“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.