

David Levering Lewis is one of the leading scholars on African American history. He’s also an engaging writer and speaker who manages to keep readers of all kinds interested without sacrificing the complexity of his arguments. Having written an exhaustive two volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois (who worked closely with the Rosenwald Fund) and an excellent article on the shared struggles and “assimilationist strategies” of African Americans and Jews in the early twentieth century, we were fortunate that Lewis agreed to add his voice to our film. In addition to presenting his thoughts on Du Bois and the Rosenwald Fund, Lewis perfectly summed up Julius Rosenwald’s modesty and legacy of promoting opportunity in this excerpt from his interview:

Julius Rosenwald once said that his own stellar success was ninety-five percent luck, but he must have known that most people were not going to have that kind of luck and they needed a significant grubstake. It seems to me that was the great concept of the Rosenwald Fund: for people who certainly needed a lot of luck, Julius Rosenwald was luck itself. (David Levering Lewis)


Aviva with David Levering Lewis, Du Bois scholar
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

Despite his amazing success as president of Sears Roebuck, Rosenwald never saw himself as exceptional, and always maintained that he was merely a competent manager who had been fortunate enough to capitalize on the opportunities presented to him. As such, he saw philanthropy as his duty: he was a trustee of the wealth he had accumulated and he tasked himself with distributing it in such a way that it would most benefit the less fortunate and the oppressed.

Hasia Diner

Dr. Hasia Diner is an expert on the history of Judaism in the USA. The author of In the Almost Promised Land: American Jews and Blacks, 1915-1935 and an upcoming chapter on Rosenwald, she made some great contributions to The Rosenwald Schools. In her interview, Diner contextualized key events like the lynching of Leo Frank (which was emblematic of the increase in Southern anti-Semitism that was concurrent with the rise of racial tension under Jim Crow), talked about Rosenwald’s complicated relationship with the Zionists of his day and brought out the intricacies of J.R.’s collaboration with Booker T. Washington. Diner also talked about Julius Rosenwald’s father, Samuel Rosenwald, who worked as a peddler immediately after arriving in Baltimore on a ship from his native Germany. Peddling a variety of goods to farmers and people without regular access to urban centers was a very common profession for Jewish immigrants during the nineteenth century, in spite of the obvious challenges of the job for the newly arrived immigrants that Diner eloquently described:

It was a very unique kind of occupation in as much as it demanded that a brand new immigrant, someone literally off the boat, go home to home, farm to farm, knock on the door and say, in a language he doesn’t know yet, “Good morning, Ma’am. How are you today?” It’s a kind of almost instant immersion into the local culture at an extremely deep level. (Hasia Diner)

Samuel Rosenwald quickly moved up the employment ladder from peddler to managing a series of stores and eventually became the owner of a successful clothing business in Springfield, Illinois. Likewise, his son started near the bottom of the garment trade in New York City, but eventually became president of one of the largest retailers in American history. Diner pointed out that this progression was somewhat paradoxical in light of Rosenwald’s later work. The belief in education as a route to social mobility that so informed Rosenwald’s philanthropy was not germane to his own trajectory, or to his family’s before him. In fact, to his lifelong regret, Rosenwald never completed high school.


Dr. Hasia Diner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

Gara LaMarche

Gara LaMarche is the former president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies. As such, he’s done a lot of thinking about philanthropic strategies and he sees Rosenwald as an early innovator in the field, even among the pantheon of better-known philanthropists from the turn of the century (like Rockefeller and Carnegie). LaMarche talked about Rosenwald’s conviction about the importance of a sunset date for his foundation (that is, a pre-determined time before which all its funds would be expended) and “his belief that perpetual foundations would become sclerotic… [straying] far from the donor’s intention,” if they were to become too “comfortable and self-perpetuating.” LaMarche argued that this aggressive approach, the avoidance of perpetual endowments in order to direct the full force of your philanthropic giving towards making a “concentrated impact on… the problems of the day,” was a good model to follow, and has been shared to an extent by modern-day philanthropists like Chuck Feeney.


Aviva with Gara LaMarche
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

By Michael Rose

Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards 2013

Posted June 18th, 2013 by

On June 10th, Aviva Kempner, director of The Rosenwald Schools, attended the 2013 Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards. The Foundation for Jewish Culture puts on the event yearly to honor those who make vital contributions to the richness and relevance of Jewish culture. This year they honored Scott Berrie, Leon Botstein, Michael Chabon, Deborah Dash Moore, and the family behind Russ & Daughters.


Aviva Kempner with fellow awards attendees, June 10, 2013
Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Culture (flickr)

The Foundation for Jewish Culture is a generous supporter of the Ciesla Foundation and The Rosenwald Schools film production. The Ciesla Foundation recently donated a package to the Foundation’s online auction including DVD copies of all Ciesla productions on DVD (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, and Partisans of Vilna) and a visit to The Rosenwald Schools editing room at Ciesla’s office in Washington, D.C.

Deceased industrial designer was influenced early in life by Sears catalogue

Posted June 18th, 2013 by

Niels Diffrient, who died of cancer on June 8th, had an obituary published on Sunday in the New York Times. While reading about the remarkable products designed by Diffrient in his long career as an industrial designer, a quote from his wife caught our eye:

“He had two books, the Sears Roebuck catalog and the Bible,” Ms. Hernmarck said of his early childhood. “The Bible didn’t interest him, but the Sears Roebuck catalog — that immediately interested him.

Mr. Diffrient spent hours drawing his own versions of items from the catalog. Two decades later, after Mr. Diffrient had attended art school, he applied his interest in consumer products as an assistant to the architect and designer Eero Saarinen, who hired him to help design chairs for Knoll.

It seems the Sears catalogue sparked the creativity of Mr. Diffrient as a child in much the same way it did for storyteller Harry Crews, who passed away a year ago. The idealism of the catalogue’s designs, as well as its plenitude of products, must have been striking to behold for people who lived in rural areas during the early twentieth century.

ca

Works by Rosenwald fellows on display in New York gallery

Posted June 18th, 2013 by

Earlier this year, we covered an exhibition by the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York here on our blog because it featured the early work of some Rosenwald fellows. Their current exhibition, “Abstract Expressionism, In Context: Seymour Lipton,” shows Lipton’s sculptures in the context of his contemporaries, including two Rosenwald fellows: Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff.

Both Alston and Woodruff received consecutive Rosenwald fellowships in the early 1940s; Alston in 1940 and 1941 and Woodruff in 1943 and 1944. The Rosenfeld Gallery has once again graciously posted high quality images of the works in the exhibition on their website, so make sure to check out this oil painting by Alston, painted during his second Rosenwald fellowship, and this untitled watercolor by Woodruff from the year after his second Rosenwald grant.

“Abstract Expressionism, In Context” will be on display at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery until August 2nd.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools

Posted June 17th, 2013 by

Four new interviewees were added to The Rosenwald Schools on Friday, June 7th. Director Aviva Kempner (working for the first time with our great New York crew, Dan, Seth and Chapin) shot interviews with David Levering Lewis, Hasia Diner, Gara LaMarche and Maren Stange. Below are some excerpts from interviews with the first 3 of them; Stange’s interview is covered in our latest blog post on Gordon Parks.


Aviva setting up a shot with a crew member
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

David Levering Lewis

David Levering Lewis is one of the leading scholars on African American history. He’s also an engaging writer and speaker who manages to keep readers of all kinds interested without sacrificing the complexity of his arguments. Having written an exhaustive two volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois (who worked closely with the Rosenwald Fund) and an excellent article on the shared struggles and “assimilationist strategies” of African Americans and Jews in the early twentieth century, we were fortunate that Lewis agreed to add his voice to our film. In addition to presenting his thoughts on Du Bois and the Rosenwald Fund, Lewis perfectly summed up Julius Rosenwald’s modesty and legacy of promoting opportunity in this excerpt from his interview:

Julius Rosenwald once said that his own stellar success was ninety-five percent luck, but he must have known that most people were not going to have that kind of luck and they needed a significant grubstake. It seems to me that was the great concept of the Rosenwald Fund: for people who certainly needed a lot of luck, Julius Rosenwald was luck itself. (David Levering Lewis)


Aviva with David Levering Lewis, Du Bois scholar
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

Despite his amazing success as president of Sears Roebuck, Rosenwald never saw himself as exceptional, and always maintained that he was merely a competent manager who had been fortunate enough to capitalize on the opportunities presented to him. As such, he saw philanthropy as his duty: he was a trustee of the wealth he had accumulated and he tasked himself with distributing it in such a way that it would most benefit the less fortunate and the oppressed.

Hasia Diner

Dr. Hasia Diner is an expert on the history of Judaism in the USA. The author of In the Almost Promised Land: American Jews and Blacks, 1915-1935 and an upcoming chapter on Rosenwald for a book about WHAT, she made some great contributions to The Rosenwald Schools. In her interview, Diner contextualized key events like the lynching of Leo Frank (which was emblematic of the increase in Southern anti-Semitism that was concurrent with the rise of racial tension under Jim Crow), talked about Rosenwald’s complicated relationship with the Zionists of his day and brought out the intricacies of J.R.’s collaboration with Booker T. Washington. Diner also talked about Julius Rosenwald’s father, Samuel Rosenwald, who worked as a peddler immediately after arriving in Baltimore on a ship from his native Germany. Peddling a variety of goods to farmers and people without regular access to urban centers was a very common profession for Jewish immigrants during the nineteenth century, in spite of the obvious challenges of the job for the newly arrived immigrants that Diner eloquently described:

It was a very unique kind of occupation in as much as it demanded that a brand new immigrant, someone literally off the boat, go home to home, farm to farm, knock on the door and say, in a language he doesn’t know yet, “Good morning, Ma’am. How are you today?” It’s a kind of almost instant immersion into the local culture at an extremely deep level. (Hasia Diner)

Samuel Rosenwald quickly moved up the employment ladder from peddler to managing a series of stores and eventually became the owner of a successful clothing business in Springfield, Illinois. Likewise, his son started near the bottom of the garment trade in New York City, but eventually became president of one of the largest retailers in American history. Diner pointed out that this progression was somewhat paradoxical in light of Rosenwald’s later work. The belief in education as a route to social mobility that so informed Rosenwald’s philanthropy was not germane to his own trajectory, or to his family’s before him. In fact, to his lifelong regret, Rosenwald never completed high school.


Dr. Hasia Diner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

Gara LaMarche

Gara LaMarche is the former president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies. As such, he’s done a lot of thinking about philanthropic strategies and he sees Rosenwald as an early innovator in the field, even among the pantheon of better-known philanthropists from the turn of the century (like Rockefeller and Carnegie). LaMarche talked about Rosenwald’s conviction about the importance of a sunset date for his foundation (that is, a pre-determined time before which all its funds would be expended) and “his belief that perpetual foundations would become sclerotic… [straying] far from the donor’s intention,” if they were to become too “comfortable and self-perpetuating.” LaMarche argued that this aggressive approach, the avoidance of perpetual endowments in order to direct the full force of your philanthropic giving towards making a “concentrated impact on… the problems of the day,” was a good model to follow, and has been shared to an extent by modern-day philanthropists like Chuck Feeney.


