Recently deceased California politician was influenced by Booker T. Washington

We were reminded of Julius Rosenwald last week while reading the obituary of Mervyn M. Dymally in The Washington Post.

“Mervyn Malcolm Dymally was born May 12, 1926, in Cedros, Trinidad, West Indies. He once told the Los Angeles Sentinel that he had been drifting toward a life as a ne’er-do-well when a book he found about Booker T. Washington, the influential African American writer and orator, inspired him to come to the United States, at age 19, for his education.”

(Mervyn M. Dymally obituary, The Washington Post, October 8th, 2012)

It was a similarly transformative moment in Rosenwald’s life when he read Booker T. Washington’s autobiograhy Up from Slavery in 1910. Like Mr. Dymally, Washington’s inspiring life story encouraged Rosenwald to devote his life to public service.

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

Theatrical production of Rosenwald fellow’s famous novel premieres in D.C.

A theatrical production of Ralph Ellison’s seminal 1952 novel, Invisible Man premieres tonight at the Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. Ellison began working on Invisible Man in 1945, with the resources provided to him by a Rosenwald Fellowship. This is the second staging of Oren Jacoby’s theatrical adaptation of the novel, which had never before been adapted in any form. The Studio Theatre’s show features the same director and star as the early 2012 premiere production at the Court Theater at the University of Chicago. Jessica Goldstein describes the most striking feature of the stage design in today’s Washington Post, the 650 light bulbs that light up the eponymous character’s underground dwelling. Information about the schedule and tickets can be found on the Studio Theatre’s website.

Ralph Ellison, 1961
United States Information Agency via Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

William Raspberry connection to the Rosenwald Schools

On Tuesday, July 17th, William Raspberry, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The Washington Post, passed away in his home. In almost forty years as a columnist (he retired in 2005) Raspberry wrote thousands of opinion pieces in which he carved out a complicated ethical position on racial politics, urban violence and the importance of education. Raspberry was raised by two teachers in Okolona, Mississippi; his mother, Willa, who, at 106, still lives in Indianapolis and his father, James, who died at 89 in 1991.

On the occasion of his father’s funeral in 1991, Raspberry remembered him in a column in The Washington Post as a passionate and committed educator, recalling how in 1918 his father helped construct a Rosenwald school in a rural community in Mississippi. “He would spend part of the day teaching students—often under a tree—and the rest building the school,” (“Gifts of a Good Man,” The Washington Post, June 12, 1991). According to Mississippi Women: Their Histories, Their Lives, by Martha H. Swain, Elizabeth Anne Payne and Marjorie Julian Spruill, the school was in Dorsey, Mississippi. James Raspberry moved on from there to serve as principal in another Rosenwald School in Friendship, Mississippi, where he met William’s mother, Willa Tucker, an English teacher at the same school. Raspberry remembered in his early life that his parents’ home was a place where the children of extended family members would stay during the school year because their hometowns had no schools open to African Americans.

In his final column in 2005, Raspberry spoke about his own contribution to the improvement of education in his home state of Mississippi, a state that has some of the worst educational outcomes in America. Raspberry founded “Baby Steps” in Okolona, an organization that works to break the cycle of low achievement in school by engaging both children and parents in developing a positive home environment. Raspberry’s contributions to education as an adult can be traced back to his own positive early family life. In his final column, he also spoke of his belief that “pulling a community together around the future of its children can do wonders to transform both”, a statement that resonates strongly with the story of Rosenwald Schools. His passing was truly a loss and we regret missing the opportunity to add his voice to The Rosenwald Schools as an interview subject.

By Michael Rose