By AVIVA KEMPNER NOV. 29, 2017 New York Times
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It’s heartening that so many Confederate statues are being taken down in the South. But that’s not enough. We must also restore pieces of our national heritage that were wrongly destroyed. First on the list should be “The Harp,” a magnificent work by the noted African-American sculptor Augusta Savage that was demolished at the closing of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
Savage was born in Green Cove Springs, Fla., in 1892. She moved to New York in 1921, where she studied at Cooper Union. Around 1923, Savage was rejected by a summer program at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in France because of her race. Savage publicly protested, and the rejection became a cause célèbre covered by newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.
But Savage didn’t let this snub deter her. During the Harlem Renaissance, she established herself as an artist and teacher, creating busts of prominent African-Americans like W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey.
In the 1920s she produced “Gamin,” a plaster bust likely based on her nephew now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which helped her win a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study art in Paris in 1929.
With the Rosenwald grant, Savage made works that were displayed at the Grand Palais in Paris. She went on to win two additional Rosenwald Fellowships, as well as a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. These awards permitted her to stay in Europe for a bit longer, allowing her to escape American racism.
Augusta Savage working on a sculpture in New York in 1938.
Hansel Mieth/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Savage returned to New York in 1932. Soon afterward, she founded the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, where artists like Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis developed their skills.
Her big break came in 1937, when Savage was commissioned by the World’s Fair to create a sculpture which would symbolize the musical works done by African- Americans. She took a two-year leave of absence from a job as director of the Harlem Community Art Center to concentrate on this project.
Savage called her sculpture “Lift Every Voice and Sing” after James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson’s song, the Negro national anthem. But the organizing committee renamed her piece “The Harp” against her wishes.
A 16-foot-tall plaster piece, “The Harp” was Savage’s last major work. It featured 12 stylized black singers representing the strings of the harp. The arm of God forms the sounding board with a young man in front kneeling and holding sheets of music.
It was one of the most popular pieces of art displayed at the World’s Fair. “Miss Savage’s creation stands in a niche at the focal point of the building front and is commented upon by practically everyone who passes,” wrote the journalist Lillian Johnson in The Afro-American, a Baltimore newspaper.
Despite the widespread praise, Savage lacked the money to store her the sculpture or have it cast in bronze. It was bulldozed at the end of the fair. (The Schomburg Center in Harlem does have a small bronze version of the sculpture.)
It gets worse. After the fair, Savage discovered that the Harlem Community Arts Center had given her job to someone else. She tried to create independent art centers in Harlem, but didn’t have enough money to sustain them. Savage died in March 27, 1962, after a long battle with cancer.
While Savage is gone, her great work, “The Harp” need not be lost forever. It should be recreated and displayed in New York City, where it had such an impact in 1939. The City Council should earmark funds to do this.
Or better yet, how about placing a second replica of “The Harp” in front of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington for all to see? It would be a fitting tribute to Savage, whom the art historian Richard Powell calls “a legend in African-American art history because so much of her life was filled with struggle, with perseverance and with creativity, all mixed up.”
Aviva Kempner is the director of the documentary “Rosenwald” about the philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.
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With support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Ciesla Foundation is proud to have offered a free screening of Rosenwald at UDC’s David A. Clarke Law School on November 7, 2017, in cooperation with Howard Law School and UDC. The panel discussion following the film screening, which included Director Aviva Kempner, Dean of UDC Law School Shelley Katherine Broderick, Dean of Howard Law Danielle Holley-Walker and Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, touched upon a range of issues and topics brought up in the film.
(Left to Right) UDC board member Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, Dean of UDC Law Shelley Katherine Broderick, Dean of Howard Law Danielle Holley-Walker and Director Aviva Kempner Photo: Bruce Guthrie
Kempner and Holley-Walker spoke about the legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston, his important work as a lawyer and the footage he filmed at segregated schools in the Jim Crow South. His footage was used in Rosenwald.
Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis spoke about the Rosenwald Fund and the impact it had on her father, Dr. Charles Drew. Thanks to the Fund, he was able to finish medical school and later save thousands of lives by pioneering the blood bank during WWII.
