President Taft makes his first appearance in Presidents Race at Nationals Park

The long-awaited debut of the new addition to the Washington Nationals’ Presidents Race, William Howard Taft, was enjoyed by Nats fans on Monday, opening day of the 2013 baseball season. Taft didn’t win the race, getting bogged down in a tussle with Theodore Roosevelt that recalled for history buffs the infighting of the 1912 election between the two Republicans (and erstwhile friends).

President Taft posing before the game
Photo credit: Andrew Geyer, April 2013

Julius Rosenwald was closely acquainted with Taft, probably closer than with any of the other presidents he met and worked with during his life. We’ve talked about their relationship before on this blog, such as when Rosenwald responded to Taft’s call to build an African American YMCA in Washington D.C. and spent the night at the Taft White House. Taft is a great addition to the Presidents Race, which has already become a cherished tradition to Nats fans.

New Gordon Parks show in Washington D.C.

Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks’ photography has been the subject of a series of exhibitions recently, in the wake of what would have been his 100th birthday on November 30th, 2012. We blogged about a Gordon Parks show at the Schomburg Center in Manhattan last July, and now another collection of his photography will be on display at the Adamson Gallery in Washington, D.C. between March 23rd and May 11th. An opening reception will be held on the 23rd from 6 to 8 PM. Click here for the press release on the Adamson Gallery’s website.

Woody Guthrie tribute concert at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

The great folk singer Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 this year, and the Kennedy Center is celebrating his centennial with a concert featuring a variety of artists like Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Tom Morello, Donovan and Roseanne Cash. Guthrie was a Rosenwald fellow and back in July we talked about the discovery of an unknown novel by him that may have been the product of his 1943 Rosenwald fellowship. We are still awaiting an answer from Douglas Brinkley, who is editing the book with Johnny Depp.

Tickets for the concert are officially sold out but they may be available secondhand. It should be a great show and a great tribute to Guthrie’s enormous legacy.

By Michael Rose

D.C. theater presents Tuskegee Airmen show, “Fly”

A new theatrical production opens tonight at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. “Fly” tells the story of the famous African American Air Force unit from Tuskegee that flew missions during World War II despite facing discrimination in the U.S. According to Jessica Goldstein’s Backstage column in the Washington Post, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, D.C. native Roscoe Brown, consulted on the project. Brown, who was also on the set of George Lucas’s Red Tails, helped the actors get the language and mannerisms of the period right.

Three Tuskegee pilots in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945
Photo credit: Toni Frissell Collection, Library of Congress

The Tuskegee Airmen were featured on this blog last January, when Red Tails was playing in theaters. In 1941, the Rosenwald Fund appropriated a large sum of money to build a training field for in Tuskegee for the new group of African American pilots. Eleanor Roosevelt, a member of the Rosenwald Fund’s board, took a well-publicized flight with one of the pilots to help endorse their skill and potential. More details can be found in our previous blog post.

Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: Robert Goodwin (flickr)

For those who don’t know, Ford’s Theatre is where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. “Fly” is part of a multi-year series of productions at the historic theater that promote tolerance and understanding called the Lincoln Legacy Project.

By Michael Rose

Washington D.C. JCC theatrical productions have Rosenwald Fund connection

Theater J in Washington D.C. has released its schedule for the 2012-2013 season and several of the productions sound very intriguing. One is The Hampton Years, by Jacqueline E. Lawton, which will have its world premiere on May 29th at Theater J and run until June 30th. Lawton’s play, based on a true story, is set between 1939 and 1946 at Hampton University and deals with two young artists named John Biggers and Samella Lewis who are taught by an Austrian Jewish immigrant named Viktor Lowenfeld. The small cast includes two more artists, Rosenwald Fund grantees Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White, who, according to an interview with Lawton, play the part of “mentors and instigators” to the young artists. It’s a fascinating story and it resonates with the Rosenwald Fund in two ways. It’s another example of a remarkable pre-Civil Rights partnership between Jews and African Americans, but it also shows how Rosenwald fellows often went on to mentor other artists.

Coming this November to Theater J is a play about another Rosenwald fellow, Woody Guthrie. Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie tells the story of Guthrie’s life through music. The cast consists of four “actor/musicians” who will play a variety of parts and instruments. This production is one of many tributes taking place this year, marking what would have been the late Guthrie’s 100th birthday. Woody Sez plays from November 8th to December 2nd at Theater J.

By Michael Rose