Color photos by Gordon Parks of 1950s segregation to be exhibited in Atlanta

We wrote about Gordon Parks’ “Segregation Series” last June, following the surprising rediscovery of the complete series, which Parks produced for LIFE magazine in the 1950s and which was thought to be lost.

Starting November 15th, according to The New York Times, the High Museum in Atlanta is mounting an exhibition of this series that they’re calling “Gordon Parks: Segregation Story.” The exhibit will be open until June 7, 2015.

Many of the powerful photographs in this collection have never before been seen in a gallery. Out of the more than 40 color prints depicting segregation, a select few were published in a 1956 LIFE Magazine article. From the examples we’ve seen in the media, these photographs, by the first recipient of a Rosenwald grant for photography, offer a truly unique illustration of the segregated institutions of the Jim Crow South.

Read more at The New York Times.

New novel approaches “passing” with a modern twist

According to a review in The New York Times, the debut novel of author Jess Row, Your Face or Mine, (to be released this week) uses the science fiction concept of “racial reassignment surgery” as a jumping off point to a rumination on race and identity in the modern world. “Passing” as a member of another race is a familiar literary theme, mainly found in African American literature of the 20th century, like the works of Rosenwald fellows James Baldwin and James Weldon Johnson. Writing for the the Times, Felicia R. Lee explains:

A fan of James Baldwin’s work, Mr. Row said he set out to have “Your Face in Mine” explore the ways people try to escape their racial identities, as well as investigate their desire for racial reconciliation and deeply unconscious fears and discomforts around race.

“Passing” has been a major theme in African-American literature for over a century, and has usually meant blacks living as whites to escape bias. “Your Face in Mine” owes something to classic stories of passing like “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” by James Weldon Johnson (published anonymously in 1912 and under his name in 1927), and the 1931 satire “Black No More,” by George S. Schuyler, in which blacks rush to embrace a new scientific process to become white.

Read more about the new novel at The New York Times.

A dinner with Julian Bond

Writer Kelly Kleiman wrote an amusing account about meeting Civil Rights icon Julian Bond recently over dinner. It was published on the Ten Miles Square blog at Washington Monthly.

Kleiman bond-ed with Bond by talking about the Rosenwald Fund and Julian’s father, Horace Mann Bond’s involvement with it. Julian Bond, who inspired the making of The Rosenwald Schools and serves as a consultant, is interviewed in the upcoming documentary.

Happy birthday to Julius Rosenwald today!

Julius Rosenwald in 1917
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection

Today on August 12th would have been Julius Rosenwald’s 152nd birthday. As I am close to finishing The Rosenwald Schools I am confident that J.R. will become nationally known for his good deeds once the film is done. Every week we are receiving notice about a school being restored or how a group of people want to rebuild one. I believe that once this film is done there will be an urge to finish many more schools and know more about J.R. By his 153rd birthday the film should be traveling around the country.

Oprah would be a great choice to renew Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame

Much like the Rosenwald Apartments on Chicago’s South Side, construction on the famous Merchandise Mart was begun just before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. In the early years of the Great Depression, both buildings struggled to make a profit. However, in 1945, Joseph P. Kennedy (father of JFK) purchased the building from the Marshall Field Company and successfully renovated and reinvented the iconic building. Once the largest commercial building in the world by floorspace, it is an Art Deco masterpiece of massive proportions that has housed commercial showrooms and offices for most of a century. It’s located at a picturesque point at a bend in the Chicago River where the first trading post and small businesses were founded in the early days of the city.

The Chicago Loop – the Merchandise Mart can be seen in the lower left
Photo credit: Historic American Buildings Survey via Library of Congress

Part of Kennedy’s reinvigoration of the building was introducing a “Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame,” a series of eight busts of famous merchants from around the country that face the Mart. The first seven men were elected by ballot by members of the national business community and their busts were commissioned at three annual ceremonies in 1953, 1954 and 1955. As one of the great retail magnates of Chicago history, Sears president Julius Rosenwald was part of this initial group, inducted in 1954.

Julius Rosenwald’s bust
Photo credit: Zol87 (flickr)

Today, as some commercial showrooms move out, the Merchandise Mart is being reinvented once again as a center for tech start-ups in River North, a neighborhood near Chicago’s Loop that is home to Google and Groupon. The New York Times reports that floorspace in the Mart that had formerly been used for furniture and design showrooms has gradually been given over to tech businesses by Vornado Realty Group, the owner of the Mart since 1998. Especially interesting is 1871, a non-profit organization that rents a large portion of one of the Mart’s 200,000 square foot floors, and acts as an incubator for small tech start-ups, providing networking, affordable space and even investors. The name 1871 recalls the rebuilding of Chicago after the great fire, and symbolizes the rebirth of River North and the Merchandise Mart as a hub for digital technology.

The Merchandise Mart
Photo credit: Mike Desisto (flickr)

After the initial seven busts of the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame in the early 1950s, the series was revived once more in 1972, to include the famous retailer Montgomery Ward. Today, as the Mart is changing its image again, it may be an opportune time to make a new addition to the Hall of Fame. Montgomery Ward’s induction to the Hall of Fame was not done in the previous manner of advisory committee and national ballot – instead, according to Timothy Garvey (who wrote an article about the Hall of Fame in the Illinois Historical Journal in 1995) it was a more Chicago-centric celebration of a local luminary. Who should be added this time? Should it be Oprah Winfrey, who built her show and media empire in Chicago?

Bust of Marshall Field next to photo of Oprah Winfrey
Photo credits: Damon Taylor (flickr) and Alan Light (flickr)