As with most Rosenwald screenings, audience members found resonance with the film and were surprised by how unknown Rosenwald’s story is despite his continuing relevance. Many were unfamiliar with the historical alliance between the Jewish and African-American communities. One audience member was named after Julius Rosenwald himself and was enlightened to hear about the legacy of his father’s name and his own. Another audience member had attended a Rosenwald School, while another remembered his family giving their property to build such a school. It is inspiring to see the continuing legacy of Rosenwald’s work to this day, and to experience how this documentary helps inform viewers about their own histories.
(Left to Right) Dr. DeMaurice Moses, Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, Student of Rosenwald School, Deputy Ambassador for Israel Reuven Azar, Director Aviva Kempner Photo: Bruce Guthrie
The reception after the screening took place at the Israeli Embassy, where cultural attaché Delphine Gamburg welcomed guests. Gamburg also initiated the planning of this event. Following Gamburg, Deputy Ambassador Reuven Azar spoke on the long standing support the Jewish community has had for the equal rights of African Americans and his pleasure in hosting an event that coincides with Jewish values.
Washington D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh gave an appreciative and warm appraisal of Kempner’s Rosenwald, saying “Each time I see it, it’s even better than the last. … [F]rom all your films, Rosenwald has to be one of your best.”
Aviva Kempner concluded the night by thanking all those involved in helping coordinate the event. Having a family connection to Israel, Kempner was touched the Embassy extended a hand to host the reception. Kempner announced she is excited to bring Rosenwald to Israel in January to the Diaspora Museum and knows that the film will have resonance with Jewish and black communities there.
The Ciesla Foundation plans to continue forming partnerships with institutions that value the preservation of history, furthering of education, as well as ensuring that if we all continue to work together, we can repair the world.
Julius Rosenwald Ware II (Named after JR) and Israeli Cultural Attache Delphine Gamburg Photo: Bruce Guthrie
The Ciesla Foundation
Julius Rosenwald’s Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.
Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who headed Sears over 100 years ago, lived in Chicago but his generosity extended all over the United States, including to Washington, D.C.
In 1911, Rosenwald answered a request by President William Howard Taft to provide the final donation needed to finish the building of the African-American YMCA on 12th Street in D.C., known today as the Thurgood Marshall Center. Tonight’s screening features the bonus feature, “Building the 12th Street YMCA,” which is one of the 39 bonus features on the recently released Rosenwald DVD.
This bonus feature focuses on the construction of the 12th Street Y in Washington, D.C., thanks to fundraising in the African-American community and generous grants from the Rockefeller family and Julius Rosenwald, as well as the Y’s impact on the local community. Professors and students from Howard University, athletes, and artists frequented the 12th Street YMCA. They included poet Langston Hughes, basketball player and coach John Thompson, and musician Duke Ellington.
The Q&A after the screening will feature personal stories about the legacy of the 12th Street YMCA from Charlene Drew Jarvis, daughter of Dr. Charles Drew, and Norris Dodson, former board member of the Thurgood Marshall Center. Dr. Charles Drew and Norris Dodson both played basketball at the 12th Street YMCA as young men. Their stories speak specifically to the values the 12th Street YMCA imparted on the African-American community in Washington, D.C.
The other stirring bonus feature to be shown, “Dr. Charles Drew: His work saved thousands of lives,” focuses on the accomplished Dr. Charles Drew, a physician and medical researcher, who the Rosenwald Fund supported during his last year of medical school. His pioneering work on blood transfusions is still used today. Drew also fought segregationist policies in hospitals and the American Medical Association (AMA). Despite his many accomplishments, Dr. Drew was still subjected to the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow South.
His daughter, Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, former DC council woman, reminisces about her father.
October 16th 2017 marked the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Rosenwald Fund and the completion of the Rosenwald 2-disc DVD with 39 bonus features, a director’s commentary, and access to an online teaching guide. The event was held at the Eldavitch DC-JCC with contributors and supporters of the film in atendence
The Eldavitch DC-JCC’s theatre screened seven out of the 39 bonus features to be released on the Rosenwald DVD. The bonus features screened included “The Lynching of Leo Frank”, “Dr. Charles Drew”, “Rabbi Emil Hirsch leads Chicago Sinai Congregation”, “The 1919 Chicago Riots”, “Rosenwald and the NAACP”, “Rescued during WWII” and, “Langston Hughes.”
