Preserving Julius Rosenwald’s Profound Story

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, an apt time to share the contributions of Julius Rosenwald, whose challenge grants were pivotal in building nearly 5,000 Rosenwald Schools that educated one-third of African-American children in the South before school integration.

In 2015, I saw D.C. filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s documentary “Rosenwald.” I had never heard of the Jewish philanthropist. It was a transformative experience. Read More

Black Education Before Brown

“It’s a story that touches every pillar of my life,” says Andrew Feiler W’84. “I am Jewish, I am Southern, I am progressive. So, how could I never have heard of it?” 

The Atlanta-based photographer is referring to the history he explores in his latest book, A Better Life for Their Children(University of Georgia Press). The result of a three-and-a-half-year quest that took Feiler to 15 states, the book surveys a small fraction of the 4,977 schools built between 1912 and 1932 (one more school was added in 1937) for Black students across the South. Known as Rosenwald schools, they were the product of a unique partnership between Julius Rosenwald, the Jewish president of Sears Roebuck, and Booker T. Washington, the prominent Black educator.  Read More

Juneteenth and Questioning a President’s Legacy

Today we celebrate Juneteenth, the anniversary of Union Army General, Gordon Granger, announcing that all enslaved people in Texas were free. Texas was the most remote, and the last, state in the Confederacy to officially receive the news.

In honor of the holiday, a vigil was held at DC’s own Woodrow Wilson High School as part of efforts to change the school’s name. The DC History of Justice Collective is heading a grassroots effort to change the school’s name to better reflect the city’s, as well as national, values. President Wilson’s administration is remembered for demoting black workers in the civil service as well as instituting racist policies, including segregation in housing and education, that destroyed the black middle class in Washington, DC.

As highlighted in Ciesla’s “Rosenwald” documentary (the full clip of which can be seen here), Woodrow Wilson saw the film “Birth of a Nation,” by D.W. Griffith, at the White House in 1915. The film borrowed heavily from Wilson’s own work, “A History of the American People”. While the film today is recognized for its vile racist propaganda and the part it played in reviving the KKK in America, at the time Wilson said of the film, “It is all so terribly true.”

Like Rosenwald at the time who, along with the NAACP, helped to get the film banned from playing in Chicago, there is an understanding now that “Birth of a Nation,” is a deeply racist and fictitious portrayal of history. That understanding should extend to President Woodrow Wilson himself. He should no longer be honored with a school that bears his name.

A National Park for Julius Rosenwald, Rosenwald Schools Updating, and a Pi Day to Remember

Ciesla’s offices are currently closed. We hope you all stay safe and healthy in these uncertain times.
Take care, Aviva and the Ciesla staff.





A Rosenwald Park

A bill authored by House Democratic Reps. Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Danny Davis of Illinois (who is interviewed in Rosenwald) would establish a national park to honor Julius Rosenwald, the philanthropist who established schools throughout the South to remedy the afflictions of segregation. This week the Natural Resources Committee advanced the bill.
“Julius Rosenwald was a visionary philanthropist whose altruism and philosophy of giving embodied the Jewish concept of tzedakah — social justice and charity,” Cohen said. “He partnered with African American communities across the South to help build schools for children with limited access to good public education.” 

Rosenwald School News

Citizen Times from Asheville, North Carolina reports on the Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School:
In other Rosenwald school updates, The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has announced the Eleanor Roosevelt School building in Warm Springs, Georgia has been has been sold to Debron Williams and his sister Voncher Williams, who are keeping preservation in mind moving forward. The Trust made the announcement on March 14, 2020.

Pi Day

March 14th is known to some math enthusiasts as “Pi Day,” and to even more as the birthday of legendary physicist Albert Einstein. Looking back, it’s hard to forget one of his most iconic birthdays in 1949, when children who were relocated from a displaced persons camp visited Einstein at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. Also present, the man responsible for the children’s visit, none other than Julius Rosenwald’s son, William Rosenwald. We were proud to have interviewed William Rosenwald’s daughters, Alice Rosenwald and Elizabeth Varet, in Rosenwald.


Image from, Albert Einstein celebrating his 70th birthday with children from a displaced persons camp on March 13, 1949, at his home in Princeton, N.J. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Madam C.J. Walker tackled the politics of black hair. More than a century later, the battle still rages on.
(Photo of Madam C.J. Walker from Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


Series Debuts on the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

Businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker is the subject of Self Made, a new series on Netflix. Among her many accomplishments, Walker generously contributed to the founding of a Black YMCA in Indianapolis. Her story is also featured in Rosenwald. 
Self Made is based on the true story of Walker, an African American washerwoman who rises from poverty to build a beauty empire and become the first female self-made millionaire. The series stars Octavia Spencer as Walker along with Tiffany Haddish and Carmen Ejogo.

Watch a Free Rosenwald Bonus Feature on Madam C.J. Walker

The Ciesla Foundation also produced a bonus feature on Madam Walker, which is among the four-and-a-half hours of bonus features found on the Rosenwald DVD. Order your DVD here and enjoy a preview, as we are offering the Walker bonus feature for free.

A’Lelia Bundles

We were honored to interview DC-based journalist and writer A’Lelia Bundles in Rosenwald. Bundles spoke of how her great-great-grandmother Madam C.J. Walker donated funds to build a YMCA in Indianapolis. 

After you see the Netflix series on Madam Walker, make sure to pick up her book Self Made (the inspiration for the series starring Octavia Spencer). Self Made was originally published as On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker.

A’Lelia Bundles (above) 
and her book Self Made (below) 

Local Advice on the Pandemic

The Ciesla Foundation is located in Washington, DC in Ward 3. Our councilwoman, Mary Cheh, sent out these instructions as we all endure the pandemic:
“These tragic losses underscore the need for all of us to seriously undertake social distancing and to stay at home whenever possible—not just for our own sake, but for the safety and wellbeing of each other, especially in consideration of the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to this virus.”

The impact of impartial love

A recent article by the president of Berea College celebrates the lives of Julian Bond and his family and the roles that impartial love, a founding principle of the university. Read the full piece here.