Aviva with Gara LaMarche
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

By Michael Rose

Gordon Parks’ “Segregation Series”

Posted June 17th, 2013 by

’42 Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks has had his photography featured in the New York Times online “Lens” section a couple times recently, following the surprising discovery of over 70 color transparencies by the Gordon Parks Foundation showing the daily life of African Americans in mid-1950s Alabama. These photographs comrpise a set that he called the “Segregation Series.” Some of them were published in LIFE Magazine but the complete set of originals was thought to be lost until now.

The latest Lens blog post tells about Joanne Wilson, who was the subject of an iconic photo by Parks that showed her standing in front of the prominently marked “Colored Entrance” to an Alabama movie theater with her niece. In contrast to the more commonly seen photographs highlighting Jim Crow injustices, which were typically black and white and showed overt oppression, this beautifully colored image shows the “prosaic” side of life under segregation. Ms. Wilson was recently honored at the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner.

Another of Parks’ subjects in the “Segregation Series,” Allie Lee and Willie Causey, were strongly censured and even threatened by their white neighbors for expressing pro-integration sentiments in the LIFE article. Both ended up losing their livelihoods and were forced to move away from their hometown. A followup article in LIFE Magazine, viewable here thanks to Google Books, tells about the intense antagonism in the small community towards the Causeys. It’s worth a read; it paints an extraordinary picture of the dynamics of rural Alabama life during Jim Crow.


Maren Stange on the set
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, June 7, 2013

We caught up with Maren Stange (an expert on social documentary photography and the author of Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks) last Friday (June 7th) in New York to film an interview about Parks’ career. Stange described Parks’ early days in Chicago (during the 1930s) where he caught the eye of the Rosenwald Fund with a provocative exhibition at the South Side Community Art Center that juxtaposed portraits of Chicago high society (both black and white) with gritty photographs of the stark conditions in what was known as the “Black Belt” in Chicago. Parks used the resulting grant from the Rosenwald Fund to go to work as a documentary photographer for Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration in Washington D.C., where he quickly began work on his iconic “Story of Mrs. Ella Watson,” a government charwoman that Parks photographed at her daily activities over the course of a month. Stange summed up Parks’ style and drew a very clear line between his early social realism, his masterful portrait-making (including great photos of Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and his early Chicago patron, Marva Louis), his in-depth stories for LIFE magazine (like the “Segregation Series”) and his later fashion photography (which was the subject of a great Lens post by Deborah Willis back in November).


An image from Gordon Parks’ Ella Watson series
Photo credit: U.S. Farm Security Administration via Library of Congress
(You can view the full series at LOC’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog)

By Michael Rose

Reminder: "The Hampton Years" at Theater J in Washington D.C.

Posted May 30th, 2013 by

As part of the D.C. JCC’s “Locally Grown” art festival, a production called “The Hampton Years,” about black artists and featuring portrayals of two Rosenwald fellows, had its premiere last night and will play throughout the month of June. There are perfomances on weekday and weekend evenings and matinees on weekends. Tickets are $10 – for more on the Locally Grown festival, click here.

Restoration funds awarded to 7 Rosenwald Schools

Posted May 30th, 2013 by

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Rosenwald School Centennial Fund, made possible through a grant by the Righteous Persons Foundation, has released its inaugural list of grants to Rosenwald Schools currently undergoing restoration, including:

•$10,000 to the Chattahoochee County Historic Preservation Society in Cusseta, GA, for the restoration of the Cusseta Industrial High School
•$8,000 to the Castalia Community Development Corporation in Castalia, NC, for the Castalia Rosenwald School
•$20,000 to CrossRoads Corporation for Affordable Housing and Community Development, Inc., for the Billingsville School in Charlotte, NC
•$13,150 to West Rowan Neighborhood of Cleveland, NC, for the R.A. Clement Rosenwald School
•$20,000 to Lincoln County for the Oaklawn Rosenwald School in Lincolnton, NC
•$20,000 to Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Westminster, SC, for the Retreat Rosenwald School
•$5,000 to the Shady Grove School in Gum Spring, VA

For more info, click here.

Preservation Virginia lists Rosenwald Schools among state's most endangered sites

Posted May 20th, 2013 by

Preservation Virginia has released its yearly list of endangered historical sites (read more at the Washington Post). This year, the list includes the Rosenwald Schools of Virginia.

According to Preservation Virginia’s website, “Rosenwald Schools often are overlooked as symbols of the 20th century advancements in African American education that they poignantly represent.” Compared to the more high profile sites that Preservation Virginia lists as endangered, such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Rosenwald Schools are much less well-known. Restoration of the small rural buildings, while modest in scope compared to other preservation projects, is typically the work of a small group of alumni and rarely finds much support from outside its immediate community. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has taken a leadership role in supporting these small scale, community-driven restoration projects, but even within the challenging field of historic preservation, these projects are uniquely difficult.

Let’s hope that Preservation Virginia’s press release leads to more success stories like the Scrabble School, a Rosenwald School in Rappahannock County, Virginia that was restored and reopened in 2009.

By Michael Rose

The Ciesla Foundation receives grant from Humanities Council of Washington D.C.

Posted April 25th, 2013 by

In a small ceremony held at the Shepherd Park Library in Northwest Washington D.C., the Humanities Council of Washington D.C. awarded its 2013 Cycle I Grants. The Ciesla Foundation, among a group of other deserving awardees, received funds that will be used to film final interviews for The Rosenwald Schools documentary. Many thanks to the Humanities Council for this generous award.


Aviva Kempner and Michael Rose of the Ciesla Foundation receiving a check from D.C. Humanities director Joy Ford Austin
Photo courtesy of the Humanities Council of Washington D.C.

Two art exhibitions in Chicago

Posted April 18th, 2013 by

For the next couple months, two galleries in downtown Chicago will be showing complementary exhibitions featuring artwork by Rosenwald Fund fellows.

The Art Institute of Chicago offers a show entitled, “They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950.” This show will consist of work by and about newcomers to Chicago during a period in which the city swelled with new immigrants from overseas and new African American residents from the South (in a movement known as the Great Migration). At the link above, the Art Institute uses two paintings by Archibald Motley to advertise the show. Motley, who was not a Rosenwald Fellow, was a great observer of Chicago’s South Side. Some of his best paintings of nightlife in the “Black Belt” are on permanent display in the Art Institute.

Across Michigan Avenue, at the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center, is “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College.” This is an important show of work by the great Rosenwald fellow, and we blogged about it when it opened in Atlanta last year. Both exhibitions will be open until early June, so if you’re in the Chicago area, take the time to see them.

Last chance to apply to the National Trust's Rosenwald Centennial preservation grant program

Posted April 10th, 2013 by

The deadline for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Rosenwald School Centennial Fund, a grant program designed to help community groups pay for the physical restoration of Rosenwald Schools, is rapidly approaching. First round applications are due April 15th. Projects will be awarded grants up to $20,000, provided they can raise matching funds through other sources. The Righteous Persons Foundation has given its generous support to this grant program.

If your project fits the grant guidelines, it’s not too late to apply. Click here for more information. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website has complete grant eligibility and application details.

Film glimpse of Julius Rosenwald

Posted April 4th, 2013 by

Finding footage of someone who lived in the early twentieth century can be very difficult, even when the subject in question–Julius Rosenwald–was relatively well-known. As a result, as we conduct research for The Rosenwald Schools, every time we uncover a piece of film footage that contains Rosenwald himself we get excited.

Usually, we aren’t able to share these finds on our blog because of copyright issues, but the video embedded in this post is from film housed at the National Archives and falls into the public domain. Enjoy this tantalizingly short glimpse of Julius Rosenwald in 1929, shot in Clinton Township, Michigan. The film was made to document the Lights Golden Anniversary, a 50th anniversary celebration of Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Rosenwald was 67 when the film was shot – he would pass away a little more than 2 years later.

Rosenwald-influenced school in historic South Carolina Gullah community

Posted April 4th, 2013 by

On Daufuskie Island, one of a chain of sea islands along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, sits a one-room schoolhouse called the Jane Hamilton School. From the outside, it looks very much like a Rosenwald School, but it was actually fully funded by the immediate community and constructed by local tradesman as well as WPA workers. The Rosenwald Fund provided funding to over 5,000 schools across the south, but this historical building is an example of the many additional schools that were built not with Rosenwald Fund money but with Rosenwald School plans. Beyond providing architectural plans, the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program served as a demonstration to all people that communities suffering under segregation could come together to improve local education facilities even if assistance from state and federal government was withheld.


Community School Plan No. 1A, as seen on a plaque in front of the Jane Hamilton School
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, April, 2013

The school was built on Daufuskie Island (near Savannah, Georgia) for the Gullah children of the island community. The Gullah people are the descendants of slaves from West and Central Africa whose language and culture incorporates influences from the African nations their ancestors lived in centuries ago. For many years, even into the twentieth century, this was a place that was somewhat cut off from the mainland (even today there is no road connection) and this isolation served to preserve the vibrant Gullah folk culture and language, especially after an influx of freed slaves moved to this region in the wake of the Civil War. Today, the Gullah culture is dispersing geographically to an extent (the Gullah population on sea islands like Daufuskie has declined) but there are local and national movements to preserve cultural landmarks like the Jane Hamilton School. A 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, by Julie Dash, that tells an inter-generational story in a Gullah community around the turn of the twentieth century, introduced many people to the Gullah culture.


The Jane Hamilton School, Daufuskie Island, SC
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, April, 2013

One aspect of the Rosenwald Schools that is often recalled by alumni is the large windows and the buildings’ orientation towards the sun (to maximize natural light). This style is clearly evident in the Jane Hamilton School: one side of the building is full of large windows (see the photo below) while the other side (see the above photo) utilized small “breeze windows,” placed high up to allow airflow to the classroom while blocking out the view of the street so children would not be distracted by passersby.


Interior of the Jane Hamilton School
Photo credit: Christine M. Rose, April, 2013

Today, the Jane Hamilton School serves as the Gullah Learning Center, a community center where elections are held, with historical exhibits about the school and the Gullah community and a library. The building (which dates from 1940, 8 years after Julius Rosenwald’s death) is a great example of historical preservation as well as a demonstration of the extended influence of the Rosenwald Fund even beyond the 5,000+ schools it directly funded.

By Michael Rose

President Taft makes his first appearance in Presidents Race at Nationals Park

Posted April 3rd, 2013 by

The long-awaited debut of the new addition to the Washington Nationals’ Presidents Race, William Howard Taft, was enjoyed by Nats fans on Monday, opening day of the 2013 baseball season. Taft didn’t win the race, getting bogged down in a tussle with Theodore Roosevelt that recalled for history buffs the infighting of the 1912 election between the two Republicans (and erstwhile friends).


President Taft posing before the game
Photo credit: Andrew Geyer, April 2013

Julius Rosenwald was closely acquainted with Taft, probably closer than with any of the other presidents he met and worked with during his life. We’ve talked about their relationship before on this blog, such as when Rosenwald responded to Taft’s call to build an African American YMCA in Washington D.C. and spent the night at the Taft White House. Taft is a great addition to the Presidents Race, which has already become a cherished tradition to Nats fans.

National Gallery of Art to screen documentary about David Driskell

Posted April 2nd, 2013 by

On Saturday, April 20th at 4:00 PM, the National Gallery of Art will screen a new 30 minute documentary about noted D.C.-area artist and art historian, David Driskell. The film, David Driskell: In Search of the Creative Truth, shows Driskell at work and explains his variety of influences.


