Beautiful new Arkansas mural features Rosenwald and Washington

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

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

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

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

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