Work in progress of The Rosenwald Schools screens in Riverside at Temple Beth El

On April 15th, Aviva Kempner screened a work in progress version of her new film, The Rosenwald Schools, to an appreciative audience at Temple Beth El on Central Avenue in Riverside, California. The Rosenwald Schools was accompanied by two more of Ms. Kempner’s films, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg. After the screenings, Ms. Kempner held a Q&A with the audience.

Filmmaker Aviva Kempner with Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El

Check back to this blog for updates on future screenings. To contact Aviva Kempner about speaking engagements, please email

Howard University hosts conference in honor of late Rosenwald Fellow, Dr. David Blackwell

Last week, on April 19th and 20th, Howard University presented the Blackwell Memorial Conference, two years after Dr. David Blackwell passed away at the age of 91. Dr. Blackwell taught at both Howard and UC Berkeley, but before receiving these prestigious appointments he received some important assistance from the Rosenwald Fund. The New York Times recalled in his obituary that, in 1941, “[after] being awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship, established by the clothing magnate Julius Rosenwald to aid black scholars, he attended the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.” This was an important post-doctoral appointment for the young scholar, and his work was “groundbreaking” in spite of the racial discrimination he faced.

David Blackwell in 1967
Photo Credit: Konrad Jacobs, Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach gGmbH

Most of the papers in the conference were academic, discussing his many contributions to the fields of statistics and mathematics. However, several of the papers are more personal, including remembrances of his style as a teacher, his transformational and inspirational effect on Howard University and thoughts on how to increase educational access in the future for growing minority groups.

Blackwell is remembered by another conference as well. Since 2000, a biannual event called The Blackwell-Tapia Conference has been held at various mathematical science institutes around North America. In addition to providing a meeting place for researchers, the event is accompanied by the awarding of the Blackwell-Tapia prize, which goes to a mathematical scientist who has significantly contributed to his field and also served as a role model for aspiring minority students in the mathematical sciences. This year’s event will be held in November, 2012 at Brown University.

Screening and fundraiser for Rosenwald Schools work in progress held in D.C.

Aviva Kempner with David Stern, (far left) attorney, philanthropist, social activist and great-grandson of Julius Rosenwald

On Sunday, (April 22nd) Karen Lash and Martha Ertman generously hosted a screening in their Northwest Washington D.C. home of the work in progress version of Aviva Kempner’s new film, The Rosenwald Schools.

The screening was followed by a lively discussion among the intimate audience. As it has at other screenings, the film provoked a conversation about philanthropy and early 20th century social progressivism among both those who remember the Rosenwald schools and those who were learning about it for the first time.

Aviva Kempner and Martha Ertman address the audience

Check back to this blog for information on future screenings. If you are able to help to finish this film by hosting your own fundraiser, you will receive credit in the final film. Please contact if you are interested.

Riverside’s monument to Booker T. Washington outside the Mission Inn

Photo of the Mission Inn taken around the time of Booker T. Washington’s Visit
Photo Credit: Detroit Publishing Company, Library of Congress

After showing two of her films and a work in progress version of her new documentary The Rosenwald Schools at a nearby venue, Ms. Aviva Kempner walked over to the historic Mission Inn in downtown Riverside, California. There was a moment of serendipity in this stroll when she came upon a bust of the great African-American educator, speaker and writer Booker T. Washington, whose partnership with Julius Rosenwald figures prominently in her new film. The bust, located near the main entrance of the hotel, commemorates Washington’s 1914 visit to Riverside at the invitation of the Inn’s proprietor, Frank Miller.

A 1922 photo of Frank Miller, owner of the Mission Inn

M. Bernard Edmonds created the monument, which was funded by a community drive in Riverside. The Black Voice News reported on the unveiling in 2004, an event that several of Washington’s descendents attended. The bronze bust honors Washington and also represents the tradition of abolitionism in Riverside. The Mission Inn is a landmark of Riverside and, in addition to Washington, has hosted more than a few presidents, scores of political and social luminaries and many celebrities.

Photo of the Booker T. Washington bust, taken in 2012

The plaque beneath the bust contains a quote from Washington: “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”

By Michael Rose

Rosenwald Fellow Thomas Sancton, white Southerner and early proponent of civil rights for African-Americans, dies in New Orleans

Thomas Sancton Sr., an outspokenly liberal editorialist and novelist, died on April 7th in at the age of 97. He was remembered by The Times-Picayune, one of his erstwhile employers, as a controversial but pioneering journalist.

Sancton had already been published by numerous newspapers and magazines and served as editor for The New Republic when he was awarded the first of his three Rosenwald Fellowships in 1943. The 1940s would prove his most prolific and notorious years as a writer, a time in which he was very visible in both the black and white press for voicing his progressive views on civil rights for blacks.

In a time when racism was commonly considered a natural, inherent reaction to racial difference, Sancton took the historical view that economic conditions had caused current racial tension. Instead of joining the condemnation of the white working class as the perpetrators of racial violence, he criticized the landowners and businessmen of the South who benefited monetarily from continued economic inequality. “Sancton regularly blamed, by name, the southern aristocracy of large scale growers, industrialists, and elected officials for steadily fomenting and exploiting racial hatred to control whites,” wrote Lawrence Jackson in a 2007 article in the Southern Literary Journal.

Furthermore, according to Jackson, “Sancton resisted the mirage that southern elites of good will would transform centuries of injustice.” Sancton often turned his criticism on fellow white liberals who, in a misguided attempt to spare blacks any defeat in their battle for civil rights, found themselves arguing for the inevitability of Jim Crow segregation. In The New Republic, Sancton criticized the “pale, dishwater liberalism” of writers like Virginius Dabney, Mark Ethridge and John Temple Graves who called for slow, gradual integration rather than radical and immediate self-realization by blacks themselves. Sancton advised blacks to take action on their own behalf as soon as possible, arguing realistically that “the Negro, in the long run, is the Negro’s most trustworthy friend, and I believe he will never win any benefit he does not win by his own ability, independence, courage, and political organization.”

Sancton’s writing is strikingly reflective about the place of white liberalism in civil rights for blacks, recognizing its limited role as a mouthpiece for progressive ideas already familiar to blacks, and worse, false optimism or its flip side, well-intentioned but misguided temperance. Sancton’s nuanced work must have been held in high esteem by the Rosenwald Fund’s board, as he was given three fellowships for creative writing in 1943, 1945 and 1947. More than one grant renewal by the Fund was rare, but Sancton’s progressive writing merited its continued support.

By Michael Rose