David Driskell in his studio, from In Search of the Creative Truth

Driskell, as we learned when we interviewed him back in December, is a wealth of knowledge about artists like Aaron Douglas, Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence and Langston Hughes (all of whom were Rosenwald fellows). David Driskell: In Search of the Creative Truth is available to view on IMDb.com. When it screens at the National Gallery of Art, Driskell will be present along with his collaborator, print maker Curlee Holton, and Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Marian Anderson in Europe

Posted March 15th, 2013 by

Not only was singer Marian Anderson one of the most deserving of the Rosenwald Fund’s grant recipients, the story behind her fellowship is a fascinating and moving one. As was the practice with most of the Fund’s fellowships for artists and intellectuals, Anderson was already an accomplished singer when she received the grant. According to Anderson’s autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, in 1930 she embarked on a national tour of the U.S.A., but was disappointed with the number of dates she had been able to schedule. Although she admits it was not a bad tour “for a young artist,” she felt she had been around “long enough not to be considered a newcomer” and she had the unpleasant sensation that her career was “standing still.”


Marian Anderson, photographed by Gordon Parks in 1943
Photo source: Farm Security Administration via Library of Congress

As Anderson explains in her frank yet intimate prose, she was already thinking about traveling to Europe when, after a performance in a Chicago high school auditorium, two representatives from the Rosenwald Fund (Ray Field and George Arthur) approached her and urged her to apply for a Rosenwald fellowship to travel overseas. True to their word, Field and Arthur fast-tracked Anderson’s application, and in an unusual arrangement, allowed her to take just the first half of the grant in 1930 for a six month trip. Three years late, in 1933, she would accept the remainder of the grant money for another six month journey in Europe.

Under the Rosenwald fellowship, Anderson traveled first to Berlin, where she honed her German language skills while boarding with a friendly German couple and performing at various Berlin venues. From Germany, she went on to Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen. She was initially met with curiosity by the cool Scandinavian people, who were naively unaccustomed to black singers, but she won them over before long with her grace and the beauty of her voice. When she returned in 1933 to Scandinavia, her popularity had grown to immense proportions. She was greeted warmly by the people and ended up staying in Europe well beyond the six months she had planned. Audiences were especially gracious in Sweden, where people packed her concerts and wrote her personal fan letters. The Swedish newspapers dubbed the enthusiastic reaction “Marian Fever.”

Success in Europe led finally to her long-delayed success in the U.S. It was during her second Rosenwald-funded trip to Europe that the famous impresario Sol Hurok happened to hear her sing while in Paris and immediately signed her to a contract for 15 appearances in the U.S., including a 1936 concert that Hurok would finance at Carnegie Hall.


Marian Anderson singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: National Archives

Marian Anderson is perhaps still best known for her iconic and inspirational performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after having been turned away from other venues by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the District of Columbia Board of Education. Despite her talent, Anderson’s career was slow to gather momentum in the U.S. due to racial discrimination, and she was fortunate to have the opportunity provided by the Rosenwald Fund to follow her calling in Europe.

By Michael Rose

Exhibition at NYC Gallery featuring Rosenwald fellows to finish run on Saturday

Posted March 6th, 2013 by

INsite/INchelsea,” a modern art exhibition at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in Manhattan, closes its nearly 3 month run this Saturday, March 9th. The show features work by 5 of the most prominent artists to receive Rosenwald fellowships: Eldzier Cortor, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage and Charles White. Incidentally–and interestingly–the Rosenfeld Gallery’s selections from these artists displays what their art looked like before they received their Rosenwald grants.

For example, take a look at Cortor’s 1938 “Rooftops on Wabash,” a painting of Chicago rowhomes framed through a second story apartment window. With the help of the Rosenwald Fund in the mid-1940s, Cortor went on to develop his artistic practice outside of this kind of urban space (traveling to South Carolina and, later, the Caribbean) but it’s fascinating to see this earlier stage in his career. Likewise, you’ll see Jacob Lawrence’s 1937 “Christmas in Harlem,” which displays some of the same style he would perfect in his acclaimed “Great Migration” series, completed with the help of consecutive Rosenwald grants in 1940, 1941 and 1942. From Charles White, the gallery offers a 1936 oil portrait, a piece that’s markedly different from the epic, historical murals and prints he would create later in his career, after his consecutive Rosenwald grants in 1942 and 1943.


Young Augusta Savage at work
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Finally, be sure to see Augusta Savage‘s famed “Gamin” (1929), a beautiful piece that put the great sculptor on the map and earned her 3 Rosenwald grants to study art in Europe in 1929, 1930 and 1931. Because these works of art were likely the ones that initially drew the attention of the Rosenwald Fund grant administrators, viewing them can give you a glimpse into the Fund’s working process. If you are in the area, take the time to visit the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery before the exhibit closes.

By Michael Rose

New Gordon Parks show in Washington D.C.

Posted March 5th, 2013 by

Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks’ photography has been the subject of a series of exhibitions recently, in the wake of what would have been his 100th birthday on November 30th, 2012. We blogged about a Gordon Parks show at the Schomburg Center in Manhattan last July, and now another collection of his photography will be on display at the Adamson Gallery in Washington, D.C. between March 23rd and May 11th. An opening reception will be held on the 23rd from 6 to 8 PM. Click here for the press release on the Adamson Gallery’s website.

Rosenwald School Spotlight: The Bigelow Rosenwald School, Arkansas

Posted February 11th, 2013 by

Abandoned Arkansas, a photography website, has published a gallery of images of a neglected Arkansas Rosenwald school. Members of the community are attempting to restore the school, which also served as a community center after the end of its life as a school building in 1964. It’s fascinating to see these images of the deteriorating building – hopefully they will inspire people to bring the school back to its former glory.

The Bigelow Rosenwald School, Perry County, Arkansas, 2012
Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson, flickr

Click here for a historical image of the school from Fisk University’s Rosenwald School database.

By Michael Rose

Swann Galleries to auction work by Rosenwald fellows

Posted February 6th, 2013 by

On February 14th, Swann Galleries in New York City is holding another auction of African American Fine Art – this blog reported on a similar auction at Swann Galleries last October 18th. Beautiful artworks by many Rosenwald fellows are up for auction, including Charles Alston, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, William Edouard Scott, Charles White and Hale Woodruff. Prints, lithographs and sculptures by a Rosenwald fellow who died last year, Elizabeth Catlett, are prominently featured, including an excellent print of her famous Sharecropper.

Augusta Savage, who received three consecutive Rosenwald fellowships, created a monumental sculpture for the 1939 New York World’s Fair entitled “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” While the original sculpture was destroyed, lot 24 of this auction is a smaller version of the sculpture that was offered at the World’s Fair, a haunting memento of the great lost work.

By Michael Rose

An industrial museum in Chicago: Rosenwald’s “Museum of Science and Industry”

Posted January 31st, 2013 by

The Museum of Science and Industry sits near the lakefront on Chicago’s South Side, prominently situated within the beautiful Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Jackson Park. It is the only one of the many large neoclassical structures built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition that still stands today. The rest of the buildings in what was known as the “White City” were temporary structures, clad in bright white plaster, but the Palace of Fine Arts was a sturdier building, necessarily fireproofed due to its housing of priceless artworks from around the world. This was fortunate, as a large fire claimed the rest of the White City in 1894, just one year after it was completed.


The “White City” of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Palace of Fine Arts visible in right midground
Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum (flickr)

In the early part of the twentieth century, the building served as the temporary home of the Field Museum of Natural History until that museum moved to its permanent location further north along the lakeshore in Grant Park in 1920. It was difficult to find a use for the unoccupied building because of its massive square footage and the necessity of major renovations. The South Park Commission (a governing body over South Side parks) even at one point voted for its demolition. As a Chicago Tribune op-ed put it, “Though a vast structure it is exquisitely graceful. In a state of decay for years, it has been preserved only because no man in authority dared to order it destroyed.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug 19. 1926).


Poster advertising the new Museum of Science and Industry
Credit: Work Projects Administration, 1940 (Library of Congress)

As Chicago began preparing to host its second World’s Fair in 1933, the “Century of Progress,” Julius Rosenwald became interested in establishing a permanent “Industrial Museum” in Chicago to showcase America’s history of technological innovation as well as teach the country’s youth about how modern technology works. The former Palace of Fine Arts seemed an obvious location as it had space enough for large-scale exhibits, it was owned by the South Park Commission and its graceful neoclassical architecture conveyed the promise of technology to make possible, as the Tribune put it, “our greater material prosperity and our greater leisure” and transform overcrowded and polluted cities into inspiring and recuperative public spaces. “Housing an industrial museum in the midst of classic refinement impresses us as a recognition of the fact that the machine has brought leisure and with leisure a greater opportunity for the cultivation of beauty than the world has ever known” (Tribune, Aug 19, 1926).


Slide of Daniel Burnham’s “Plan of Chicago,” early example of the “City Beautiful” movement
Photo credit: Penn State Libraries Pictures Collection (flickr)

The White City itself (and the “City Beautiful” movement it helped to spawn) was originally inspired by the beauty and gracefulness of Europe’s public buildings and public infrastructure. Likewise, Rosenwald was inspired by the great industrial museums in Paris, London, Vienna and especially Munich to create the Museum of Science and Industry. Rosenwald first visited Munich’s Deutsches Museum with his son in 1911. Later, in 1926, as he became more and more committed to creating a similar industrial museum in Chicago, Rosenwald went back to Europe with his family. Along the way, he reported to overseas Tribune correspondents about his vision for Chicago’s own museum: “I would like every young growing mind in Chicago to be able to see working models, visualizing developments in machines and processes which have been built by the greatest industrial nation in the world” (Tribune, Apr 17, 1926).

In the 1920s, two other cities in America had industrial museums in the works (Washington D.C. and New York) but with Rosenwald’s dedicated support, Chicago’s was the first to be completed. The process, however, did not go smoothly, and Rosenwald did not see the museum open before he died. Renovations of the building were complex; most of the exterior was to be replaced with limestone and the interior was a totally new design. Money was also an issue. Rosenwald intended the industrial museum to be funded similarly to his other philanthropic projects, that is, his initial large donation of $3 million would “challenge” others to support the cause. However, the Depression severely limited the ability of others in the community to donate to the fledgling museum. Rosenwald provided most of the monetary support, going as far as to personally guarantee the dividends of the flagging Sears stock he had previously donated to the museum.

When the museum was first incorporated as a non-profit organization, it was called the Rosenwald Industrial Museum. Rosenwald strongly disagreed with it bearing his name, and successfully had it changed to the name we know it as today. Although he had provided virtually all of the cash investment necessary to start the museum, he felt that it should be an ongoing public institution and thus not be associated with his family in perpetuity. Rosenwald’s biographer and grandson Peter Ascoli quotes him on this point: “From the very inception of this public project in 1926, I insisted that it should not be named after me… The Museum belongs to the people of Chicago and the nation. Whatever I contributed toward founding the Museum has been in the firm belief that it will play a useful part in our educational, industrial and scientific life. I hope the Museum will enlist the interest and aid of the entire country” (qtd. in Ascoli, 329).

