Great find in the Lessing Rosenwald collection at the Library of Congress

December 19th, 2014

We came across something remarkable at the Library of Congress this week. One of our researchers was there to look at some photos of Lessing Rosenwald, who donated a collection of rare books that has been one of the key components of the Library of Congress’s Rare Book and Special Collections division since his death in 1979. Born in 1891, Lessing was the first child of Julius and Augusta Rosenwald, and followed in his father’s footsteps in the 1930s as president of Sears Roebuck.

Lessing in July 1913 with Edith Goodkind, who he would marry in November of that year
Photo credit: Courtesy of Peter Ascoli

Descendants of the Rosenwalds talk about the divide between Lessing, Adele and Edith Rosenwald, who grew up in a close-knit middle class household, and Marion and William Rosenwald, who came of age after Julius Rosenwald had made his fortune at Sears. Unlike Lessing, Adele and Edith, Marion and William felt a certain distance from their parents as Julius and Augusta’s social and civic obligations began to take up more and more of their time.

Julius Rosenwald with his son Lessing, circa 1895
Photo credit: The estate of Nancy Salazar

Staff at the Library of Congress recently came across Lessing Rosenwald’s “baby book,” a beautiful volume that contains pictures of Lessing as a baby with his two sisters and mother, handwritten notes by his parents about his weight, when he started crawling, and even a lock of his hair from his first haircut. This amazing album sheds some light on the loving family circle Lessing grew up in and it’s a great complement to his legacy, the Rosenwald Room at the Library of Congress and the remarkable collection he so generously donated to the institution.

Augusta Rosenwald with her first three children, Edith, Adele and Lessing
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection archive

Thanks to the staff at the Library of Congress for making this great collection available to all!

Rosenwald Fund fellows Kenneth and Mamie Clark fought segregation

December 15th, 2014

In November, The Rosenwald Schools work in progress screened in Sarasota, Florida. We blogged about the event, which was attended by Kate Harris, the daughter of two famous Rosenwald Fund grant recipients. Kate’s parents, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, were psychologists who worked together to provide evidence for the crucial case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Kate recently reached out to us through email. She understands the importance of the Rosenwald Fund grants, affirming that they “had a major impact on the education of generations of children… just as the Rosenwald Schools did.” Kate also sent these great photos of her parents over the years:


Photos courtesy of Kate Harris

Rosenwald Schools director Aviva Kempner appears at Jewish Folk Arts Festival

December 10th, 2014

On Saturday, Aviva Kempner, director of upcoming documentary The Rosenwald Schools, joined an excellent list of workshop presenters at the 2014 Jewish Folk Arts Festival in Rockville, Maryland. A great audience packed the room to see Aviva present the work in progress version of The Rosenwald Schools, and gave the screening a warm reception. Other than a little mishap on the way there (Aviva and our editor, Marian Hunter got lost) it was a great day. Thanks to the Jewish Folk Arts Festival for putting on a great event!

Another ‘parlor party’ for The Rosenwald Schools

December 9th, 2014

Last Saturday night, Josh Levin and Debra Fried Levin generously hosted a parlor party for me to help fundraise for The Rosenwald Schools, The Ciesla Foundation’s upcoming documentary that is now in post-production.

Photo credit: Adina Kole

I interviewed Debra last year along with her husband Josh for The Rosenwald Schools. Debra and Josh went on an unusual first date. Knowing that she had written her master’s thesis on Julius Rosenwald, Josh took Debra to various sites around Chicago related to Rosenwald’s life: his Kenwood home, the Sears plant he built on the west side and even his grave in Rosehill Cemetery.

Photo courtesy of Debra Fried Levin

I had a great time meeting all of the people the Levins invited. It was good to hear feedback on the work in progress, which screened at the party. One of the attendees, Wayne Firestone, had this to say on Facebook:

After a week of uniformly disturbing news in our country, last night we saw a documentary in progress by dc filmmaker Aviva Kempner about Julius Rosenwald who helped finance 5000 African American schools run by Booker T Washington in the deeply segregated South in the 1920′s. We had a much needed lift of hope as well from speaker Aaron Jenkins who runs DC’s Operation Understanding that promotes ties between blacks and Jews.

Debra Fried Levin and Josh Levin

Thanks to all who attended. If you would like to hold a fundraising parlor party, please contact We would be most grateful for help in finishing the film and you would be listed among the end credits. The Ciesla Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and all contributions are tax-deductible.

Aviva Kempner to appear at Jewish Folk Arts Festival in Rockville, MD

December 3rd, 2014

From The Washington Post:

Jewish Folk Arts Festival The festival continues Sunday with an excerpt from Aviva Kempner’s latest historical documentary, synagogue choirs and cantors, Klezmer bands, art exhibits, university and youth a cappella groups, children’s craft activities, a teen lounge and music jam, Israeli dancing, kosher food and workshops. 1-6 p.m. Sunday at the Universities at Shady Grove, 9630 Gudelsky Dr., Rockville. 301-587-1739. $10, seniors and students $5, preschoolers free, family maximum $4

Is this building a Rosenwald teacherage?

