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.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC – November 7, 2017 – In honor of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Rosenwald Fund, the Ciesla Foundation, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), and the Israeli Embassy will present a FREE screening and discussion of Aviva Kempner’s ROSENWALD on November 7th at 4:30pm. The screening at UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law will be followed by a 7:00pm reception at the Israeli Embassy. This event also celebrates the Rosenwald two-disc DVD release, available for purchase November 7, 2017. The documentary focuses on Julius Rosenwald, a businessman and visionary whose “legacy of correcting society’s ills during the Jim Crow period is sadly pertinent today as America still needs to address racial inequalities in our society,” says award-winning filmmaker Kempner, also a graduate of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law’s predecessor, the Antioch School of Law
Acknowledging Kempner’s contributions to social justice, Dean of UDC Law Katherine “Shelley” Broderick says, “UDC Law is now, as it was when Kempner attended it during its founding years, the nation’s law school most committed to training lawyers through the provision of legal services to low-income people.”
A panel discussion will follow the Rosenwald screening with honored guests: Danielle Holley-Walker, dean of Howard University School of Law, Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, daughter of Dr. Charles Drew, and filmmaker Kempner. Dean Broderick will moderate the discussion. Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh will welcome guests at the Israeli embassy.
Dr. Drew Jarvis, whose father Dr. Charles Drew received a Rosenwald Fund grant and pioneered blood storage methods used by the American Red Cross, is also a member of the UDC Board of Trustees. She notes, “Julius Rosenwald recognized the enormous potential, strength of character and unparalleled talent existing in the African-American community. That’s why when Booker T. Washington asked, he gave his time and treasure to help build 5,000 schools for black children in the south.”
Dean Holley-Walker and Kempner will shed light on the legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston, whose film footage of Southern segregated schools supported legal arguments in desegregation cases, like the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education decision. This historical footage can be found in Rosenwald. Houston, who was a dean of Howard University School of Law from 1929-1935, was also a mentor to civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall and is known as the “man who killed Jim Crow.”
In the spirit of Rosenwald’s efforts to address systemic and social discrimination faced by African-American and Jewish communities, the Israeli Embassy will host a reception after the screening. The Israeli cultural attaché, Ms. Delphine Gamburg, initiated this partnership. “We need to continue the dialogue on the long-standing African-American and Jewish alliances. It is essential, particularly in the climate of tension as we know it today, to maintain and strengthen the ties between African- American and Jewish communities. More than ever, we must work hand in hand together for greater fraternity, solidarity and justice,” she said.
On April 19th, a screening of the Rosenwald documentary in Rockville, Maryland—just outside Washington, DC—focused on the little-known but history changing connection between a Rosenwald school there and Thurgood Marshall’s long road to the 1954 Supreme Court decision overturning school segregation.
In 1936, William Gibbs, a teacher and acting principal of the Rockville Rosenwald elementary school, filed a lawsuit against the county school board over the unequal salaries paid to black teachers. Mr. Gibbs, who received $612 a year, compared to $1,175 paid to a similarly experienced white teacher, was represented by a young Thurgood Marshall—just a few years out of law school. The school board filed a motion to have the case dismissed outright, but the county judge, recognizing the significance of the case, asked two other judges from a neighboring county to join him; ultimately the three-judge panel rejected the county’s attempt to quash the case in June 1937.
William Gibbs – courtesy of Peerless Rockville
Thurgood Marshall in 1936 –
Courtesy of Library of Congress
“This landmark decision marked the first time that any court in the nation had found that black professionals with the same experience and credentials as white professionals had the right to equal pay,” said Larry Gibson, professor at the University of Maryland (UMD) School of Law and author of Young Thurgood, a biography of the future Supreme Court justice focusing on his early career. The case thus represents Thurgood Marshall’s first legal victory involving public school segregation (he had earlier succeeded in forcing the UMD law school to admit a black student—his first legal victory on the graduate school level). “It all began in Rockville, Maryland,” concluded Gibson, referring to the ensuing legal battle against public school segregation throughout the South.