Contemporary photo of the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo credit: Oscar Shen, 2012 (flickr)

Rosenwald’s gifts went largely to the substantial renovations of the building; he hoped that its exhibits and upkeep would come from the public. He outlined his vision of corporate donations to a Tribune reporter in 1926: “America has thousands of these historical old models stored away in research laboratories of many of our great industries. These and specially built working models showing the insides of the workings and why the wheels go around should be assembled together and exhibited in a great museum in Chicago” (Tribune, Apr 17, 1926).


Portrait of Rosenwald in Museum’s boardroom
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, 2011

The Museum of Science and Industry opened in stages. Several exhibits were opened to public during the 1933 World’s Fair, but the formal opening was not until March 7, 1938 (Ascoli, 379). Over its more than seventy years of existence, the museum has stayed remarkably true to its original vision. Permanent exhibits such as the coal mine, the historical airplanes and the U-Boat were all part of Rosenwald’s original concept for the museum. Others, such as the agricultural and train exhibits, were conceived by the original planning committee of the museum before it opened. Although many of the museum’s thousands of visitors likely have no knowledge of Julius Rosenwald, his presence is still felt in the museum. Rosenwald’s portrait hangs in the museum’s boardroom, there is an event and exhibit space called Rosenwald Court, and the museum has organized a “Rosenwald Society” to receive charitable gifts.


Rosenwald Court in the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, 2011

We’ve had two shoots at the Museum of Science and Industry so far for The Rosenwald Schools. Back in 2011, we shot b-roll of the building exterior and Jackson Park. In early December of 2012, we interviewed Kathleen McCarthy, director of exhibits and collections and also filmed the coal mine exhibit, which is still a favorite at the museum.

By Michael Rose

Rosenwald School Spotlight: Fairview Colored School, Georgia

Posted January 28th, 2013 by

The Rome News-Tribune reports that a foundation that plans to restore an extremely distressed Rosenwald school in Cave Spring, Georgia has reached its initial fundraising goal, allowing the purchase of the historic school and grounds. Joyce Perdue-Smith has lead the effort to rehabilitate the neglected school ever since it was discovered under heavy kudzu growth in March of 2010. Volunteers have cleared the vegetation from the school and begun to stabilize the structure, but there is still much work to be done. The future of the school building is as yet undecided, but hopefully through the dedication of Smith and others, the building can be saved and put to a purpose that serves the community once again.

You can read more at the Fairview/ES Brown Heritage Corporation website.

By Michael Rose

D.C. interviews for The Rosenwald Schools reveal intriguing insights, surprising connections

Posted January 9th, 2013 by

One of the pleasures of producing The Rosenwald Schools has been that, even though we select our interviewees based on their knowledge on a specific topic, more often than not they surprise us with fascinating facts, anecdotes and new points of view that we weren’t previously aware of. This was very much the case with the interviews we filmed on December 11th, and we’re extremely thankful for the time and effort of the interviewees who spoke with us that day.

The Rosenwald Schools

One great surprise occurred during our interview with David Driskell, a longtime art professor and a noted artist himself. We initially reached out to Mr. Driskell because of his knowledge of African American art and Rosenwald Fund fellows (several of whom he knew personally), but it turns out he had a story to share about a Rosenwald School as well from his upbringing in rural Rutherford County, North Carolina.

In the spring of each year, we would leave our little one-room school to go down to Cliffside, North Carolina to a four-room school, which I was told was a Rosenwald school. It was a brick building, and we didn’t have any brick buildings in our area. We would go there for what we called Commencement. It had nothing to do with graduation, it actually had to do with displaying your creative skills, your oratorical skills, drawing, paintings […] and it was where I first exhibited my art made from the local clay in the brooks. (David Driskell, Dec. 11, 2012).


David Driskell (with a poster advertising his artwork in the background)

Another unexpected connection was made in our next interview, with Denise Johnson. Ms. Johnson is a descendent of Clinton Calloway, head of Tuskegee’s Extension Department and a crucial administrator of the Julius Rosenwald’s school-building program. Johnson is a resident of the Washington D.C. area, and she also shared with us that Clinton Calloway’s brother, Thomas, founded a town named Lincoln in nearby Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he organized the construction of a Rosenwald School.

It was Thomas’ idea to give African Americans at the time an opportunity to buy land to live in a community on their own. Thomas bought land and sold it in small plots to families. As the communities started to grow they needed to have a school, and it’s my understanding that the local government was not forthcoming in providing the funds for the school. Interestingly enough—and maybe not as a surprise—Thomas decided to call on the Rosenwald Fund and ask for help. (Denise Johnson, Dec. 11, 2012)


Aviva Kempner with Denise Johnson

The Lincoln Rosenwald School is one a few extant Rosenwald Schools in Prince George’s County, though it is heavily remodeled. Its current address is 5201 Baltimore Lane, Lanham, Maryland.

The 12th Street YMCA

The legacy of the Rosenwald Fund is felt even more strongly in another part of the D.C. area, where the pilot building in Rosenwald’s YMCA-building program stands in the heart of the historic African American community around U Street NW (we detailed the path the building took to construction in another blog post). In addition to shooting footage of the YMCA’s beautiful and well-preserved interior (which includes historical exhibits about the luminaries who frequented the building), we talked to the Dodsons, a father and daughter who are both experts on local history. Norris Dodson, who used the YMCA’s facilities as a young man and remains a passionate advocate for the building, spoke about the importance of passing that history on to the next generation.

When I played basketball at the 12th Street Y, I always recall having fun, making connections with people my age, learning to play fairly. But the one thing that was missing is that I was not told about the wonderful history of the building, that great basketball players played here: Elgin Baylor, John Thompson. In fact, John Thompson told us that he was discovered here. But I was never aware that John Thompson played here when I was playing. When I found that out, I was an adult. And I always thought that if I had known these guys played here, that I would have been a better basketball player, just because of that. I thought it was sad that so many kids in the neighborhood didn’t know that Dr. Drew and Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes and Montague Cobb and so many others who had international reputations, reputations that grew far beyond this community, all met here. If the kids of some generations had realized that, if that history had been taught to them, they would have been able to have confidence that they didn’t have and use that confidence to grow to higher levels. (Norris Dodson, Dec. 11, 2012)


Our cameraman, Michael Moser, getting some exterior shots of the YMCA

Lori Dodson, Norris’s daughter, added context to her father’s interview and also revealed a more recent connection between the 12th Street YMCA and Julius Rosenwald:

In 1982, due to the deterioration of this lovely building, it was forced to close its doors. It was a travesty because it was during a time when there were so many ills in the community, many problems among youth and drugs. It was a time, like during segregation, where this building and the type of character that it developed was sorely needed. And so a group of people came together, concerned citizens, and decided that they were going to protest the potential demolition of this building, […] a place like this that is so historically significant. […] Julius Rosenwald was key in making sure that this building was open and his family was also involved in making sure that it reopened once again. If this building were not open today then my family would have lost a lot of our personal history, and I know that that’s the case of many, many families. (Lori Dodson, Dec 11, 2012)


Lori Dodson on our set in one of the restored rooms of the YMCA

Artists of the Rosenwald Fund

Along with David Driskell, we interviewed another art history scholar, Dr. Richard Powell of Duke University. Powell is a wonderful storyteller and a fount of knowledge about Rosenwald fellows. He shared a series of backgrounds on notable beneficiaries of the Rosenwald Fund with us, including this story about sculptor and teacher Augusta Savage:

Augusta Savage is a legend in African American art history. I say that because so much of her life was filled with struggle, with perseverance and with creativity all mixed up. She comes from Florida, she settles in New York in the early 1920s. She’s working very hard to try to develop her skills as a visual artist and she’s lucky enough to win a prize that will allow her to go to France. The Fontainebleau School provides her with [this] opportunity, until they find out that [she] is African American. When word gets around through the Fontainebleau School that they are about to bring an African American to the school, they basically say, “No, we’re not going to give this award to you.” And it actually is a cause célèbre. [Later, in the early 1930s,] thanks to the Rosenwald Foundation, Augusta Savage has an opportunity to go to France. France, for artists, is like a dream come true: the opportunity to walk in the paths of other famous artists, to live a life that is liberating without people questioning or looking at you based on your race. She has a wonderful experience there. Interestingly, when she comes back to Harlem, she then shifts gears back into the community [and] puts all of her energy and effort into developing an art school, the Harlem Arts Center, as one of the places that young people like [Rosenwald fellow] Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis and other artists will go to learn about art. I often describe Augusta Savage’s school as a kind of latchkey school for young aspiring artists. Her school ended up being not just a place to study art, but it became kind of a community center. (Richard Powell, Dec. 11, 2012)

Savage was not the only Rosenwald fellow that went on to become a teacher and mentor to younger artists (other examples include Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas and Charles White) and we’re excited to be able to tell her story and the stories of other Rosenwald fellows in The Rosenwald Schools, and grateful to those who have lent their voices to the film.


Dr. Richard Powell

By Michael Rose

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools filmed in Chicago

Posted January 9th, 2013 by

Significant progress was made on the filming of The Rosenwald Schools on December 3rd and 4th when Aviva and her Chicago crew filmed a slew of interviews in the home of Peter Ascoli, grandson of Julius Rosenwald. Our thanks go out to Peter and his wife Lucy for graciously hosting us and our interviewees.

The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments

Three wonderful individuals who had lived in the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments agreed to speak to us: former Chicago school superintendent Manford Byrd, Ralph Metcalfe Jr. and Lauranita Dugas. Mr. Byrd grew up in southeast Alabama but moved to Chicago in the mid-1950s in search of work. He explained the situation in Chicago at the time, and the significance of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments.

There certainly has been an improvement in housing for African Americans in Chicago, but when I came it was really tight and really restricted. The real estate concerns controlled the movement of blacks very tightly and at many of the places, they cut up the apartments and made kitchenettes of them. We were at that time at the tail-end of another one of the great migrations into the city, so it was just very tight. But here was this oasis, here was this Mecca in the middle of the community… (Manford Byrd)

Byrd had only been living in the city a short time when he heard about “The Rosenwald,” as the apartment building was known around town. He and his fiancee were looking for a place to live and, after months on a waiting list, Byrd was able to secure an apartment in the Rosenwald by persistently reaching out to the building manager, Gwendolyn Minerbrook.


Manford Byrd

The waiting list at the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments was lengthy because the apartments there were greatly superior to many found in the rest of the community. Indeed, as Ralph Metcalfe Jr., son of Olympian and Congressman Ralph Metcalfe Sr., put it, “In 1946, the Rosenwald building was the place to be.” Metcalfe was born in the Rosenwald Apartments and talked about the celebrities (including his own father) who called it home: Joe Louis, Jesse Owens and more. Above all, he stressed what a great place it was to grow up, a view that was echoed by our next interviewee, Lauranita Dugas.

Dugas is the daughter of Robert Rochon Taylor, who was the first manager of the Rosenwald Apartments and later the chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. Although she was only a child, she was extremely aware of the inner workings of the building and related many details about what the building used to hold: a nursery school, a goldfish pond, a dance studio and many small businesses. Dugas also shared with us a humorous anecdote about Julius Rosenwald, chairman of Sears Roebuck and namesake of the building:

One day, Mr. Rosenwald came to the building […] and was supervising and observing the painters. Just making conversation, he said, ‘Is that Sears paint?’ The painter didn’t know who he was [and] said, ‘Oh, no. We don’t use the Sears paint. It’s no good. We wouldn’t put it on this fine building.’ Mr. Rosenwald was just absolutely astonished. He went back over to Homan Avenue [Sears headquarters] and said, ‘What kind of paint are we using that’s so cheap that the painters don’t want to put it on?’

