Aviva Kempner to lead discussion at Jewish Study Center event

November 17th, 2014

Tuesday night (11/18), Aviva Kempner will be the instructor for a class at The National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington D.C. (1811 R Street NW) sponsored by the Jewish Study Center. Ms. Kempner, director of the upcoming documentary The Rosenwald Schools, will show excerpts from her film and discuss her film’s subject, Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.

You can read more about Tuesday night and other upcoming Jewish Study Center courses here.

Noted Civil Rights Attorney John Doar Dies, Rosenwald Interviewee Rep. John Lewis Quoted

November 14th, 2014

The black and white footage of the statuesque Justice Department attorney John Doar, escorting James Meredith to attempt to register at the University of Mississippi, are unforgettable in U.S. Civil Rights history. Doar died November 11 at age 92 in New York. Of Doar’s distinguished legal career, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an interviewee in The Rosenwald Schools, stated, “Every major step in the South in those days- he was there.” In his seven years as the second highest ranking Civil Rights attorney at the DOJ, in addition to to successfully prosecuting the killers of Civil Rights volunteers James Chaney. Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, Doar won a conviction of the gunman who killed Selma voting rights volunteer and Detroit mother Viola Luozzo.

There were Rosenwald Schools in every Southern U.S. state, as well as Maryland and Texas. Doar tried Civil Rights cases in nearly all those states, sometimes appearing in courtrooms in three states on the same day.

The pioneering attorney who died this Veterans Day, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War Two. He graduated Princeton University, where the 6’4″ Doar played on the basketball team in the mid-1940′s. His first years at Justice were under President Eisenhower. After the Civil Rights Movement, Doar served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, where he led an impeachment inquiry against President Nixon in 1973. One of the young attorneys on his staff was Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Historians have said the Civil Rights Movement was fought on three fronts, equality of education, public demonstration. and legal battles, Julius Rosenwald’s support of Black schools exemplifies the former, and the work of John Doar, the latter.
John Doar, far left, w/ Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, and then-Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall:

Looking for that perfect photo – the talented Rabbi Hirsch

November 14th, 2014

In our upcoming film about Julius Rosenwald, we plan to talk a little bit about the great Reform rabbi Emil Hirsch. Hirsch was the rabbi at Sinai Congregation in Chicago around the turn of the 20th century and had a great influence on Rosenwald’s personal philosophy of charity. An intense orator, Hirsch was well-known in the city for his fiercely held beliefs about social justice and for the way he would lecture his own congregants, some of the wealthiest men in Chicago, if he felt they had acted selfishly or unjustly in their business affairs.

Hirsch must have been physically imposing as well, and one of the most interesting facts in his early biography is that, before he was ordained as a rabbi, he played football at University of Pennsylvania. Picturing Rabbi Hirsch on the college gridiron (with no padding at that time, of course) is the sort of detail that can really bring a figure from history to life in a documentary film, so it’s been disappointing that we haven’t yet turned up a photo of the rabbi from that time in life.

Our first stop, of course, was University of Pennsylvania’s archives. Penn has an extensive online archive of its own history and, surprisingly, you can actually view yearbooks from when Hirsch attended in the early 1870s online. Here’s an example of the “University Record” from 1871, where you can see Hirsch’s name as the treasurer of the class of ’72 on the very first page. Unfortunately, yearbooks from this time did not include headshots of students.

Not only did Hirsch play football at Penn, according to this document from the Penn archives, he was actually part of the first football game played at the university in 1871. American football was just in its infancy at that time and was mainly played at East Coast universities. The 1871 game, which pitted the seniors (including Hirsch) against the underclassman, was also recounted on page 26 of the 1872 yearbook, but again, with no pictures.

Football stayed popular at Penn after this inaugural game, and team photos exist in Penn’s archives for the 1878, 1879 and 1880 team. Kudos to Penn for keeping such a wonderful archive of its early sports teams, but we can’t help feeling a bit disappointed – if Hirsch had played football at Penn only a few years later than he did, we might have a photo of him with the team to use in The Rosenwald Schools.

Civil Rights Act exhibit on display at Library of Congress

November 12th, 2014

On September 10, 2014, until September 12, 2015, the Library of Congress exhibition “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle For Freedom”, will be on display. The exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Interviewees from “The Rosenwald Schools” are part of the images in the exhibition, including Julian Bond and his colleague Rep. John Lewis, who is shown in a photograph on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington. Julian Bond provides narration for an introductory film for the exhibit on the Civil Rights Act and John Lewis appears in a second introductory film on the impact of the legislation. As a child, John Lewis attended a Rosenwald School in Alabama.

More details regarding the exhibition here.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing The Civil Rights Act of 1964:


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Woodruff’s Talladega murals make their way to Washington

November 10th, 2014

On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Behring Center, Aviva Kempner, filmmaker of “The Rosenwald Schools”, attended a Director’s Preview and Reception commemorated the opening of “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College”. We reported here in August that it was likely that Woodruff was awarded his Rosenwald Fellowships in 1943 and 1944 on the strength of this work. Two of the Woodfruff works in this exhibit were painted under Rosenwald Fellowships, including the painting “Poor Man’s Cotton”. This support allowed Woodruff to move away from the segregated South, to New York City, where he worked and taught the rest of his life.

