CNN reports that Ruby Dee, the remarkable actress and Civil Rights activist, passed away peacefully on June 11th at her home in New Rochelle, New York.
During the 1960s, Dee was acquainted with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. With her husband Ossie Davis, she was a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington.
Ossie, who passed away in 2005, will be featured in our film, The Rosenwald Schools, talking about Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Davis was a student at Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1939. He was inspired by the optimism of Anderson’s rendition of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee on the National Mall, a wonderful performance made more poignant by the D.A.R.’s refusal to allow her to appear at Constitution Hall. Ossie, who passed away in 2005, was filmed discussing the concert for a 1993 documentary entitled The Great Depression discussing the impact of Anderson’s concert on him as a young man.
Ruby Dee was a remarkable actress of stage and screen for more than half a century, starring on Broadway and in films like 1989’s Do the Right Thing and 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun. We will include excerpts from the latter film in The Rosenwald Schools‘ section on Chicago’s crowded “kitchenette” apartment buildings.
Ruby Dee with Sidney Poitier in the 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Recently, while searching online for vintage copies of books written under Rosenwald fellowships, we came across a truly unique copy of the very first book written under a Rosenwald fellowship. Black Manhattan, written by James Weldon Johnson in 1930, is a sociological study that traces the history of African Americans in New York City up until the 1920s.
James Weldon Johnson in 1932
Photo Credit: The Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten Collection
The copy for sale on eBay (for $7,500.00 or best offer) is not just a first edition. Its title page is also signed by Johnson to none other than Julius Rosenwald, “with great admiration and deep regard.”
Below is a screenshot of the auction listing, in case it disappears. Click the image for a larger version.
It’s amazing what can turn up on eBay. This is an artifact that really showcases the historical impact of the Rosenwald Fund’s fellowship program.
A few weeks ago, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. announced a new partnership with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University that will radically change the makeup of the historic museum. As the Corcoran prepares to enter into a new phase of its existence, The Washington Post asked chief curator Philip Brookman to talk about some of the works of art that have made the gallery what it is today.
One of the works Brookman, who we interviewed last year about Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks, mentioned was by another Rosenwald fellow, Aaron Douglas. In 1996, Brookman remembers, the Corcoran Gallery acquired “Into Bondage”, a panel from a mural by Douglas that depicts slaves being led to ships in chains. According to Brookman, this was “a moment of important collecting,” for the Gallery, which has an outstanding collection of African American art.
You can see and read about the rest of the works of art named by Philip Brookman and Corcoran’s manager of curatorial affairs Lisa Strong here.
On July 1st, director Aviva Kempner had the pleasure of interviewing the poet Rita Dove for our upcoming film, The Rosenwald Schools. Dove, who has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and served as the United States Poet Laureate, gave a wonderful interview. She told us about several of the luminaries who received Rosenwald fellowships early in their careers: Marian Anderson, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston.
In her interview, Dove delved into the particulars of Langston Hughes’ two Rosenwald fellowship periods, beginning in 1931 and 1941. During his first Rosenwald fellowship, Langston traveled to almost every Southern state to do poetry readings at black colleges and universities. When he received the Rosenwald fellowship in 1931, Langston was living at the Harlem Rosenwald YMCA. The grant money allowed him to purchase a car and print copies of his work to bring along on his trip South. Click here to see a picture of Langston in front of his new car, at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Dove related the origins of Langston’s journey to the South in her interview. It was Mary McLeod Bethune who influenced him to undertake the trip, suggesting that there were many residents of Southern states who weren’t aware of his work and would respond strongly to it. Stephanie Deutsch (author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South) recently blogged about Mary McLeod Bethune’s connection to another Rosenwald fellowship recipient, Zora Neale Hurston. The 135th anniversary of Bethune’s birth was last Thursday (July 10th) and she has a statue in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park.
Mary McLeod Bethune in 1938
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection
While in Alabama, Langston held a reading at Tuskegee and also visited the Scottsboro Boys on death row. We wrote about this important visit in November of last year, on the occasion of their posthumous pardon by the state of Alabama.
In her interview, Dove pointed out how important it was for African American artists of that time to travel South:
Many artists who grew up in the Midwest or the urban north in fact were the progeny from the Great Migration. For them to go south was a very, very brave thing [and] sometimes it ended up producing remarkable work.
Dove described this as a theme in the Rosenwald fellowships. Artists like Hale Woodruff, Eldzier Cortor and Jacob Lawrence (who made the amazing “Great Migration” series) used their Rosenwald grants to travel the South and depict it in their artworks. In fact, Dove herself grew up in Ohio, and she poignantly described her experience visiting Georgia for the first time as a child in the early 1960s.
Rita Dove, poet
Photo Credit: The Ciesla Foundation, July 2014
Many thanks to Rita Dove for agreeing to be interviewed and for hosting our crew in her home.