Each screened bonus feature was followed by panel discussions. Panelists included author Stephanie Deutsch; Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat; civil rights lawyer Leslie Harris; daughter of Dr. Charles Drew, Charlene Drew Jarvis; author Gary Krist; activist poet Ethelbert Miller; Chicago Tribune Columnist Clarence Page; Rabbi David Saperstein; and Julius Rosenwald’s great grandson, David Stern.
The discussions following each of the screenings allowed panelists to lend their expertise and personal experiences to these important stories. Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat spoke about his upbringing in Atlanta, where the story of Leo Frank was often discussed within the Jewish community, but the Holocaust was rarely mentioned. Eizenstat argued that the legacy of Leo Frank actually scared the Jewish community away from involving themselves in the fight for racial equality in the South. Lawyer Leslie Harris also grew up in Atlanta, but experienced a different reality in the Southern Jewish community. Harris, unlike Eizenstat, had not heard of Leo Frank’s legacy until much later in her life, and because of her personal encounters with anti-Semitism, she was inspired to become an ACLU lawyer.
Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis spoke about the impact of the Rosenwald Fund on her father, Dr. Charles Drew, and his work. Dr. Jarvis brought a letter written by her father, expressing his grief upon hearing the Rosenwald Fund no longer exists and wrote “It is very doubtful I could have continued my studies in Medicine in 1932-1933 if I had not received a Rosenwald Fellowship”. Dr. Jarvis spoke about her father’s adamant resistance to the widely believed notion that African Americans could not donate blood to aid wounded WWII soldiers.
Rabbi David Saperstein, described as “America’s most influential Rabbi”, spoke about the influence Rabbi Emil Hirsch had on Reform Judaism. Rabbi Saperstein, much like Julius Rosenwald, was inspired by Hirsch’s social awareness and attributed Hirsch’s work to the foundation of Jewish Reform ethics. Hirsch’s legendary sermons encouraged the Jewish community to help in the fight for social and racial justice.
Author Gary Krist and Chicago Tribune Columnist Clarence Page weighed in on the impact of the 1919 Chicago Riots. Krist spoke of his fascination with the way cities were formed during the early 20th century and the consequences the great migration had on racial tensions in Chicago. Krist explained that during the First World War, African Americans from the South were scouted to replace the drafted men in the work force and once the soldiers returned, racial tensions sored.
Page spoke about how a lot of underlying racial tensions are still present today since the riots. Page recalls that in 20th century America, both the North and South were uniformly racist, the only difference being the blatant signage of racism in the south.
Following the bonus feature on “Rosenwald and NAACP”, Rabbi Saperstein spoke about the Jewish Community as being an integral part of the fight for racial justice from the beginning. Saperstein mentioned that Jews felt that if they could be persecuted similarly to African Americans, then they were “in the fight together”. Clarence Page spoke about the remarkable relationship the African-American and Jewish communities have had historically and the inspiration it gave many African-American leaders, including Martin Luther King.
(Below) Stephanie Deutsch and David Stern
Author Stephanie Deutsch and great grandson of Julius Rosenwald David Stern spoke following the bonus feature on how the Rosenwald family helped rescue 300 family members from Nazi Germany. Stephanie Deutsch, married to David Deutsch, another great grandson of Julius Rosenwald, spoke on her experience at a recent family reunion. Deutsch recalled her disbelief at the amount of family members present that were decedents of the German family rescued during WWII.
David Stern, spoke about upholding his family’s legacy of philanthropy. Stern recalls even as a child listening into this parents’ discussions and debates over which causes were best to place their donations towards. Currently executive director of Equal Justice Works, David Stern has dedicated his life towards mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice.
Mr. Ethlebert Miller, a poet and activist, concluded the night after the showing of the bonus feature on Langston Hughes. Mr. Miller spoke about the impact of the Rosenwald Fund on Langston Hughes and highlighted how Hughes’s work inspired the African-American community to embrace their own beauty and ingenuity in the face of their oppression.
Overall, the night was a tremendous success and served as a dedicated thank you to all the supporters and contributors who made the film possible as well introducing audiences to the upcoming bonus features. The Ciesla Foundation is planning many more events of this nature all over the country to celebrate the release of the DVD and to continue to educate the public on the important issues raised in the film.