Larry S. Gibson – courtesy of Larry S. Gibson (website)
Following the hearing in the teacher pay case, the county school board agreed to equalize salaries within two years, but William Gibbs was fired over his qualifications to serve as acting principal. Decades later, the county named one of its elementary schools for him.
Gibbs Elementary School today – courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools
The April 19 Rosenwald screening was co-sponsored by Peerless Rockville, a nonprofit historic preservation organization, and the Universities at Shady Grove, a UMD branch campus. A total of 17 Rosenwald schools were built in Montgomery County, Maryland—including the first high school for African American students in 1927, next to the Rockville Rosenwald grade school where William Gibbs taught. Neither building remains, but 5 others in the county still stand, including the Smithville Rosenwald School which has been restored as a museum/community center.
Rockville Rosenwald school – courtesy of Peerless Rockville
Following a special April 6 screening of Rosenwald at Hampton University, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a National Park Service grant to help Virginia identify and survey the sites of former Rosenwald schools. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Preservation Virginia will receive $50,000 from the Underrepresented Communities Grant Program to support its longstanding effort to properly recognize the schools with state historical markers and designations to the Virginia Landmark Register and National Register of Historic Places.
The screening was organized by Ms. Brett Glymph, the Director of Virginia Outdoor Foundation. Mr. Bill Thomas, Hampton’s University Associate Vice President, introduced filmmaker Aviva Kempner who talked about the film and answered questions. President William R. Harvey of Hampton University introduced the Governor who made the announcement. President Harvey hosted a lovely reception afterwards. The screening was the latest showing of Rosenwald screenings scheduled for the Southern tour of Historical Black Colleges, supported by Reva and David Logan Foundation.
Left to right: Filmmaker Aviva Kemper with Brett Glymph, Director of Virginia Outdoor Foundation and
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
The Governor’s office released a statement. “In Virginia and beyond, ignorance has been used as a weapon of oppression. Education has always been the salvation of the oppressed,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “By building schools, Rosenwald and Washington confronted racism at its core and laid a foundation for the Civil Rights Movement. The legacy of their labors continues to shape our Commonwealth and country today.”
The Rosenwald Rural Schools Initiative provided matching grants to support the construction of educational facilities designed by professors from the all-Black Tuskegee Institute. By requiring buy-in from both white school boards and Black communities, the Initiative ensured that, once built, the schools would have the resources and support necessary to succeed. A 2011 study by the Central Reserve Bank of Chicago found that the Rosenwald Rural Schools Initiative achieved significant educational gains in the Southern Black community, with the largest impact seen in the most disadvantaged areas.
“The history we chose to recognize is as much an illustration of who we are as who we were,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward. “This grant will allow us to continue the important work of bringing much-deserved focus to these unfairly forgotten schools and their untold stories.”
“This generous support from the National Park Service enables the Department of Historic Resources to continue its efforts to recognize and protect properties associated with important, yet often ignored, chapters of the Commonwealth’s rich history. Partnering with communities to identify and record properties associated with diverse and heretofore under-represented constituencies is among our highest priorities,” said Virginia Department of Historic Resources Director Julie Langan.
“Rosenwald Schools were centers not just for learning, but for neighborhood investment and pride in many African American communities across the Commonwealth,” said Preservation Virginia CEO Elizabeth Kostelny. “Preservation Virginia looks forward to working with the Department of Historic Resources and former Rosenwald communities to heighten awareness about this important but often overlooked history.”
Certificate of Recognition for Rosenwald Schools of Virginia Day, April 6, 2017
Last week Aviva Kempner travelled to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for a screening of Rosenwald and to deliver a talk on the film. Her remarks were an installment in the Sylvia and Irving Margolis Lecture on the Jewish Experience in the American South. The event was hosted by the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, a sub department within UNC Chapel Hill that seeks to “unite the general public, students and faculty from various academic disciplines who share a common passion for a deeper understanding of Jewish history, culture and thought.” (CCJS Mission Statement)
On November, 15th Southern Vermont College will welcome Rosenwald director Aviva Kempner for a screening and talk following the film. As well as giving her talk, Kempner will also be discussing the film and related topics with Southern Vermont College Humanities students and Bennington’s Temple Beth El.
Read more from the Bennington Bannner here.