A dinner with Julian Bond

August 12th, 2014

Writer Kelly Kleiman wrote an amusing account about meeting Civil Rights icon Julian Bond recently over dinner. It was published on the Ten Miles Square blog at Washington Monthly.

Kleiman bond-ed with Bond by talking about the Rosenwald Fund and Julian’s father, Horace Mann Bond’s involvement with it. Julian Bond, who inspired the making of The Rosenwald Schools and serves as a consultant, is interviewed in the upcoming documentary.

Happy birthday to Julius Rosenwald today!

August 12th, 2014

Julius Rosenwald in 1917
Photo credit: Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection

Today on August 12th would have been Julius Rosenwald’s 152nd birthday. As I am close to finishing The Rosenwald Schools I am confident that J.R. will become nationally known for his good deeds once the film is done. Every week we are receiving notice about a school being restored or how a group of people want to rebuild one. I believe that once this film is done there will be an urge to finish many more schools and know more about J.R. By his 153rd birthday the film should be traveling around the country.

Carter G. Woodson memorial on the way in Washington D.C.

August 4th, 2014

The Northwest Current reported last month that plans to create a memorial to Carter G. Woodson in the District of Columbia are moving forward. The city council is reviewing plans that were recently approved by the National Capital Planning Commission.

Why Woodson? Woodson was a prominent African American educator, writer and historian who is perhaps best known today for promoting the first Negro History Week in the mid-1920s, a celebration of African American history that lives on today in Black History Month. Woodson lived for many years in Washington D.C. and his historic home, which is owned by the National Park Service, is only a few steps from the proposed memorial site at Q and 9th Streets, NW.

In 1927, around the same time he founded Negro History Week, Woodson completed the first history of the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program (which was winding down and would end in 1932). The Rosenwald Fund opened its archives (which present a rich demographic picture of rural African American communities in the early 20th century) and provided funding to Woodson to complete this important historical work. Woodson’s work was never published, but the manuscript is stored with the Rosenwald Fund Papers at Fisk University in Nashville.

At this same point in his life, while living in Washington in the mid-1920s, Woodson also crossed paths with a young Langston Hughes. Through a friend of his mother’s, Hughes got a job as Woodson’s personal assistant and began doing clerical work in Woodson’s office. Hughes writes in his autobiography that despite realizing the importance of Woodson’s research, he disliked the position so much that he soon quit and began work at the Wardman Park Hotel. Woodson was a good literary connection for Hughes, but the job at the Wardman Park Hotel gave him the opportunity to become the famous “busboy poet,” when he slipped three of his poems to a critic named Vachel Lindsay who was dining at the hotel. Lindsay introduced Hughes to publishers who would later print some of his most famous works.

Woodson was a great historian and a great Washingtonian. Kudos to the city for recognizing him with a new statue and memorial park.

Restored home and garden in Lynchburg a “window” into the Harlem Renaissance

July 31st, 2014

Adrian Higgins writes for The Washington Post about the historic home of African American poet Anne Spencer. Spencer lived most of her life in segregated Lynchburg, Virginia, and her Victorian home became a salon of sorts for Harlem Renaissance figures. Her social circle contained many past Rosenwald fellows as well, like Marian Anderson, James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes. In Lynchburg, Spencer formed a local chapter of the NAACP and spoke out against segregation on public transportation. Spencer’s home and garden has been restored by the combined efforts of her descendants and a Lynchburg garden club, and both can be visited today.

Read more at The Washington Post.

Rosenwald Schools spotlight: Newberry County, South Carolina

July 30th, 2014

Recently, our intern Nat McMaster visited three Rosenwald Schools near his hometown in South Carolina. The three are in varying states of repair, but Nat captured the beauty of each with his photographs. His report and photos are below:

1. Howard Junior High School ~ 431 Shiloh Street, Prosperity SC

Also known as the Shiloh School, Howard Junior High School – located on the property of Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church – served African-American students from in and around Prosperity between 1925 and 1954. It features four distinct classrooms, an assembly area, and large walls of windows on the front and back of the building. In the 1930s, two classrooms were added to the original structure and connected by a dogtrot.

Currently, Shiloh AME Church is the process of renovating the school for use as a social hall and other church functions. The school itself is not open to visitors, but you are welcome to wander around the surrounding cemetery and take pictures.

Howard Junior High School is listed on the national register of historic places.

2. Hannah Rosenwald School ~ 61 Deadfall Road, Newberry SC

Located south of Newberry on the property of Hannah AME Church, Hannah Rosenwald School is also known as the Utopia School, after the surrounding community. The school features three classrooms, three cloakrooms, and an entry hall. It is notable for being built on a north-to-south orientation, whereas most schools in South Carolina were built east-to-west. Hannah School was closed in the 1960s when rural county schools were consolidated with the Newberry and Silverstreet school systems.

Though it currently sits in disrepair and houses some old church furniture and other assorted items, the Hannah AME Church is looking to Heritage Preservation Services for a grant to begin renovation. The church also possesses the marble dedication tablet, which reads ROSENWALD SCHOOL, ERECTED 1925.

Hannah Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

3. Hope Rosenwald School ~ 1971 Hope Station Road, Pomaria SC

Though a total of 26 Rosenwald Schools were built in Newberry County alone, Hope Rosenwald School is one of only a few to be completely renovated. The school is located on the property of Saint Paul AME Church, outside Pomaria, and serves as a community center for the surrounding area.