Aviva conducting a pre-interview with Lauranita Dugas

Rosenwald’s Impact on Chicago

Next we talked to Dr. Irving Cutler, author of several books, a native of Chicago’s North Lawndale and probably the foremost historian on Jewish Chicago. Cutler ranks Rosenwald the most influential Jewish citizen in the city’s history, largely because of his work to bring together the Eastern European and the German Jews of the city, who at that time were often at odds and lived in separate communities. Rosenwald, whose family was part of the older wave of German Jewish immigration, reached out to the more newly arrived community of Eastern European Jews in Chicago in several ways, but perhaps most visibly by engineering the combination of the two communities into the new amalgamated Jewish Charities of Chicago, which spearheaded support for Jewish relief causes in the wake of World War I.


Dr. Irving Cutler

Rosenwald passed away in 1932, but the Rosenwald Family Association (a philanthropy ran by his children) were able to help a sizable number of their extended family members escape Nazi Germany in the days leading up to World War II. Ursula Jonas, our next interviewee, was one of these fortunate individuals, and she immigrated from Germany with her family in 1936 thanks to the assistance of William and Lessing Rosenwald and the Adler family. Jonas, who still lives in the Chicago area, spoke about the lasting bond she formed with the Adlers during her early years in the USA:

[They] were just the most wonderful, warm, generous, giving people that anyone could have. [They] took care of everything: they set up apartments. […] they helped with jobs for the family, they were there with advice and help. My mother became ill in 1939 after my sister was born [and] they hired someone to stay with us, so we had someone there helping out for actually several years. We attended Thanksgiving gatherings […] and actually later on, when I was ready to go to college, I got some assistance from the Rosenwalds, helping out with my college tuition. (Ursula Jonas)


Ursula Jonas on our set (with Peter Ascoli in the background)

We also interviewed Kathleen McCarthy, director of exhibits and collections at the Museum of Science and Industry, on the topic of Rosenwald’s impact in Chicago. Ms. McCarthy explained the fascinating details of Rosenwald’s inspiration for and founding of the museum, a topic that will be expanded upon in a future post on this blog.

Rosenwald’s Philanthropy

Kenneth Warren, a professor at University of Chicago and an expert on African American literature and Ralph Ellison in particular, brought out the context of the Rosenwald Fund’s philanthropy and talked about the impact of Rosenwald grantees on the broader culture of the Jim Crow South. He also had an interesting rumination on Rosenwald’s legacy, which he said had occurred to him while in a department meeting in the campus’s Rosenwald Hall:

I suspect that it might be true that your Fund sought to achieve a vision that included the idea that the University of Chicago Department of English would include among its faculty African American scholars studying African American literature and that this would be an important part of the [curriculum]. (Dr. Kenneth Warren)

Aviva with Dr. Kenneth Warren

After Dr. Warren, we met with two economists, Daniel Aaronson and Bhash Mazumder, from the Chicago Federal Reserve who have done creative and significant research on the impact of the Rosenwald schools. Aaronson and Mazumder used census and military enlistment records to track the heretofore uncharted effects of Rosenwald schools on Southern communities, and found a wide range of positive effects on communities that built schools with the help of the Rosenwald Fund.


Aviva Kempner with Bhash Mazumder and Daniel Aaronson

Finally, Oyekunle Oyegbemi spoke to us about the compelling connection he feels to the Rosenwald school he attended in Prentiss, Mississippi. The Rosenwald Fund provided funding for the campus’s iconic Rosenwald Hall, a beautiful stone building that had many purposes.

[We] were actually proud of that campus and that particular building, because it was the centerpiece […] and I would later learn that that was one of the larger Rosenwald buildings. All the activities were centered around that building. We would go to Vespers services on Sundays, graduation services, the community would [have] meetings, we would have entertainment there. I was in a little band and we would perform there. Not only that, we had classrooms and a library there and on the lower level, they had the administrative offices. So that building was kind of like a catchall for everything and everything was centered around that building.

Oyegbemi, whose family helped found the school, also worked as a handyman on campus during his time at Prentiss. For Oyegbemi, a native of rural Mississippi, the Rosenwald school was a place of discovery; of art, music and his African ancestry. The school was so important to him that years later, in 1989, upon hearing that it was slated to be closed, Oyegbemi packed up and left his current home and job in Chicago and moved back to Mississippi, where he spent months attempting to save the school. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful at saving the school for its original purpose, the campus is still standing and he hopes one day to be part of a rehabilitation campaign there.

Aviva with Oyekunle Oyegbemi

Many thanks to our fantastic interviewees for relating their fascinating stories and illuminating details about Julius Rosenwald’s life and impact.

By Michael Rose

Two Rosenwald milestones are remembered in news articles

Posted January 7th, 2013 by

Yesterday, Haaretz published an article remembering Julius Rosenwald on the anniversary of his 1932 death. David B. Green writes:

On January 6, 1932, the businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald died, at the age of 69.

Rosenwald is equally noteworthy for his leadership of the mail-order emporium Sears, Roebuck & Co, helping its sales grow from $750,000 to $50 million between the years 1895 and 1907 alone, and for the wide range of social issues his charitable foundation dealt with, in particular in the field of education among African Americans.

Click here to read more… (you may have to register, but it’s free and easy)

Today, an Associated Press article ran remembering 2012 as the centennial of the beginning of Rosenwald’s school-building program. You can find the article on several news websites, including NECN.com:

MAGNOLIA, Ark. (AP) — In the early 1900s, a Jewish man in Chicago, Ill., with no apparent connection to the South, began building schools for blacks in the rural South. Julius Rosenwald would become one of the most significant figures in Southern black education — and would eventually leave his mark in a small community right here in southwest Arkansas.

Click here to read more…

The Rosenwald Schools selected by Kroll Fund for post-production grant

Posted December 29th, 2012 by

The Rosenwald Schools received some crucial support recently, including a generous grant from the Jules Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film. The grant will go towards post-production expenses on the upcoming Ciesla Foundation film. Indiewire’s Kerensa Cadenas reports that of the 5 Kroll grants given, 3 went to projects helmed by female filmmakers, including The Rosenwald Schools which is directed by Aviva Kempner. We are extremely appreciative that the Kroll Fund chose to support our project and it’s especially fitting that Kroll would give to a film that celebrates a philanthropist who made innovations in charitable giving almost a century ago.

Interview with David Roos, developer of the new Rosenwald Apartments

Posted December 17th, 2012 by

Chicago Real Estate Daily published a short interview with David Roos of Landwhite Developers LLC, in which he discusses the financial plan for redeveloping the historic Rosenwald Apartments. As the project has progressed through its planning stages, the number of residential units has dwindled from 331 to just 235 (originally, the building held 421 units). The article also includes a preliminary rendering of the rehabilitated building.

Read more…

Remembering Gordon Parks in 2012

Posted November 30th, 2012 by

Today, November 30th, would have been the 100th birthday of the great photographer and 1942 Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks. We posted about a centennial exhibition of his work at Manhattan’s Schomburg Center in July of this year. Today’s Lens blog on The New York Times website has an excellent article by Parks scholar Deborah Willis regarding a lesser known part of Parks’ career, his fashion photography.

In the early 1960s, I sat in my mother’s beauty shop in North Philadelphia reading Life magazine and discovered the photographs of Gordon Parks. I wasn’t even a teenager, yet I still remember vividly the effect those photo essays had on my life: over the course of the next decade I read his autobiography, “A Choice of Weapons,” and devoured almost all of his stories in Life.

Read more…

Jacob Lawrence, painter of the Great Migration

Posted November 26th, 2012 by

Some may call his work revolutionary, but according to artist Jacob Lawrence his art simply reflects the culture he knew and the stories he was told growing up. Born in New Jersey, Lawrence grew up in the 1920s, a period when artistic expression was booming amongst African Americans. After moving to Harlem, he was introduced to mentors such as Charles Alston and Augusta Savage who molded him into the dynamic artist that visually portrayed the construction of blackness.

Portrait of Jacob Lawrence, 1941
Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress

During the age of “The New Negro,” a term coined by Alain Locke, Lawrence along with Langston Hughes and Claude McKay was able to expand his talents thanks to the Julius Rosenwald Fund. In Lawrence’s case, the fund enabled him to rent a studio, which led to the further development of his series of paintings entitled The Great Migration, which depicted the journey, struggle, and triumphs of blacks from the South to the North after the Civil War. His depiction of that cultural movement provided a different perspective of a commonly told story capturing moments that people could relate to and understand.

Lawrence was able to complete the series remarkably quickly (all 60 panels were finished in 6 to 8 months of 1941) thanks to the first two of his three consecutive Rosenwald grants in 1940, 1941 and 1942. The Migration Series was recognized fairly quickly as an important work and in December of 1941, it was shown in Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in New York City as part of a pioneering exhibition of “American Negro Art,” possibly the first time a black artist’s work had been displayed in a major New York gallery.

Curators of two modern art museums, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., immediately expressed interest in purchasing the series. It was decided that the collection would be split in half, each museum taking 30 paintings, for a total purchase price of $2,000. MoMA took the even numbered panels based on the input of one of its trustees, Adele Rosenwald Levy. Levy, the daughter of Julius Rosenwald, had fallen in love with panel #46, an image of a staircase, and it was agreed that the paintings be divided so that MoMA would receive that one. The Migration Series remains a prominent feature of both museums’ permanent collection and over the years has been reunited for exhibitions around the country.

Years after his death, Lawrence still provides a platform for untold stories through art. Jacob and his late wife Gwen developed a fellowship at the Seattle Art Museum that funds artistic work from people of color that reflects Lawrence’s ideologies. The Jacob and Gwen Knight Lawrence Foundation houses all of his series including Toussaint L’Ouverture – one of his most notable works. For more information on Jacob Lawrence’s paintings, visit jacobandgwenlawrence.org.

By Ariel Edem and Michael Rose

Works by Rosenwald fellow on display at Contemporary Wing honor her legacy

Posted November 16th, 2012 by

Elizabeth Catlett, a Rosenwald fellow who passed away earlier this year, serves as the inspiration and a subject of a pop-up exhibition at Washington D.C.’s Contemporary Wing gallery (1250 9th Street NW). Most of the works on display are very current, dealing with the recent Presidential election and the Arab Spring, but five of Catlett’s prints are included as well, some of which date to before Civil Rights. As Contemporary Wing explains on their website, “no treatment of political art today would be complete without acknowledging the recent passing of African American printmaker and sculptor, Elizabeth Catlett, whose famous images Sharecropper and Malcolm X Speaks for Us in the 1960s and 70s, among numerous others, underlie the history of a nation currently deciding whether to re-elect its first African American president.”

On this blog in April we described Catlett’s work under her 1946 and 1947 Rosenwald fellowships, which came at an extremely significant time in her career. The artworks on display at Contemporary Wing were the result of the printmaking phase of her career that she began in Mexico in the 1940s and continued for the rest of her life.

If you’re in the Washington D.C. area make sure to visit Contemporary Wing some time soon – the exhibit lasts only until November 24th. You can find more information on their website.

Julius Rosenwald, secret crime fighter?

