June 6, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy. A service was held at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of his legacy. Aviva Kempner, who attended the memorial, noticed historical parallels mentioned at the service with topics in the Rosenwald documentary.
The event began with a musical prelude, “Life Every Voice and Sing,” written by James Weldon Johnson and often referred to as the “Black/African-American National Anthem” (and also served as inspiration for the sculptor Augusta Savage’s famous piece “The Harp”). Writer and poet James Weldon received several Rosenwald grants in the dates 1928, 1930, and 1931.
One of several notable speakers at the memorial as well as an interviewee in the Rosenwald film was Congressman John Lewis. Congressman Lewis read the words from one of Robert Kennedy’s speeches. In the film, Congressman Lewis spoke of his successes and positive work he’s done for the country, an inspirational achievement knowing his humble beginnings were in a Rosenwald school.
The memorial, filled with musical performances and meaningful testimonies by Kennedy’s daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, community leaders, and other elected officials, was not only a beautiful tribute to Robert F. Kennedy, but also served as a celebration to inspire us to continue to persevere in the face of adversity and build a better world.
On February 13, 2018 Aviva Kempner traveled to Chicago to share with residents in Julius Rosenwald’s hometown a few selected examples of the 39 bonus features created for the Rosenwald DVD.
Upon arrival in Chicago, Aviva made her way to the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, a building complex that was the brainchild of Julius Rosenwald to provide housing for the middle class in 1929. The building has been newly restored and is now known as the Rosenwald Courts. Robert Charles, a consultant to Alderwoman Pat Dowell who masterminded the political efforts of the restoration, guided Kempner through a tour of the reception areas and the renovated apartments.
The apartments were closed in 1999 and lay in disrepair for years. Kudos to the political push by Dowell and the $132 million renovation project, developed by Landwhite Developers, for restoring the building to its original glory. The reception areas on the first floor, beautifully designed by Ann Bergman of Paragon Commercial Interiors, reflect the legacy of the philanthropist and the Rosenwald Fund. The restoration is winning numerous awards, including an award from The Chicago Neighborhood Development earlier this year.
Posters of the Rosenwald film adorn the walls as well as photos of previous tenants such as Nat King Cole, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Metcalfe, Quincy Jones, Jessie Owens and works by Rosenwald Fund grant recipient Jacob Lawrence. The presence of these photos in the hallways serves as a testimony to the legacy of this building and the support it gave to the African American community during this period in history.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel today joined Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) CEO Eugene Jones, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and community stakeholders to reopen the historic Rosenwald Courts.
Renovated Rosenwald Court Apartments
Once the storefronts are open and renovation is complete, Aviva Kempner and The Ciesla Foundation hope to commemorate the restoration of the Rosenwald Courts by presenting screenings of bonus features in the building.
Following the tour of the Michigan Boulevard Apartments, a Rosenwald bonus feature screening was held at Chicago Sinai Congregation. The bonus features shown were “1919 Chicago Riots,” “Michigan Boulevard Apartments,” “Rabbi Emil Hirsch,” and “Rosenwald and the NAACP.”
After the screening, Rabbi Seth M. Limmer, Senior Rabbi at Chicago Congregation, Dr. Barbara Bowman, previous tenant of the Michigan Boulevard Apartments and daughter of architect Robert Taylor, Alderwoman Pat Dowell, and Peter Ascoli, grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald joined Aviva for a panel discussion.
Current tenants of the Rosenwald Courts and members of Temple Sinai were in the audience. Educator and interviewee Don Stewart and Rosenwald school alumni William Buchner also attended.
Audience members enjoyed a lively and enriching conversation as the panelists spoke on the lasting impact Rosenwald had on Chicago and how Rabbi Hirsch was a great source of inspiration for Rosenwald. The event was co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.
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PreserveCast Ep. 60: The Rosenwald Schools with Aviva Kempner
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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