December 2nd, 2014

The Orangeburg, South Carolina Times and Democrat reports that research is underway to determine if a building on the campus of South Carolina State College was the teacherage for a Rosenwald School that once stood on the campus. The Felton County Training School was built in 1925 and, like many Rosenwald Schools, was accompanied by a teacher’s home. Although the school itself was demolished long ago, local historians believe that the building which today houses the student services center once housed the Rosenwald School’s teachers.

Felton County Training School has a famous alumnus. Eugene Robinson, one of our first interviewees for The Rosenwald Schools, attended Felton as a child. In our film, Robinson talks about the carefully considered architecture of the school which allowed for plenty of light and “useful space” for the students.

Read more at the Times and Democrat.

Historic marker for Rosenwald School in Maryland to be unveiled

November 26th, 2014

According to the Capital Gazette, a historic marker will be unveiled at the site of the Phumphrey Rosenwald School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, this Saturday, November 29th. From the article:

The committee believes that honoring the second site with a commemorative plaque honors the contribution of the philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald and the contributions that students who attended the elementary school made to the local and state communities by becoming tradesmen, entrepreneurs, church leaders, clergy, federal workers, teachers, principals, and community organizers.

Read more at the Capital Gazette.

The Rosenwald Schools work in progress screens in Sarasota, Florida

November 25th, 2014

Many thanks to Robert Fitzgerald for organizing a screening of our work in progress at the North Sarasota Library over the weekend. The event was held on Saturday, November 22, and the audience responded to the work in progress screening with warm applause. We were excited to hear from Robert about two of the audience members, Kate Harris and Lt. Col. George Hardy of the Tuskegee Airmen, have personal connections to the Rosenwald story.

Kate Harris is the daughter of Dr. Kenneth Clark, a noted African American educator, Civil Rights activist and psychologist who received a Rosenwald grant in 1940. Along with his wife, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (who received consecutive Rosenwald grants to study psychology in 1940, 1941 and 1942), Dr. Kenneth Clark contributed vital testimony in Brown v. Board of Education, where the Supreme Court found that school segregation led to a “feeling of inferiority” among black students.

Also joining the discussion was Lt. Col George Hardy of the Tuskegee Airmen. Lt. Col. Hardy trained at Tuskegee in 1944 at the Army air field funded by the Rosenwald Fund and served during World War II. The Rosenwald Fund’s involvement with the Tuskegee Airmen will be shown in the final cut of The Rosenwald Schools, scheduled to be released in 2015.

We’re so glad Robert Fitzgerald reached out to us about screening our work in progress. It sounds like he organized a wonderful event. Please contact if you would like to discuss screening the work in progress of The Rosenwald Schools at your upcoming event.

‘Parlor Party’ fundraiser held for The Rosenwald Schools

November 25th, 2014

Last night, my generous friends Matt and Lena Frumin held a parlor party fundraiser for the film at their home in Washington, DC. It was great fun meeting their friends and presenting the work in progress of The Rosenwald Schools.

Doug Singer and Jerimiah Cohen contributed delicious food to the dinner. Jerimiah has offered to make free delivery of food ordered to his company if you give $2,500 or more to the Ciesla Foundation.

Jeremiah Cohen of Bullfrog Bagels with Matt and Lena Frumin
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2014

Bagels and fish were provided by Bullfrog Bagels and the meat was catered by Singer’s Significant Meats.

Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2014

Julian Bond, a consultant to the film, was also on hand to talk about his family’s connections to the Rosenwald Fund and how he inspired me to the make the documentary.

Councilmember-elect Brianne Nadeau, Lorie Masters, Councilmember Mary Cheh and Ward 3 school board member elect Ruth Wattenberg
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2014

In attendance were some of DC’s finest public officials. If you would like to hold a fundraising parlor party, please contact We would be most grateful for help in finishing the film and you would be listed among the end credits. The Ciesla Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and all contributions are tax-deductible.

New center at New-York Historical Society will showcase women’s history, with spotlight on Zora Neale Hurston

November 22nd, 2014

According to The New York TimesArtBeat column, a new Center for the Study of Women’s History is planned by the New-York Historical Society, slated to open in late 2016. Among the new building’s features is a large-scale multimedia video that highlights significant female leaders from the past, including Zora Neale Hurston, who received a Rosenwald grant in 1935 to study anthropology.

You can read more about the project at ArtBeat. The editor of The Rosenwald Schools, Marian Sears Hunter, also worked on a great documentary about Zora called Jump at the Sun.