The place? Ann Arbor, Michigan. The setting? A small movie theater. The time? The early ’70s. A young grad student, Aviva Kempner, sells tickets while attending college at the University of Michigan. Maybe it’s raining out- it rains a lot in Michigan, right?
Flash forward to the present:
On September 24th, Aviva returned to the Michigan Theater to proudly screen her third critically acclaimed documentary with the support of her friends and family! Following the screening, she treated her town of her alma mater with a Q&A about her project and Julius Rosenwald.
Aviva Kempner and her film are mentioned in this article from Architect Magazine, written by Witold Rybczynski.
The article talks about the architectural style used for the Rosenwald schools. Booker T. Washington and Rosenwald’s concept for these projects were community self-help, the buildings were designed and made by the people who would then use them. Advising handbooks were written by Robert Robinson Taylor, who had designed buildings at Tuskegee and many HBCs.
As the school house project moved from Tuskegee to the Rosenwald Fund after the death of Washignton. Rosenwald sought advise from Fletcher Bascom Dresslar, a professor of health education at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. He gave Rosenwald much advice on how to design the school buildings. He focused on functional, simple, traditional buildings. Rybczynski compares them to Shaker architecture.
Frank Lloyd Wright also proposed a design for a Rosenwald School in 1928. His version was far more ambitious, it included a courtyard with a swimming pool and a proscenium stage. Its construction would have included pioneering use of concrete and fieldstone that he would use on later buildings. Wright’s Rosenwald School was never built, probably because it would have been too expensive.
Even with their traditional appearance, the schools incorporated many innovative elements. One example was removable walls, which meant that two classrooms could be combined into one larger room. Classrooms were arranged with large windows facing east and west, which gave the highest possible amount of sunlight to the individual rooms. As many of the buildings did not have electricity, this was a necessary feature.
In total, there were 5,357 Rosenwald schools, shop houses, and teacher’s houses built. Despite arson, vandalism and deliberate neglect from white communities, most remained in use until the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling went into effect in 1954 and specifically black schools were no longer a necessity. Since then, many have fallen into disrepair. However, The National Trust For Historic Preservation is working to restore many of the schools. Additionally, many of the buildings have found new uses as town halls, community centers, and more.
We had a wonderful screening of Rosenwald on Wednesday night at Landmark Theaters Midtown Arts Cinema in Atlanta, Georgia. Andy Young’s daughter was in attendance and made a public statement about the importance of the film. Atlanta City Councilman Michael Bond, the son of Julius, was also there and spoke to Aviva about the film in a discussion moderated by M. Alexis Scott. Scott is the Publisher Emerita of the Atlanta Daily World and is also a member of Fox 5’s Georgia Gang.
This screening was presented with the help of the Atlanta American Jewish Committee, The Black-Jewish Coalition, and the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. We thank them for making this possible.
Regular showings in Atlanta begin on September 18 at the same theater. Aviva will also be making an appearance on the opening night.
People in the DC area can see author Wil Haygood at Politics and Prose this Sunday at 5:00 pm. He will be discussing his new book, Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America. In his book, Haygood details the impact Marshall had on the Supreme Court and examines the cases he faced during his time in that position. Haygood has written many biographies of notable African Americans before. He has previously written books on Sammy Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, and Adam Clay Powell Jr.
While you’re in DC, be sure to check out the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage at 1816 12th Street NW, between S and T Streets. This center is located at the former site of the first YMCA founded for African Americans. The corner stone was placed by Theodore Roosevelt and the YMCA was supported by Julius Rosenwald at the request of President Taft after the grant given by John D. Rockefeller and matched by a groundbreaking fundraising effort with in the black community fell short. The building’s history weaves around the various forms of the Civil Rights movement and has been an active part of the DC community for a century. You can easily reach it by getting off the Metro at the U Street – Cardozo station. It’s just a few blocks away.
On September 1st, Aviva Kempner made an appearance at the Old Greenbelt Theater in Greenbelt, Maryland. In attendance were members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Ten days later, September 11th, Aviva headed to Baltimore, Maryland where Rosenwald was slated to begin screening at the Charles Theater. She was joined at the screening by a special guest:
In addition to a penguin, Aviva was joined by an even more special guest; The King Years trilogy author, Taylor Branch. After the screening, Branch joined Aviva in a discussion on Julius Rosenwald, Civil Rights Movement and Julian Bond.