Upcoming Marian Anderson tribute concert in Washington D.C.

The Washington Post reports that Marian Anderson, one of the most notable of the long list of Rosenwald fellows, will soon be honored with a tribute concert at Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall. Anderson famously performed a concert on the National Mall in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused her request to perform at the segregated Constitution Hall, which at the time accepted only white performers.

The upcoming event (“Of Thee We Sing”) will be held on April 12 of this year and will feature soprano Jessye Norman, WPAS’s Men and Women of the Gospel, soloist Solomon Howard and others.

Marian Anderson in 1947
Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress

In March of last year, we wrote about Marian Anderson’s 1930 Rosenwald fellowship, which she used to make two trips to Europe. These early trips to Europe developed her international reputation as a top flight contralto at a time when African American singers struggled to find acceptance at major concert venues in the U.S.

You can read more about the tribute concert at The Washington Post.

Rosenwald School Spotlight: Hempstead, Texas

The Rosenwald Fund supported the construction of over 500 schools in Texas, placing the state in the upper echelon of those that participated in the school-building program. Only North Carolina and Mississippi built more schools with Rosenwald funding. Given the significant impact these schools have had on the history of Texas communities and on generations of students, it is unfortunate that this history is not better known and that, today, there are only 10-15 Rosenwald Schools still standing in the state. Click the map below to be taken to a Google Map of known Rosenwald Schools in Texas.

Although Texas Rosenwald Schools that have been remodeled (such as the Pleasant Hill Rosenwald School in Linden) offer a plethora of fascinating stories, even among those schools that have been lost to time there are stories worth telling. One such example is the Hempstead School in Waller County, also known as the Sam Schwarz School. Built in 1928 at a cost of $20,200 with room for eight teachers, this was one of the largest Rosenwald Schools in the state. During school consolidation and desegregation, the original Sam Schwarz School was razed along with many of the historical materials it contained. The destruction of the Sam Schwarz School may have suppressed some of the bad memories of school segregation, but its loss affected the community deeply and its history can be used as a way to teach a new generation about the painful legacy of segregation.

Like other Rosenwald Schools, the Sam Schwarz School was built under a combination of funding from the Rosenwald Fund and local residents. The school’s namesake comes from a prominent Jewish family in Hempstead that was instrumental in its construction. Born in Prussia in the mid-1800s, the Schwarz brothers moved one by one to Hempstead, where they became local leaders in a burgeoning Jewish community. Sam Schwarz, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, kept the largest general store in the city and his brother Chayim was the rabbi for Hempstead’s only Jewish congregation (which bore his name). Together, the men built the city’s first synagogue.

Before the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program, Hempstead’s school for African Americans was substandard and built in a low-lying area known as the “frog pond.” In the 1920s, Hempstead, like many communities, moved to leverage one of the Rosenwald Fund’s “challenge grants” to fundraise for a new, modern school. In addition to his other roles in the community, Sam Schwarz was a charter member of the local school board. Although Schwarz passed away in 1918, his daughters donated some family land located on higher ground in the city as the site for the new Rosenwald School. In honor of Schwarz’s legacy as a community leader and philanthropist, the school was named for him. In fact, even after the original Rosenwald School was replaced in the 1950s, the new building still bore Schwarz’s name, a testament to his enduring legacy of education and community uplift.

The Hempstead Rosenwald School (The Sam Schwarz School)
Photo courtesy of Fisk University’s Rosenwald School Database

The intersection between the Rosenwald Fund and the Schwarz family of Texas goes beyond their combined efforts in Hempstead. Like Sam Schwarz, Julius Rosenwald’s lineage can be traced back to Prussia. Also like the Schwarz family, Julius Rosenwald’s father Samuel settled west of the Appalachians, in Springfield, Illinois, where he too helped establish the city’s first synagogue. The Rosenwald Schools will portray the experience of Rosenwald’s father, Samuel, as an immigrant from small town in Prussia who made a new life in the American Midwest. By looking for opportunity in the wide-open spaces of Texas, the Schwarz family shares with the Rosenwalds this lesser known version of the Jewish immigrant experience in America.

Samuel Rosenwald
Image courtesy of Fred Fields

Because Texas is home to so many Rosenwald Schools as well as a Rosenwald-funded African American YMCA and a historical Sears distribution plant, the state will certainly have a prominent place in our film.

Calvert Rosenwald School, Texas

The Calvert Colored School, a C-shaped, red-brick building with an auditorium and stage, opened in 1929 for children in 1st through 11th grade. Previously “most black children attended elementary grades in the ‘plantation’ schools and only attended to the 8th grade at most,” according to the Tour Guide of Historic Calvert. The Calvert Colored School’s first principal, W.D. Spigner (spy-g-ner), inspired the local African American community and convinced the school board to make improvements such as indoor plumbing in 1948, the addition of a 12th grade class in the early 1950s, and a gymnasium in 1957. As annual enrollment climbed to 375, around half the senior class went on to college, often at historically black Texas colleges such as Prairie View A&M and Huston-Tillotson University. The school’s most famous former student is Tom Bradley, who was elected mayor of Los Angeles.

The Calvert Colored School, now a multi-purpose center in Calvert, Texas
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

The school building became an elementary in the 1970s and was renamed W.D. Spigner Elementary, in honor of its longtime principal. In 2010, the school closed due to declining enrollment city wide. The school district gave the land and the building to the Calvert Colored W.D. Spigner Alumni Association Inc., which is based in Dallas and is turning it into a multi-purpose center. The association holds its quarterly board meetings and annual reunions on the premises.

James Whitaker, Calvert Class of ’56, president of the alumni association
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

Alumni president James Whitaker, Class of ’56, recalled that all of his school teachers lived in the surrounding neighborhood and knew each child’s family. “The teachers were committed. They expected more,” he said. “Today’s students feel their teachers are not committed. Ours kept the bar high.” He reminisced about helping the janitor shovel coal. “Every room had a heater. Around 1950 they put in gas, which was lousy!” Whitaker didn’t realize how good an education he got at Calvert until he entered the military and began comparing himself to other young men from around the nation.

Detail from the Calvert School
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

By Hollace Ava Weiner