Traces of Woody Guthrie in New York City

September 28th, 2014

Lawrence Downes, a writer for The New York Times, recently took a trip to locations around the city where Woody Guthrie spent half his life: New York. Downes was guided by two grandchildren of the great folk singer, Anna Canoni and her brother Cole Rotante, and wrote an entertaining article about the experience.

On a related note, “My Name is New York” is the name of a recently published guide book (in paperback and audio format) to the city written by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie. The book follows the traces of Guthrie’s movements and residences around the city – click here to get your copy today.

Guthrie was living in a community of like-minded artists and musicians in New York around 1943 when he first applied to the Rosenwald Fund for assistance writing a book. During his Rosenwald grant period, Guthrie worked on several projects, the most prominent of which, entitled House of Earth, was finally published last year.

You can read more about Guthrie landmarks in the Big Apple in the online version of the New York Times article, which also includes a video of Canoni and Rotante exploring some of the locations in New York inhabited by their famous grandfather.

Cosby collection show opening at Smithsonian in November

September 28th, 2014

The Washington Post reports that the William H. and Camille O. Cosby collection, which contains masterpieces by many great African and African American artists, will have a rare exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art starting in November of this year. In keeping with Camille Cosby’s statement on the importance of “[showing] people that African American artists have been working for a long time,” the collection has many works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries by artists of color. 20th century pieces in the collection include works by Rosenwald Fund-supported artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Eldzier Cortor and Augusta Savage.

Don’t miss this chance to see the Cosby collection in person. Read more about the show at The Washington Post.

New interviews for The Rosenwald Schools: September 16, 2014

September 28th, 2014

First we filmed an interview with Steven Nasatir, the longtime president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, an organization whose first president was Julius Rosenwald. Nasatir recounted how Rosenwald became president of the new organization in 1923, after he engineered the merger of the Associated Jewish Charities, primarily composed of German Jews, and the Orthodox Federated Charities, primarily composed of Eastern European Jews. Rosenwald took at as his mission to unite these two charitable organizations into one large federation, a combination that resulted in greater efficiency and potency for both.

Steven Nasatir and Aviva Kempner
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

Nasatir helped reveal the roots of J.R.’s philanthropy, which came out of his Jewish faith, and the roots of his famous motto:

J.R.’s motto of “Give while you live” was in some ways an English way of talking about tzedakah, which is righteous action. In the Jewish tradition, we don’t talk about “charity,” we talk about “righteous action.” J.R.’s whole life was being a righteous man and [working] on repairing the world, this notion of tikkun olam.

In the Jewish faith, tzedakah is a form of obligatory charity. Rosenwald felt that it was his responsibility to promote justice through philanthropy, not only to give to the less fortunate, but to give in such a way that they would be able to help themselves. Rosenwald’s challenge grants to African American communities in the South are the greatest example of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. By giving a portion of the funds needed to build a rural schoolhouse, he created a scenario where reluctant counties and their underserved African American residents both contributed to the improvement of educational opportunities.

Next we talked to David R. Mosena, the president of the Museum of Science and Industry. MSI is a great museum that received virtually all of its initial funding from Julius Rosenwald before it opened in 1933. Unfortunately, Rosenwald died in 1932, and never saw the completed museum. Since then, however, hundreds of thousands of visitors to the museum have been inspired by its exhibits. Rosenwald’s vision of the museum as a hands-on showcase for America’s industrial technology has survived to this day. Mosena explained the way the concept for the Museum of Science and Industry was developed by J.R. and his son, William.

[The museum] came about when Julius Rosenwald took his son to Munich around 1911. The two of them spent quite a bit of time at the Deutsches Museum, which is in Munich. It was then and is still one of the grandest industrial museums in the world, and his son fell in love with that museum. They had never seen a museum that was interactive before, where people got to push levers and turn knobs and do things.

So Julius Rosenwald came back to Chicago and decided that he would take on the task of trying to [create] a museum like the one he and his son discovered in Munich, a museum that was very hands-on, that showcased what he called America’s inventive genius and demonstrated America’s growing prowess in science and technology.

David R. Mosena, president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

After shooting some retakes and a short interview with Peter Ascoli (the grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald and one of our primary interviewees) we also interviewed Bill Buckner, a man who attended an Arkansas Rosenwald School. As a child, Mr. Buckner voiced the question that was on the minds of many children who attended a school supported by Rosenwald and saw the portrait of him that often graced one of the walls in these schools.