Posted November 14th, 2012 by

Did Julius Rosenwald make it his last philanthropic act to fund the investigation of notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone? Although he never spoke about it publicly before his death in 1932, Rosenwald was allegedly a member of the “Secret Six,” an organization of wealthy businessmen who, when faced with the inability of the police and courts to stop organized crime in Chicago, took matters into their own hands and funded a private investigation of the Chicago “Outfit.”

The impetus for the formation of the Secret Six came in 1930 when Philip Meagher, construction superintendent for the new Chicago Lying-In Hospital was gunned down in broad daylight by two gangsters at the construction site. The new hospital was being built on the University of Chicago campus thanks to a large donation by Julius Rosenwald, who was also a benefactor of the hospital at its previous location. While receiving treatment for his wounds, Meagher told the police the shooting was due to “labor trouble,” as the construction company Meagher worked for had chosen to use non-union workers.

A postcard of the completed Lying-In Hospital, date unknown

Shortly after this event, Colonel Robert Isham Randolph, president of the Chicago Association of Commerce, told the press that the CAC was taking an interest in the case because violence was increasingly moving from the criminal underworld of alcohol bootlegging into the world of legitimate business. Randolph formed a subcommittee of the CAC to combat organized crime and when he wouldn’t reveal its members to the press, one newspaperman dubbed them the “Secret Six.” In April of 1930 (two months after the shooting of Philip Meagher) Randolph was quoted by the Chicago Daily Tribune, describing the purpose of the Secret Six:

“We want it understood that we have not taken over the city from its constituted authorities. We are not vigilantes and we are not adopting extra-legal methods. The law enforcing agencies were scattered and there was an apparent lack of coordination between them. We feel that we have brought about a coordination of police, prosecutors, and Criminal court judges. We have done more—we have set up a real secret service for the prosecutors—something they would have been unable to do themselves.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr 15, 1930)

Specifically, it seems that the Secret Six funded private investigators, began a protection and relocation program for state’s witnesses and supported an income tax investigation (tax evasion was what Capone was ultimately convicted for). This six man anti-crime organization was necessarily secret: in this time of bribed law enforcement and bold intimidation of civil servants by gangsters, it was important that anyone wishing to stand up against organized crime remain anonymous. It should come as no surprise, then, that Rosenwald never claimed membership in the Secret Six, especially because he passed away shortly after Capone’s conviction. Randolph, in his 1932 eulogy for Rosenwald addressed to the Chicago Association of Commerce, expressed gratitude for Rosenwald’s financial support of the Secret Six, calling him “the most human of men” and praising his “wise” philanthropy.

Mugshot of Capone taken June 17th, 1931 by the United States Department of Justice

The Secret Six’s role in bringing down Al Capone and other racketeers has been overshadowed by the more heavily dramatized story of Eliot Ness and the “Untouchables,” but their financial support of crime fighting efforts was crucial to Capone’s conviction. At the time, the Secret Six were well known nationally. Their work was discussed in many newspaper articles and the story was the subject of a pre-Code gangster film in 1931 named The Secret Six, about the rise and fall of a bootlegger named Slaughterhouse Scorpio (a character loosely adapted from Capone). Although it’s less well known than other pre-Code classics like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (though it was released within a few months of them) it’s no less exciting and fast-paced. It also serves as a revealing document of the popular perception of Prohibition-era gangsters (and those who worked to bring them to justice) made during a time when alcohol bootlegging and the attendant violence was still very much a reality in cities like Chicago.

In a humorous touch, the Secret Six don black masks before meeting members of the press in the 1931 film, The Secret Six

By Michael Rose

Rosenwald Schools work in progress screens at University of North Carolina

Posted November 7th, 2012 by

On October 25th, Aviva Kempner presented the work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools to an audience at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus. Joseph Jordan, director of the Stone Center, introduced Aviva and Angelo Franceschina. Angelo, who has worked to restore Rosenwald schools, participated in the Q&A with Aviva.

Aviva Kempner with Angelo Franceschina, Joseph Jordan

Before she left the next day, Aviva visited an art gallery on North Carolina Central University’s campus in Durham. An exhibit at the university’s art museum, the subject of a blog post a couple weeks ago, contains a large number of artworks by Rosenwald fellow Charles White, including the haunting print below that Aviva snapped a picture of.  The artworks on display at NCCU were loaned by the art collector Arthur Primas, better known as the manager of Tyler Perry.

“J’Accuse #6” on display at NCCU’s temporary exhibit: “Heroes: Gone But Not Forgotten, the Art of Charles White”
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner

Beautiful new Arkansas mural features Rosenwald and Washington

Posted October 23rd, 2012 by

David Loewenstein of the Mid-America Mural Project has recently completed a community mural on Main Street in Arkadelphia, Arkansas celebrating the power of education and featuring an image of Julius Rosenwald shaking hands with Booker T. Washington above the community’s Rosenwald school. The image symbolizes the historic partnership between Rosenwald and Washington, but also the community effort and collaboration that made Rosenwald schools like Arkadelphia’s possible. The mural is the result of a community collaboration as well, created with the help of over 200 volunteers.

Detail of Rosenwald and Washington in the new mural, “From a Dream to The Promise”
Photo courtesy of David Loewenstein

The Peake School was opened in 1929 and is the only Rosenwald school still standing in Clark County, Arkansas. It was one of the larger schools built with support from the Rosenwald Fund and it went through many uses for the local school district before it was shuttered in 2001. A recent article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette featured recollections from some Peake School alumni.

Please visit the website of the Mid-America Mural Project to see larger pictures of the complete mural and to read more about the program.

By Michael Rose

First black member of the Fed Reserve Board considered education the pathway the economic success

Posted October 19th, 2012 by

Andrew F. Brimmer, who became the first black member of the Federal Reserve Board when he was appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, passed away last Sunday according to the New York Times.

Born in 1926, Dr. Brimmer grew up in rural segregated Louisiana and likely attended Rosenwald schools as a child. Many sources list him as graduating from the Tensas Rosenwald High School in St. Joseph, Louisiana in 1943. The Times article explains that “the economic conditions of poor, powerless, uneducated blacks was an abiding concern,” of Dr. Brimmer’s career, and his time spent in segregated schools likely instilled this ethic in him.

 Brimmer being sworn in as a member of the Federal Reserve Board in 1966
Photo credit: LBJ Presidential Library

Brimmer also served on the board of Tuskegee University for four decades. Later in his career, the Washington Post reports, he became the director of the Washington D.C. financial control board, a federal authority that took over decision-making for the D.C. city government. At the time he faced fierce criticism from Mayor Marion Barry and Eleanor Holmes Norton, but since then the progress the city government made under his watch has been recognized by economists.

By Michael Rose

Plans altered slightly for rehabilitation of historic Rosenwald Apartments

Posted October 19th, 2012 by

David Roeder, of The Chicago Sun-Times‘ business section, reported recently that Landwhite Developers have changed up the retail and housing breakdown in their plan to restore the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments (more commonly known as the Rosenwald Apartments). In community forums, residents called for less housing and more commercial space, citing the danger in adding more residents to a neighborhood that currently lacks social services and commercial amenities. With ample modern commercial space, the building may attract the kind of useful businesses current and future Bronzeville residents need.

When the Rosenwald Apartments opened in 1929, it had 421 apartments and 16,400 square feet of commercial space. When first unveiled, Landwhite’s plan had called for 331 apartments and 21,000 square feet of commercial space – a lower number of apartments than the original because the old floor plans are small by today’s standards. Now Landwhite is looking at 235 apartments and 75,000 square feet of commercial space, the latter of which, by my quick calculations, would account for most of the first floor of the huge building.

Roeder notes that Rosenwald’s original plan for the building was “idealistic,” and he’s right. However it was also practical, and Rosenwald had every reason to believe that he could get a solid 6% return on his investment on a new building intended to be occupied by middle-class African Americans (a notion that was less than universally agreed upon at the time). He would have, too, but the building was completed just as the Great Depression hit, and it struggled to remain fiscally sound in its initial years.

Prosperity is on the horizon for the derelict Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments
Photo credit: SilverRaven7 (flickr)

This new iteration of the Rosenwald Apartments (which is being referred to as “Rosenwald Courts”) will be occupied largely by low income renters, so Roeder’s point about the difficulty in making the numbers work is well taken. On the other hand, the project will be funded by a prodigious collection of grants and subsidies from the city. It seemed for many years that the Rosenwald was just too big to rehab, but the plan put together by Landwhite and the contributing community organizations seems like it has a good chance of success. 3rd Ward Chicago Alderman Pat Dowell is optimistic that a rehabilitated Rosenwald could be a driver for positive change in the neighborhood, and on her website she’s released a document with answers to frequently asked questions about the project.

We will be following the progress closely, so check back here for updates.

By Michael Rose

Works by Charles White, Rosenwald fellow, on display at North Carolina Central University Art Museum

Posted October 18th, 2012 by

A couple weeks ago, a new exhibit featuring 47 works by the great painter and print-maker Charles White went on display at the Art Museum on North Carolina Central University campus.

White was a native Chicagoan who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduation, he joined the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration, and produced one of the WPA’s best known murals entitled “Five Great American Negroes.” The mural, which features Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver and Marian Anderson was originally installed in the George Cleveland Hall Library on Michigan Boulevard in Chicago. This historic library is located just one block from the Rosenwald Apartments and was built on land donated by Julius Rosenwald to the Chicago Public Library. Today, the mural resides in the Law Library at Howard University.

“Five Great American Negroes,” by Charles White
Photo credit: Federal Arts Project of Works Progress Administration

Shortly after completing “Five Great American Negroes,” in 1942 and 1943, White received consecutive Rosenwald grants that allowed him to travel the south and study art. Around the same time, White married another Rosenwald fellow Elizabeth Catlett.

Admission to the museum is free and the exhibit will be on display until December 21st.

By Michael Rose

Recently deceased California politician was influenced by Booker T. Washington

Posted October 18th, 2012 by

We were reminded of Julius Rosenwald last week while reading the obituary of Mervyn M. Dymally in The Washington Post.

“Mervyn Malcolm Dymally was born May 12, 1926, in Cedros, Trinidad, West Indies. He once told the Los Angeles Sentinel that he had been drifting toward a life as a ne’er-do-well when a book he found about Booker T. Washington, the influential African American writer and orator, inspired him to come to the United States, at age 19, for his education.”

(Mervyn M. Dymally obituary, The Washington Post, October 8th, 2012)

It was a similarly transformative moment in Rosenwald’s life when he read Booker T. Washington’s autobiograhy Up from Slavery in 1910. Like Mr. Dymally, Washington’s inspiring life story encouraged Rosenwald to devote his life to public service.

By Michael Rose

The Rosenwald Schools work in progress to screen at University of North Carolina

Posted October 12th, 2012 by

Aviva Kempner will be on hand on October 25th to introduce the work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools at the University of North Carolina’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History in Chapel Hill. North Carolina was the state that built the most Rosenwald schools. The event is free and open to the public and is part of the Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film, which highlights interesting films and provides a venue for discussion and debate.

The Sonja Haynes Stone Center is generously sponsoring this event and you can read more about the screening at their website. Many thanks to Clarissa Goodlett at the Stone Center for promoting this event.

Correction, 10/15/2012: This blog has been amended to more accurately list the event sponsor. We regret the error.