The murals depict chapters from African American history such as The Amistad Trial, and The Underground Railroad. Woodruff, like Julius Rosenwald, was a native of Illinois, born in Cairo.

The exhibit runs at the Museum of American History through March 1, 2015.

Woodruff working on the Talladega murals:


Photo credit: Library of Congress via FSA/OWI

Rosenwald Schools Screened at Austin Conference on Southern Jews

October 31st, 2014

On Saturday, October 25, Aviva Kemper, producer and director of The Rosenwald Schools, presented on the panel “Jewish History on the Big Screen: Documentary Filmmakers” at the conference “Crossing Borders: Southern Jews in Global Contexts”, in Austin, Texas. Kempner screened an excerpt from The Rosenwald Schools and discussed filmmaking vis-a-vis Jewish history. The panel was moderated by Hollace Ava Weiner, author, curator, archivist, and former president of the Southern Jewish Historical Society. Other panelists were filmmakers Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell, founders of Media Projects of Dallas, whose films include West of Hester Street, and Make Me A Match.

The excerpt from the film was warmly received, and we look forward to showing the completed film next fall at their annual meeting in Nashville.

For more details on “Crossing Borders”, including a panel on Blacks and Jews: The Genealogical Record, moderated by Leonard Rogoff of the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina, click here.


During the screening of The Rosenwald Schools


Eli Evans, who will appear in The Rosenwald Schools, spoke at the conference

“The Knick”‘s Medical Racism Issues Evoke Story of Rosenwald Fellow Dr. Charles Drew

October 15th, 2014

The New York Times, and their writer Brent Staples are to be commended for shedding light on racism in health care. Discrimination in health care practice, against both practitioners and recipients, has been an undercurrent of overall racism in U.S. history. The new “Showtime” tv series “The Knick” features a controversially innovative New York City hospital at the turn of the 20th century, where an accomplished African American physician encounters prejudice and the hospital’s acerbic chief of surgery Dr. Thackery, portrayed by Clive Owen. Andre Holland plays the gifted Black surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards, who is assigned menial tasks, discreetly treats Black patients in the hospital’s basement, and lives in a flophouse in a rundown section of the city. Edwards’ fictional plight recalls the real life challenges faced by medical pioneer Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950), whose development of blood plasma banks saved the lives of thousands, including Allied soldiers during World War Two. Drew’s daughter, former D.C. City Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis, is interviewed in the film “The Rosenwald Schools”. Dr. Drew finished Howard University because of a Rosenwald Fellowship that allowed him to complete his studies. In the 1930′s Drew assumed a clandestine residency at Harlem’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, under the tutelage of a doctor far more supportive than “The Knick”‘s Thackery.

New York Times writer Brent Staples’ October 13 column addresses medical racism vis-a-vis “The Knick”, and Dr. Drew:

First Page News: Rosenwald Schools Interviewee Clarence Page Visits Politics & Prose to Reflect on 30 Years of Chicago Tribune Columns

October 10th, 2014


Award winning veteran journalist and news panelist Clarence Page is an interviewee in The Rosenwald Schools. At 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 26,, 2014, Page will read from a thirty year compilation of his columns, at Politics & Prose Bookstore at 5015 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. in Washington, D.C.

Page has long been associated with Chicago, where Julius Rosenwald lived, and helped build the Wabash Avenue YMCA. One of the nation’s most recognized columnists and broadcast commentators, Page has earned a Pulitzer Prize and a National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been a regular panelist on The McLaughlin Group. His new book Culture Worrier: Selected Columns 1984-2014: Reflections on Race, Politics and Social Change marks the 30th anniversary of Page’s print debut in The Chicago Tribune. The collection represents the impressive range and depth of his commentary on social issues, foreign policy, and politics.

New Civil Rights museum designed by Rosenwald School alum George Wolfe

October 3rd, 2014

The Christian Science Monitor reports that a large multimedia exhibit at the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta were designed by the talented director and playwright George C. Wolfe. The article talks about Wolfe’s childhood, growing up in segregated Frankfort, Kentucky. Attending the Rosenwald School in Frankfort was a highlight of Wolfe’s childhood. He will speak about the school and his mother, a teacher at “Rosenwald,” in our upcoming documentary about the Rosenwald Schools.

You can read more about the museum and Wolfe at the Christian Science Monitor.

Valerie Jarrett appears on CBS’s “The Good Wife”

October 1st, 2014

Top Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett made an appearance in the September 28th episode the CBS drama “The Good Wife.” According to The Washington Post, Jarrett played herself and urged the main character, Alica Florrick to run for Illinois state’s attorney. Jarrett is the great-granddaughter of Robert Robinson Taylor, the seminal Tuskegee Institute architect, and the granddaughter of Robert Rochon Taylor, who was the first manager of Julius Rosenwald’s Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments. We have interviewed Jarrett’s mother, who grew up in the MBGA, for our upcoming documentary about Julius Rosenwald.

Read more about Jarrett’s CBS cameo at The Washington Post.