Call for Submissions: New Title for "The Rosenwald Schools"

Posted July 30th, 2012 by

When we started thinking about making a film on the life of Julius Rosenwald, the story of the Rosenwald schools seemed like his most amazing accomplishment. In making the film, we have come to realize that his many other philanthropic projects (including Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the black YMCA building program, his work within the Jewish community in Chicago and the Rosenwald Fund grants to up and coming black artists and intellectuals) merit changing the title of film to something broader than the current working title, The Rosenwald Schools.

We would love to know if you have an idea for a new title for the film. The creator of the winning title will be listed under “Special Thanks” in the credits of the completed film. Please follow this link to a page where you can input your ideas: Title Input Contest

Two civil rights lawyers, Rosenwald Fellows, found in new book by Kenneth Mack

Posted July 25th, 2012 by

On Monday evening, July 23rd, Harvard Law professor Dr. Kenneth Mack presented his new book, Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer, to a spirited crowd at Politics & Prose on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington D.C. Dr. Mack explained that, while the story of civil rights lawyers like Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston is a familiar one to most people, his book is at once a more detailed history of the era and a reflection on the subjective experience of a group of characters who found themselves “representing their race” in the legal profession.

Dr. Mack read two passages from Representing the Race at Politics & Prose, the second of which dealt with a little known civil rights attorney named Pauli Murray who argued that legally there was no distinction between equal rights for blacks and equal rights for women, preferring to refer to them as a single issue: “human rights.” Mack treats her personal life in some depth in the book, explaining how her “unresolved crisis of identity,” as a biracial, potentially transgendered, individual, contributed to her drive to fight discrimination through the law. Because Murray was profoundly uncomfortable in society—due to her position at the margins of both race and gender—she serves as an ideal case study for Dr. Mack’s book. Like the other attorneys he discusses, Murray obtained a kind of agency and freedom from her individual discomfort by taking on the role of an outspoken trial lawyer for civil rights cases.

Pauli Murray, 1946
Photo credit: Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

Murray graduated from Howard Law School in 1944 and, according to the Chicago Defender, received a Rosenwald Fund grant “to analyze the extension of minority rights under New Deal labor and social legislation and court rulings, and for graduate work at Harvard.” As the top graduate of Howard, Murray was a prime candidate for Harvard, but her application was denied because of her gender. Murray’s appeal of this decision to the Harvard administration is a great read and is published in Rebels in Law, Voices in History of Black Women Lawyers, edited by J. Clay Smith Jr. In it, she diplomatically argues for the practicality and inevitability of including women in the study of law but also uses wit in a revealing way. “Very recent medical examination reveals me to be a functionally normal woman with perhaps a ‘male slant’ on things, which may account for my insistence upon getting into Harvard.” This sounds cheeky if you haven’t read Dr. Mack’s book. In fact, Murray had actually requested examination by doctors to see if she was a hermaphrodite and had also explored the use of male hormone injections. Mack uses this quote to demonstrate how Murray’s personal incompatibility with existing social categories drove her “insistence” upon success in the legal battle against discrimination.

Murray’s connection to the Rosenwald Fund is an intriguing one. She later explained that in her application to the fund, she had stated she would like to attend Harvard Law but hadn’t yet been accepted. Then, when she saw in the newspaper that a grant was awarded for her to continue study at Harvard, she was as surprised as anyone. This public mix-up added fuel to the fire of her appeal. Although ultimately she was unsuccessful in her bid to attend Harvard (she went to University of California, Berkeley instead) the experience probably helped cement in her mind the congruence of discrimination against blacks and discrimination against women, which she summed up perfectly with the term “Jane Crow.” Murray was ahead of her time once again, but not by much. Just six years later, Harvard Law admitted its first female students, to little fanfare and almost no blowback from alumni.

Another Rosenwald fellow figures in Dr. Mack’s new book. Robert Lee Carter also attended Howard Law School and went on to become a high-ranking NAACP lawyer who argued in front of the Supreme Court during Brown v. Board of Education. Newspapers reported in 1940 that Carter had received a Rosenwald grant “For a study of the constitutional protection which American courts have given civil liberties since 1900, at Columbia University,” work that was pertinent to the legal argument that ultimately would demonstrate the unconstitutionality of institutionalized segregation. Mr. Carter passed away earlier this year.

Robert Lee Carter, circa 1940s
Photo credit: Library of Congress, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People records

By Michael Rose

William Raspberry connection to the Rosenwald Schools

Posted July 24th, 2012 by

On Tuesday, July 17th, William Raspberry, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The Washington Post, passed away in his home. In almost forty years as a columnist (he retired in 2005) Raspberry wrote thousands of opinion pieces in which he carved out a complicated ethical position on racial politics, urban violence and the importance of education. Raspberry was raised by two teachers in Okolona, Mississippi; his mother, Willa, who, at 106, still lives in Indianapolis and his father, James, who died at 89 in 1991.

On the occasion of his father’s funeral in 1991, Raspberry remembered him in a column in The Washington Post as a passionate and committed educator, recalling how in 1918 his father helped construct a Rosenwald school in a rural community in Mississippi. “He would spend part of the day teaching students—often under a tree—and the rest building the school,” (“Gifts of a Good Man,” The Washington Post, June 12, 1991). According to Mississippi Women: Their Histories, Their Lives, by Martha H. Swain, Elizabeth Anne Payne and Marjorie Julian Spruill, the school was in Dorsey, Mississippi. James Raspberry moved on from there to serve as principal in another Rosenwald School in Friendship, Mississippi, where he met William’s mother, Willa Tucker, an English teacher at the same school. Raspberry remembered in his early life that his parents’ home was a place where the children of extended family members would stay during the school year because their hometowns had no schools open to African Americans.