Woody Guthrie tribute concert at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Posted October 8th, 2012 by

The great folk singer Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 this year, and the Kennedy Center is celebrating his centennial with a concert featuring a variety of artists like Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Tom Morello, Donovan and Roseanne Cash. Guthrie was a Rosenwald fellow and back in July we talked about the discovery of an unknown novel by him that may have been the product of his 1943 Rosenwald fellowship. We are still awaiting an answer from Douglas Brinkley, who is editing the book with Johnny Depp.

Tickets for the concert are officially sold out but they may be available secondhand. It should be a great show and a great tribute to Guthrie’s enormous legacy.

By Michael Rose

Work by Rosenwald fellows for sale at New York auction

Posted September 26th, 2012 by

On October 18th, Swann Galleries in New York will hold an auction of African American Fine Art. Among the lots for sale are prints, paintings and sculptures by 11 Rosenwald fellows: Charles Alston, Richmond Barthé, Elizabeth Catlett, Eldzier Cortor, Lawrence Arthur Jones, Ronald Joseph, Jacob Lawrence, William Eduoard Scott, Charles Sebree, Charles White and Hale Woodruff. One highlight is a print of Catlett’s iconic Sharecropper. Also interesting is Eldzier Cortor’s Classical Composition No. 4., which is estimated to go for the highest price in the auction. Rosenwald Fund grants often allowed artists the opportunity to study and work abroad (for example, see Augusta Savage or Elizabeth Catlett’s work). William Eduoard Scott’s When the Tide is Out is another example – it was done on his 1931 trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti under his Rosenwald fellowship.

By Michael Rose

Claude McKay referenced in latest episode of Boardwalk Empire

Posted September 25th, 2012 by

HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, is a period piece rich with historical detail. The show often references contemporary cultural touchstones as a way to develop its characters. The reference in last night’s episode to Harlem Renaissance poet, writer and Rosenwald fellow Claude McKay is a good example.

The second episode in the new season features a brief conversation between the bright and relatively well-off daughter and son of Chalky White, an African American gangster and bootlegger. Lester White (Chalky’s son) is presumably back from his first semester at Atlanta’s historic Morehouse College and he tells his sister about playing jazz piano in a roadhouse near campus. Before he departs, the two share a laugh over jazz being the “devil’s music” (it’s certainly a far cry from “Clair de lune,” which Lester performed for his father in an earlier episode) and Lester hands Maybelle (Chalky’s daughter) a book of McKay’s poems, telling her “They’re worth a look.”

One of the episode’s general themes is parenting and, specifically, the plot line with Chalky White and his children is about the disconnect between generations. Although Chalky pushes his children to attend college, he’s clashed in previous episodes with them over his illiteracy and his allegiance to Southern traditions. Chalky pays for his children’s education (primarily through illegal means) but he’s cut off from their academic and emotional growth.

McKay’s poems, like “The Lynching” and “If We Must Die,” were formative for young readers in the early 1920s, but they remained inaccessible to many from the previous generation, like Chalky White. McKay and other writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance pointed the way to a new future with their artistic expressions, but “Boardwalk Empire” does a good job displaying the conflict of this vision with the pre-Civil Rights hopelessness of bitter racial division and violence. The scene also concisely shows how the cultural products of the Harlem Renaissance made their way around the country through word of mouth.

By Michael Rose

D.C. theater presents Tuskegee Airmen show, "Fly"

Posted September 21st, 2012 by

A new theatrical production opens tonight at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. “Fly” tells the story of the famous African American Air Force unit from Tuskegee that flew missions during World War II despite facing discrimination in the U.S. According to Jessica Goldstein’s Backstage column in the Washington Post, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, D.C. native Roscoe Brown, consulted on the project. Brown, who was also on the set of George Lucas’s Red Tails, helped the actors get the language and mannerisms of the period right.

Three Tuskegee pilots in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945
Photo credit: Toni Frissell Collection, Library of Congress

The Tuskegee Airmen were featured on this blog last January, when Red Tails was playing in theaters. In 1941, the Rosenwald Fund appropriated a large sum of money to build a training field for in Tuskegee for the new group of African American pilots. Eleanor Roosevelt, a member of the Rosenwald Fund’s board, took a well-publicized flight with one of the pilots to help endorse their skill and potential. More details can be found in our previous blog post.

Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: Robert Goodwin (flickr)

For those who don’t know, Ford’s Theatre is where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. “Fly” is part of a multi-year series of productions at the historic theater that promote tolerance and understanding called the Lincoln Legacy Project.

By Michael Rose

Murals depicting African American life and history to be restored in Harlem

Posted September 20th, 2012 by

Robin Pogrebin for the New York Times reports that as Harlem Hospital gets a substantial makeover, a group of large murals that have graced the walls of the hospital since the 1930s are undergoing a multimillion dollar restoration. The murals were commissioned as part of the Federal Art Project of the WPA in the 1930s, and depict a variety of scenes from the history, everyday life and symbolism of African American culture. The murals, which have deteriorated and in some cases been covered up, will have a place of honor in a new publicly accessible gallery in the hospital.

A panel from Charles Alston’s “Modern Medicine,” WPA mural in Harlem Hospital
Photo credit: Columbia University

Among the murals is a diptych by Charles Alston entitled “Magic in Medicine/Modern Medicine,” which shows the history of folk medicine alongside modern innovations and contemporary doctors. Alston, who received consecutive Rosenwald fellowships in 1940 and 1941, was a primary driving force behind the murals. The WPA initially blanched at the black-centric subject matter, citing concerns that the content could offend the black community and claiming it was shortsighted to focus on black history in a community that may not always have the same racial complexion. Their misguided criticisms may have resulted from the fact that, according to the New York Times, this was perhaps the biggest federally-funded art project to date that commissioned black artists. In response to the WPA’s pushback, Alston formed the Harlem Artists Guild (with another Harlem-based Rosenwald fellow, Augusta Savage) and successfully lobbied the WPA into allowing the project to proceed. The murals were worked on by a wide variety of artists, including other Rosenwald fellows such as Ronald Joseph.

 A panel from Vertis Hayes’ “Pursuit of Happiness,” WPA mural in Harlem Hospital
Photo credit: Columbia University

In addition to Alston’s murals, “Pursuit of Happiness” by Vertis Hayes is a particularly interesting part of the collection. One panel of Hayes’ work in particular (pictured above) depicts the migration of African Americans from the rural south to northern industrial cities. This hopeful painting utilizes a dramatic symbol of progress, a giant cog, which is a common motif in art from the time period that depicts African American history, and can be seen in artworks by two Rosenwald fellows: Lamar Baker’s “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel,” and Aaron Douglas’s “Aspects of Negro Life,” pictured below. The latter was another WPA-commissioned mural and was originally displayed in the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library (which is nearby to Harlem Hospital as well as the Harlem Rosenwald YMCA).

A panel from Aaron Douglas’s 1934 “Aspects of Negro Life”
Photographed by Hane C. Lee (flickr)

Below is an excerpt from “A Study of Negro Artists,” a 1937 film which depicts several Harlem artists at work. The video is cued to a scene from the film that shows muralist Aaron Douglas painting in his studio. Douglas received his Rosenwald fellowship the same year the film was made, probably on the strength of his recent WPA murals and the paintings he contributed as cover art to Rosenwald fellow Claude McKay. With his grant, the New York-based artist traveled to the south to gain new inspiration for his work. If you stay tuned to the film, the next section features another WPA muralist named Palmer Hayden.


“A Study of Negro Artists,” 1937
Video credit: The Prelinger Archives / The Internet Archive

Although it was initially resistant, the WPA’s Federal Art Project became a valuable patron of African American art. It’s no coincidence that there are many intersections between the WPA and the Rosenwald Fund. In the early twentieth century, before the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rosenwald Fund and the WPA worked toward a common purpose, and together they made up a huge proportion of the support nationally for black artists.

This blog featured some more murals a couple of weeks ago by a different Rosenwald fellow, Hale Woodruff. Daniel Schulman has written that Charles Alston shared Woodruff’s spirit of experimentation, moving between different artistic styles. It’s great that both of their works are being restored and displayed publicly.

By Michael Rose

Repressed play by Rosenwald fellow finally making its U.S. premiere

Posted September 19th, 2012 by

Anthropologist, dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham’s most notorious ballet, Southland, opened last weekend at The Newman Center for the Performing Arts, University of Denver. This is the first ever performance in the U.S., over sixty years after Dunham first produced it.

Southland debuted in Chile in 1951 and was immediately subjected to repression efforts by the U.S. State Department. The play dramatically stages the lynching of a black man accused of raping a white woman, and in the anti-Communist fervor of the early 1950s it was considered dangerously subversive by government officials in the U.S. Dunham took the ballet to Paris, where it was also met with U.S. suppression efforts and criticism from the American embassy.

Katherine Dunham, 1956
Photo credit: New York World Telegram / Library of Congress

Dunham is often remembered for her roles in Hollywood pictures, but she was a talented anthropologist as well, and she received consecutive Rosenwald grants for anthropological research in 1935 and 1936. Dunham used these grants to travel to Caribbean nations and study indigenous dance forms, research which informed both her choreography and her academic study of the cultural links between African nations and the diaspora. The peripatetic researcher and artist’s first trip abroad was under this Rosenwald fellowship, and she later compiled her research into a Master’s thesis at the University of Chicago.

Constance Valis Hill argued in a 1994 article in Dance Research Journal that Dunham’s Southland was ahead of its time, a work of protest art that may have been received more favorably a decade later during the upheaval of the 1960s. Although the ballet was criticized publicly at the time and caused strife within Dunham’s dance troupe, her artistic and critical vision of the Jim Crow American south is finally getting the treatment it deserves.

Read more about this performance and the history of the ballet at the Denver Post.

By Michael Rose

Unpublished manuscript by Rosenwald fellow discovered in New York

Posted September 18th, 2012 by

Last week, in the New York Times, Felicia R. Lee reported about a Columbia doctoral student’s discovery of a heretofore unpublished and basically unknown manuscript by the great Harlem Renaissance writer, intellectual and Rosenwald fellow, Claude McKay. Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep was found in a personal collection of rare books and papers left by deceased publisher Samuel Roth. The novel has been authenticated by several scholars and McKay’s estate gave its permission for it to be published.

McKay received his first Rosenwald grant at a turning point in his career. In 1935, he had already published his famous novel, Home to Harlem, and two others, and after this time he focused on autobiography and poetry. The discovery of this new manuscript changes that picture, however. 1933’s Banana Bottom was thought to be McKay’s final novel, but now it appears this 1941 book is his last work of fiction. Two years after completing Amiable With Big Teeth, McKay received another grant from the Rosenwald Fund in 1943 (again for creative writing).

Quoted in the Times, Henry Louis Gates Jr. is enthusiastic about the discovery of the novel for its contemporary depiction of attitudes in black cultural life and for the light it sheds on the later, less well documented, period of the Harlem Renaissance. The novel’s satire of communists illuminates McKay’s personal politics and also provides a look into a different facet of his artistic practice.

Earlier this year, another unknown novel by a Rosenwald fellow was discovered: Woody Guthrie’s House of Earth.