Once while walking down the hall I saw three pictures above a door in the hall. And I asked the principal about who they were. And there was Booker T. Washington. W.E.B. Du Bois, and Julius Rosenwald. And I wanted to know, why was a white man’s picture in our school? And he said he was our benefactor and that he built the school and that when it burned down he rebuilt it.

Seeing Rosenwald’s picture prompted Mr. Buckner to learn more about the school’s benefactor. He was especially inspired by the way the Rosenwald Fund responded after the school burned to the ground – probably the result of arson, an all too common form of backlash against African American schoolhouses during the Jim Crow era. Undeterred, the Rosenwald Fund and community members rebuilt their school. It was actually this “second” Rosenwald School that Mr. Buckner attended as a child.

Bill Buckner with Peter Ascoli
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, September, 2014

Thanks as always to our great interviewees.

Art installation inspired by Jacob Lawrence is on display in Washington D.C.

September 24th, 2014

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, a monumental work of 60 paintings that depicts scenes from the early 20th century migration of African Americans away from the Jim Crow South, was made possible through support from the Rosenwald Fund in the early 1940s. The stoic figures and powerful compositions in Jacob Lawrence’s panels have inspired a New York-born artist to capture what she terms “The New Migration” of African Americans, who are compelled by gentrification and urban renewal to return to their roots in the South. The installation is part of 5×5, an annual project supported by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

During a 10-day trip from Washington D.C. to Florida, Abigail Deville collected ephemera, debris, stories and photographs, which are now on display in a storefront gallery in Southeast Washington D.C. Deville followed historical rail routes used by the migrants depicted in Lawrence’s work to collect the materials, which she has transformed into a collage installed at a gallery in a gentrifying area of the nation’s capital.

Click here to read more about the artwork in Deville’s artistic statement. You can view Deville’s Instagram account, which contains photos documenting her trip, here.

TCM showcases “The Jewish Experience on Film”

September 15th, 2014

Every Tuesday in the month of September, the cable TV network Turner Classic Movies has been playing films with Jewish themes starting at 8 PM.

The series began on September 2nd, with Jewish-themed classics like The Jazz Singer and Hester Street. Last Tuesday, September 9th, TCM tackled the post-WWII Jewish experience on film by screening The Stranger, The Pawnbroker and Judgment at Nuremberg. Here’s the schedule for the remaining three Tuesdays of September:

Tuesday, September 16th:

8:00 PM – Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer (1955)
10:00 PM – Sallah (1964)
12:15 AM – Sword in the Desert (1949)
2:15 AM – Exodus (1960)

Tuesday, September 23rd:

8:00 PM – The House of Rothschild (1934)
10:00 PM – Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
12:15 AM – Crossfire (1947)
2:00 AM – Focus (2001)
4:00 AM – The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Tuesday, September 30th:

8:00 PM – The Young Lions (1958)
11:00 PM – The Way We Were (1973)
1:15 AM – Hearts of the West (1975)
3:15 AM – The Chosen (1981)

Plan to stay up late on Tuesday nights this month or just set your cable box to record some of these great films. Click here to read more about the series at, or click here to browse TCM’s schedule.

Announcement: The 2015 National Rosenwald Schools Conference

September 8th, 2014

Share the Past and Shape the Future of Rosenwald Schools!

Join us in Durham to experience: Hands-on Workshops and Demos, Documentaries, Educational Presentations, Field Tours, Poster Sessions, Exhibitors, Networking Opportunities, and Book Signings. To receive conference updates and future mailings enter your contact information at:

Click here to propose a conference session

Excellent film on 1919 Chicago Race Riots to screen in Rochester, NY

September 4th, 2014

An excellent, but under-seen film made in 1984 by Bill Duke called The Killing Floor will screen at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York on September 26th.

Produced for American Playhouse and a prize-winner at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival, this well-researched film finds drama in the Great Migration of African Americans to the industrial north. Weaving together a dramatic narrative with both real and fabricated newsreel footage, Duke’s film manages to be engaging while sticking close to the historical details of a complicated and tense part of American history. The scenes depicting the Chicago Race Riots are particularly affecting.

The Killing Floor touches on many of the same topics and events as our upcoming documentary film, The Rosenwald Schools. Part of the film takes place in the historic Wabash Avenue YMCA, an important community center for new African American arrivals in Chicago that was funded by Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald also helped address overcrowding in the wake of rapid population growth in the city’s “Black Belt” following the Great Migration. Segregation limited African American’s housing choices to this section of the city, but Rosenwald’s Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments provided hundreds of modern and well-equipped apartments. We hope to use some of the footage from Duke’s film in The Rosenwald Schools as an illustration of the milieu.

The film screens as part of The Rochester Labor Film Series. Visit the Dryden Theatre’s website for more information.

