“Reflections on Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances”

Posted on 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