By Michael Rose

Sears' West Side Campus: the original Sears Tower in Chicago presides over a transitional neighborhood

Posted September 7th, 2012 by

The original Sears Tower, 930 S. Homan Avenue, Chicago
Photo credit: flickr user Zol87, June 3, 2009

While in Chicago, many tourists make a stop at the former headquarters of Sears located in the tallest building in the United States. The views of Chicago’s Loop from the top of what’s now known as the Willis Tower are stunning. An equally interesting view can be seen from the top of a different tower just four miles west of the Loop. This somewhat lesser known building, commonly referred to as “the original Sears Tower,” is found on the 40 acre North Lawndale campus that Sears called home for many years. The 249-foot building, originally surrounded on three sides by the massive Merchandise Building, now stands alone on a much smaller footprint facing Homan Avenue. Saved from destruction and later restored, this still empty but beautiful and striking building symbolizes both the history of Sears’ commercial might and the aspirations of the redeveloping community around it.

View of the Merchandise Building and Sears Tower
Photo credit: Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, circa 1920s

Sears consolidated its operations in North Lawndale in 1906, a site considerably removed from its former location, a mishmash of unconnected warehouses in the West Loop. The new complex was built along the B&O rail line, but the surrounding neighborhood was primarily residential, not industrial. In the years after Sears opened its Homan Avenue campus, upwardly mobile Jews from areas closer to downtown settled in North Lawndale. The neighborhood, close to centers of employment and situated between two of Chicago’s beautiful west side parks (Douglas Park and Garfield Park) became a prosperous Jewish community filled with elegant greystone homes and successful businesses, theaters and community organizations.

With the help of his friend Henry Goldman, Julius Rosenwald led Sears to a successful IPO in 1906 and oversaw the construction of the Sears, Roebuck Complex on Homan Avenue. Rosenwald assumed greater and greater leadership in the company and took over as president from Richard Sears in 1908. Rosenwald competently managed the three million square foot campus (the largest business building in the world at the time) which featured a complex pneumatic tube system, a scale model of the interior of one of the pre-fabricated bungalows Sears sold and a chemical laboratory for testing new merchandise. An open invitation to members of the public went out in the Sears catalogue, and many people toured the facilities each week.

Sears was the largest employer in the area and the Homan Avenue campus became a self-sufficient town center for its employees. Along with its factory, rail yard and distribution center, the site also contained its own power plant and fire station along with a variety of amenities for employees such as a YMCA, a public library, a cafeteria and a dining room. Later, in 1925, the first Sears retail store opened at the Homan Ave campus. Under Rosenwald’s leadership, Sears was booming, and its campus, which resembled a modern day suburban office park, was sprawling by early twentieth century standards, with surplus space left open for future expansion. This space was put to good use, as the company provided gardens, tennis courts and baseball diamonds for its employees. The Sunken Garden park with its Greek Pergola, provided by Sears as a respite for its workers during day, can still be seen on Arthington Street.

The Sunken Garden and Pergola, circa 1910
Photo credit: flickr user rich701

Sears began to move out of the Homan Avenue complex in the 1970s. Since that time, as other employers eventually moved to the suburbs as well and the area’s original residents followed suit, North Lawndale became an impoverished area with rundown housing stock and few amenities for residents. Beginning in the early 1990s, affordable housing was built on the site as part of a comprehensive development known as Homan Square. Rosenwald would likely have approved of an initiative like this, given the passion he displayed for modern, affordable housing in the construction of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments in Bronzeville, on Chicago’s South Side. Homan Square is a mixed-use development that makes use of the site and some of the buildings of the former Sears headquarters. In addition to new housing, a large community center with indoor pool and gymnasium was built more recently at Homan Square, providing a vital amenity for North Lawndale residents. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the reuse of the Sears complex and grounds is the rehabilitation of the Power House Building, which once provided electricity for Sears’ operations. Power House High is a tuition-free charter high school that won awards in 2009 for its creative reuse of the remarkable building. Also known as The Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center, the rehabilitated school made use of sustainable materials and building methods and preserved many of the large industrial machines left over from when Sears occupied the building. A PDF document detailing the historic features of the building can be found here.

View of North Lawndale from the Sears Tower
Photo credit: flickr user Ian Freimuth, October 16, 2011

The history of the neighborhood around the Sears complex is reflected in its housing stock. As you can see in the picture above, taken from the vantage of the Merchandise Building Tower, vintage working class two and three flats stand alongside elegant early twentieth century single-family greystone homes. Interspersed throughout, but especially in the foreground, are some of the recently constructed townhomes that make up the Homan Square development on what used to be the grounds of the Sears complex. By building affordable housing alongside retail, community services and schools, and integrating it all into the existing neighborhood, the Homan Square development is leading the charge in revitalizing North Lawndale. The community today is very different than it was in 1906, but the Sears campus is once again at the center of it.

By Michael Rose

Rosewood Beach poised for redevelopment; the legacy of the Rosenwalds on Chicago’s North Shore

Posted September 6th, 2012 by

Julius Rosenwald’s estate sat in one of the scenic and highly prized ravines of Lake Michigan’s northern shoreline, in the town Highland Park. Although the Rosenwald home burned down some years ago, the parks department of Highland Park turned the grounds of the estate into Rosewood Park and Beach. This scenic public park, which abuts Lake Michigan, gains from its original design by the famous Danish-American landscape architect Jens Jensen. Jensen designed this and many other grounds in the Chicago area in his distinctive “prairie style,” utilizing open spaces and native plants.

Rosewood Beach
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, May 2012

Recently, the park and beach have been the subject of an ongoing debate about whether to add infrastructure or to leave the space as is. Neighbors are divided on the issue. Last week, in spite of strong resistance from some residents, the park commissioners of the town of Highland Park unanimously approved a plan that would add restrooms, a concession stand, a lifeguard shelter and a lakeside “interpretive center.” Opponents of the redevelopment cited concerns that the interpretive center’s location on the beach would make it susceptible to damage from storms and that the new infrastructure would ruin the “natural and tranquil environment” of Rosewood Beach (“Leave Rosewood Beach alone,” the Chicago Sun-Times). The Chicago Tribune reports: “People on both sides of the debate invoked the names of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who owned an estate on the beach, and celebrated landscape architect Jens Jensen, who designed the estate’s grounds, trying to ascertain what each historical figure would think of the project.” Enlisting Jenson and Rosenwald into either side of the debate would be difficult to do, as both men clearly valued the tranquility and natural landscaping of Ravinia while also appreciating the importance of public space.

Regarding this latter point, Julius Rosenwald’s wife Augusta was perhaps best known for her contributions to the parks of Illinois. Along the Union Pacific North rail line in downtown Highland Park is a small park designed by Jens Jensen, built in commemoration of the landscape architect who lived and worked nearby on Dean Avenue. But the park is also a memorial to another famous resident of the Ravinia section of Highland Park: Augusta Rosenwald. In addition to commissioning his work at the Rosenwald estate, the Rosenwalds were personal friends of Jensen and Augusta was a member of his park advocacy organization, the “Friends of Our Native Landscape.” The Friends lobbied for the creation of new state and national parks in Illinois in areas with unique natural features such as the Indiana Dunes and the Shawnee National Forest, as well as the augmentation of existing parks such as Starved Rock. The centerpiece of Jens Jensen Park is a council ring (a trademark of Jensen’s work) that surrounds a boulder with a small plaque memorializing Augusta Rosenwald. The boulder, installed in 1930, a year after Augusta’s death, is a fitting tribute to the friendship and shared advocacy of Jensen and “Gussie” for the preservation of historical and scenic parts of the landscape around Chicago.

Boulder honoring Augusta Rosenwald in Jens Jensen Park (click the image to view a larger version)
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, May 2012

In late May of this year, Aviva and Peter Ascoli (grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald) visited the Ravinia community in Chicago’s suburbs where Rosenwald had a summer home. Aviva and Peter attended the dedication by the town historical society of a plaque commemorating Rosenwald’s achievements and philanthropy. The plaque was embedded into the sidewalk of Central Avenue in Highland Park.

Sidewalk plaque honoring Julius Rosenwald in Highland Park
Photo credit: Aviva Kempner, May 2012

By Michael Rose

 

Rosenwald fellow's restored murals to be displayed

Posted September 6th, 2012 by

A set of six murals by the great African American artist Hale Woodruff are kicking off a tour of several cities at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Woodruff, one of the most celebrated American painters of the twentieth century, chose the slave rebellion on the Amistad as the subject for these murals which originally hung at Talladega College in Alabama. The recently restored murals were completed in 1938, five years before Woodruff received consecutive Rosenwald Fellowships to work and teach in New York, where he would stay until he retired decades later. After Atlanta, the murals will travel between now and 2015 to Dallas, New York, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Hartford, Detroit and finally Birmingham, so be on the lookout for them at a museum near you. Thanks to our neighbor, Robert Mallet, for letting us know about the exhibit in Atlanta.

Hale Woodruff working on a mural, 1942
Photo credit: Library of Congress via Office of War Information

By Michael Rose

Theatrical production of Rosenwald fellow's famous novel premieres in D.C.

Posted September 5th, 2012 by

A theatrical production of Ralph Ellison’s seminal 1952 novel, Invisible Man premieres tonight at the Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. Ellison began working on Invisible Man in 1945, with the resources provided to him by a Rosenwald Fellowship. This is the second staging of Oren Jacoby’s theatrical adaptation of the novel, which had never before been adapted in any form. The Studio Theatre’s show features the same director and star as the early 2012 premiere production at the Court Theater at the University of Chicago. Jessica Goldstein describes the most striking feature of the stage design in today’s Washington Post, the 650 light bulbs that light up the eponymous character’s underground dwelling. Information about the schedule and tickets can be found on the Studio Theatre’s website.

Ralph Ellison, 1961
United States Information Agency via Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

Rosenwald YMCA in Brooklyn is remembered by Brownstoner blog

Posted August 31st, 2012 by

Montrose Morris over at Brownstoner.com, a website about residential property in Brooklyn, has written a great blog about the historic African American YMCA on Carlton Avenue and Julius Rosenwald’s role in its construction. The story of the the Rosenwald-funded YMCAs is an inspiring one, and the Carlton Ave branch is one of two funded by Rosenwald challenge grants (the other is found on 125th Street in Harlem). A historical photo of some patrons of this branch can be seen here, at the NYC YMCA’s website, and the photo below is a gallery of other Rosenwald YMCAs.

Gallery of photos of nine Rosenwald Y.M.C.A. Buildings
Image from The Crisis, September 1922, courtesy of the Modernist Journals Project

By Michael Rose

Jewish Federation to bestow annual Rosenwald Award

Posted August 31st, 2012 by

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago reports that its annual Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award will go to its Board Chairman, David A. Sherman, in recognition of his outstanding service in stewarding the organization through the recent economic downturn. Rosenwald was a founding member of the Associated Jewish Charities of Chicago, a forerunner to the Federation, and served as its first president. Sherman will receive the award on Monday, September 24th, 2012 at the Hilton Chicago.

For more info, visit www.juf.org

By Michael Rose

D.C. YMCA to inaugurate new building for U Street area branch

Posted August 29th, 2012 by

The Anthony Bowen YMCA recently distributed flyers to Northwest Washington D.C. residents informing them about the upcoming October 2012 opening of a new building for the YMCA. In the flyer, Angie Reese-Hawkins, President & CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington recounts a little of the history of the YMCA and then writes eloquently on the YMCA’s mission:

“The new Y unites the right minds and resources to serve this div