In his final column in 2005, Raspberry spoke about his own contribution to the improvement of education in his home state of Mississippi, a state that has some of the worst educational outcomes in America. Raspberry founded “Baby Steps” in Okolona, an organization that works to break the cycle of low achievement in school by engaging both children and parents in developing a positive home environment. Raspberry’s contributions to education as an adult can be traced back to his own positive early family life. In his final column, he also spoke of his belief that “pulling a community together around the future of its children can do wonders to transform both”, a statement that resonates strongly with the story of Rosenwald Schools. His passing was truly a loss and we regret missing the opportunity to add his voice to The Rosenwald Schools as an interview subject.

By Michael Rose

Exhibition of Photographer and Rosenwald Fellow Gordon Parks at Harlem Gallery

Posted July 24th, 2012 by

Side view of the Schomburg Center, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, Harlem, New York
Photo credit: Michael Rose, July 20, 2012

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard in New York City, is showing a collection of works by the great African American photographer Gordon Parks, who passed away in 2006. The exhibition is in commemoration of what would have been Parks 100th birthday, and will be on display until the end of the year. It was advertised in the Arts section of last week’s New York Times.

Gordon Parks in the FSA office
Photo credit: Library of Congress, ca. 1943

The exhibit focuses on Parks’ work in the 1940s with the Farm Security Administration. Parks joined the FSA after being awarded a Rosenwald Fund grant in 1942, which he received on the strength of his photographs of Chicago’s South Side. The current exhibit displays some similar black and white portraits and street scenes of black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. and Harlem that he took in the early 1940s for the FSA and the Office of War Information. In addition to those included in this blog, hundreds of Parks’s photographs are available online at the Library of Congress. A documentary about Parks’ career entitled Half Past Autumn is also part of the exhibit and will screen at least once more at the Schomburg Center, this August.

“Anacostia, D.C. Frederick Douglass housing project. Playing in the community sprayer ”
Photo credit: Gordon Parks, 1942, Office of War Information, LOC

“New York, New York. A Harlem newsboy”
Photo Credit: Gordon Parks, 1943, Office of War Information, LOC

The Schomburg Center is located just half a block from the famous Harlem YMCA. This towering mid-block building was funded in part by a Rosenwald “challenge grant,” and is probably the largest structure built as part of Rosenwald’s YMCA campaign. Parks, like many other new arrivals to Harlem, stayed at the YMCA for some time when he was new to the city. When I visited the gallery, 135th Street was crowded with the 2012 Harlem Book Fair.

Schomburg Center foreground, Harlem Rosenwald YMCA background
Photo credit: Michael Rose, July 20, 2012

By Michael Rose

Rosenwald featured in Jewish Telegraphic Agency op-ed

Posted July 16th, 2012 by

In an op-ed for the JTA, Peter Dreier argues that Jews have historically been at the forefront of progressive social change. Among his examples, he includes Julius Rosenwald:

Jewish social activism helped spearhead the early civil rights movement as well. In 1909, Joel Spingarn was a founder and then long-term president of the NAACP. Julius Rosenwald of Sears & Roebuck was a pioneer in the new field of progressive philanthropy. He endowed Jane Addams’ Hull House and Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, funded more than 5,000 schools for African Americans in the rural South, and supported the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee-based training center for labor and civil rights activists.

Click here to read the full article…

Unpublished book by Woody Guthrie may be product of Rosenwald Fund grant

Posted July 11th, 2012 by

On July 9th, five days before the late Woody Guthrie would have turned 100, Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp published some surprising news about the folk singer in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Brinkley and Depp have discovered an unpublished and basically unknown novel that Guthrie wrote in the mid-1940s entitled House of Earth. Inspired by his time spent in the Dust Bowl, the novel is an anti-capitalist ode to rural folks of modest means. The novel’s title comes from the partially underground, sun-dried brick dwellings constructed by poor tenant farmers in New Mexico during the Great Depression.

GuthrieWoody Guthrie in 1943
Photo credit: New York World-Telegram and the Sun / Library of Congress

Guthrie was one of the better-known personages to receive a Rosenwald Fund grant. In 1943, the New York Times reported that he was given a fellowship from the Rosenwald Fund for “folklore” (Rosenwald archives list it under “Language & Literature”) a financial award that would enable him to “write books, ballads, songs and novels that will help people know each other’s work better” (The New York Times, May 10, 1943). Until now it’s been unclear what use Guthrie put this award to: unlike many arts fellowships, the Rosenwald Fund did not require benchmarks and updates from its awardees. Guthrie likely received the award on the strength of his 1943-published and critically acclaimed autobiography Bound for Glory and with this news, it seems entirely possible that he used it to write House of Earth.

The mid to late 1940s were Guthrie’s last productive years (after 1950, Huntington’s disease began to take its toll) and the freedom provided by his Rosenwald grant allowed him to craft the stories, drawings, poems and songs he produced during this period. Depp and Brinkley’s report hints that House of Earth may be the most significant piece of art Guthrie produced after Bound for Glory. In their article, they call it a “minor masterpiece,” saying that it “successfully mixes Steinbeck’s narrative verve with D. H. Lawrence’s openness to erotic exploration.”

It’s unclear why the novel was never published. Alan Lomax, Guthrie’s friend and supporter at the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress (who also encouraged him to apply to the Rosenwald Fund) was enthusiastic about getting it published after reading the first chapter. Depp and Brinkley are currently co-editing the manuscript and looking for a publisher. If it’s published this year (65 years after Guthrie completed it in 1947) it will be a fitting tribute to the great folk singer on this centennial of his birth. Celebrations of his work including concerts and panel discussions will take place nationwide through the end of the year.

By Michael Rose