Profile of the San Domingo Rosenwald School published in the Washington Post

September 2nd, 2014

The newly restored San Domingo Rosenwald School, where we filmed on Saturday, August 23rd, was the subject of a lovely profile by Karen Chen in yesterday’s Washington Post. The 1919 Rosenwald School was beautifully restored over ten years by community members led by Newell Quinton, an alum of the school. Saturday was the school’s grand reopening as a community center and event space.

Click here to read more about the history of the school, the restoration and the people who made it possible at The Washington Post. Click here to read our blog post about the shoot.

New York’s DuArt Film & Video provides shelter to forgotten films

August 28th, 2014

The New York Times reports that the top floor at DuArt, “the premiere hatchery of American independent cinema,” is home to hundreds of films stored by independent filmmakers at the lab over the years, many of which were forgotten and orphaned by their owners. As digital distribution continues to expand, original film prints can fall by the wayside, surprisingly even by the filmmakers who created them.

The article lists some intriguing titles that are currently housed at DuArt, including Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, a 1984 adaptation of Twelve Years a Slave directed by Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks, and Simbiopschotaxiplasm, an experimental film by William Greaves, a great documentary filmmaker who passed away on Monday.

Until recently, The Ciesla Foundation was storing some old prints of our previous films at DuArt, where we processed all our films. DuArt is the premiere lab for independent filmmakers and is headed by the wise and kind Irwin Young, who is the best friend to independent filmmakers. Because of a heads up from Young and Steve Blakely we’re happy to say that we already retrieved our negative a few months ago.

Click here to read more at The New York Times.

Rosenwald School Spotlight: The San Domingo Rosenwald School

August 27th, 2014

The San Domingo Rosenwald School
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

School is now in session.

Those were the first words by mistress of ceremonies Devoy Taylor at the dedication of the new San Domingo Community & Cultural Center at the historic Rosenwald School in San Domingo, Maryland. The Ciesla Foundation was on hand to film the ceremony, held on August 23rd, 2014, and to interview the school’s alumni and supporters.

Devoy Taylor ringing the principal’s bell
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

Chief among the school’s advocates is Newell Quinton, who spearheaded the ten year restoration process of his old school in the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland. The San Domingo Rosenwald School was opened in 1919 with funding from the Rosenwald Fund and the surrounding community. It replaced a smaller school on the same property in this hamlet where free African Americans have lived since before the Civil War. The new school was among the larger Rosenwald Schools to be built in the area, holding three classrooms and a special events space in its two floors. The restoration of the school is truly lovely, with art exhibits, artifacts, restored wooden floors and over 50 gleaming windows, the majority of which were missing and had to be replicated.

A large bank of windows, a trademark of Rosenwald Schools
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

Newell Quinton and his wife, Tanja R. Henson-Quinton, invited us to attend the dedication ceremony on Saturday, and we’re very grateful to have been a part of it. Before the ceremony, Mr. Quinton bantered with his sister, Alma Hackett (who also attended the school) about what it was like to attend a rural school before integration.

Newell Quinton and Alma Hackett
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

We also interviewed school alumni Sylvia Goslee, Charles Goslee, Rhuel Goslee and Avery Walker and even a teacher named Hattie Winder who had taught at the San Domingo Rosenwald School. It was striking how many of students had gone on to become educators themselves, including Alma Hackett and Rudolph Eugene Stanley, who shared with us a rich collection of very old photographs of the people in the community.

Rudolph Eugene Stanley
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

Stephanie Deutsch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South, also attended the ceremony. She talked about how she got interested in the Rosenwald Schools (by marrying David Deutsch, a descendant of Julius Rosenwald) and how the National Trust for Historic Preservation highlights places, like the Rosenwald Schools, that “matter.” Stephanie also presented the school’s alumni with a portrait of Julius Rosenwald much like the one that hung in historic Rosenwald Schools across the South.

Stephanie Deutsch
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

During the ceremony, Dr. Clara L. Small, a recently retired professor at Salisbury University, shared her memories of going to a different Rosenwald School in North Carolina. Dr. Small also announced some exciting news: the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture is beginning an initiative to document the history of all the Rosenwald Schools in the state. As most Rosenwald School buildings have been demolished or abandoned and alumni who remember the schools are aging, it is a crucial time to write this important piece of history.

Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, August 2014

The team behind the restoration of the San Domingo Rosenwald School has made a huge contribution to the history of Rosenwald Schools in the state of Maryland. The restored building is a new center for the community, but it’s also a Rosenwald School museum and a monument to the history of San Domingo.