It was constructed in 1925 on land sold to Newberry County by the Hope family for a mere five dollars. It was consolidated with the Newberry school system in 1954. The building contains two main classrooms, a kitchen (formerly an “industrial room”), and two cloakrooms. There is no known outhouse or privy to have been located on the property; if there was one, it was lost even before the consolidation of the schools. Three batteries of large windows adorn the front of the building, and two adorn the rear, however no windows are located on the sides of the building.

Hope Rosenwald School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

More about the history and design of the schools is on the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History website. All photographs belong to Nat McMaster and the Ciesla Foundation.

Douglas Brinkley to appear twice in Washington D.C.

July 30th, 2014

Douglas Brinkley, who (with Johnny Depp) co-edited and wrote the introduction for the 2013 posthumous release of Woody Guthrie’s lost novel, House of Earth, will discuss his new book (co-written with Luke Nichter) The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 at two locations in the District of Columbia next week. House of Earth was a powerful novel written by Guthrie under his Rosenwald fellowship in the early 1940s.

First on August 6th at 7PM, Brinkley and Nichter will be at Politics and Prose, a bookstore in Northwest Washington. Then, on August 8th at noon, the two will appear at the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives.

Douglas Brinkley in 2007
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sons of James Baldwin

July 21st, 2014

Were he still alive, James Baldwin would have been 90 years old this year. His thoughts, words and the way he used them to analyze the racial climate of the time touched readers and fellow authors alike.

After winning a Rosenwald grant in 1948, Baldwin could start work on his first novel: Go Tell It On The Mountain. In this novel, he explored religion and its effect on the nature of relationships and interactions within a community. For African Americans specifically, Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain looks at the repressions, moral hypocrisy and inspiration that comes from being entrenched in the church community.

Portrait of James Baldwin, 1955
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Carl Van Vechten Collection

The experiences of racial tension in Harlem, life in France with the expatriates, and travels around the country during the Civil Rights era shape the the enduring image and legacy of Baldwin. In the 1940s he fled the abuse, frustration and despair that came with being a young black man in America.

For him, “It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge,” he told the Paris Review.

The characters in Baldwin’s work, reflect this feeling. They’re as frustrated and downtrodden as Baldwin, hiding their fear and clutching on to their anger. But he reaches beyond this to the everyday interactions, manifestations of love and compassion that humanized the characters. Black youth for generations to come have identified with his stories, such as “Sonny’s Blues”.

Walter Dean Myers, who made a career writing children’s stories, was one of the many inspired by Baldwin to write stories where, as Myers explained, “black children [are] going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be.”

Myers died earlier this month, but much like his mentor Baldwin, his work remains an integral part of the African American literary canon.

A friend of Myers is quoted in his New York Times obituary saying that Myers “wrote about disenfranchised black kids, particularly boys, and he wrote about them with extraordinary honesty and also with compassion.” Undoubtedly some of this honesty and compassion was passed down from Baldwin, who also created a literary space where young black males could find themselves and their sense of belonging.

By Anakwa Dwamena

Washington D.C. book event at Busboys and Poets

July 18th, 2014

Teaching for Change Bookstore at Busboys and Poets welcomes…

Matt Herron, Dorie Ladner, and a panel moderated by Askia Muhammad to discuss the book, This Light of our Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement.

Thursday, July 24, 2014
6:30 to 8:30 PM
Busboys and Poets – 14th & V
Langston Room

For more information, go to Busboys and Poets’ website.

Julian Bond
Aviva Kempner
Institute for Policy Studies
Lessons of the 60′s Project
NAACP – Washington D.C. Branch
SNCC Legacy Project
Teaching for Change
Busboys and Poets

Exhibit at MCA Chicago features Rosenwald Apartments

July 16th, 2014

A new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago reportedly features recently-shot footage of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, built by Julius Rosenwald in 1929 on Chicago’s South Side.

According to MCA’s exhibition listing, the video installation, Unititled (Structures), by Leslie Hewitt and Bradford Young “is comprised of a series of silent vignettes, filmed at sites connected to the Civil Rights movement and the struggle for racial equality in the United States.” The present day images that Hewitt and Young have filmed of these locations in Memphis, Arkansas and Chicago belie their historic significance and cast a static, anti-nostalgic eye at structures that are still heavy with symbolism.

Although we haven’t been able to visit MCA yet, we got a tip from someone who attended the exhibition that the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments appear in the installation. Based on the description, images of the storied apartment complex should fit into the installation’s thematic context. At the time of its construction, the Rosenwald Apartments represented a significant step forward for African American housing opportunities in the city of Chicago, and modeled a way towards decent housing for all. Today “The Rosenwald” lies dormant and unheralded, just another vacant structure in a part of the city that is accustomed to derelict buildings and vacant lots. Fortunately, there is a plan in the works to rehabilitate the complex and provide affordable housing and retail space.

The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments in 2007
Photo credit: SilverRaven7 (flickr)

Get more details on the exhibit at MCA’s website. MCA will hold an event with Leslie Hewitt on August 23rd and the exhibit will be open until August 31st.

Alabama community gathers Rosenwald School memorabilia for new Smithsonian

July 16th, 2014

Gene Thornton, an alumnus of the Randolph County Training School, is reaching out to members of his community for any historical items or images they may have salvaged from their school before it closed in the 1970s. RCTS was a Rosenwald School built in 1919, and historic materials from the school have been requested for an exhibit at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Read more at The Randolph Leader.