Julius Rosenwald, the son of a Jewish immigrant peddler, ended up as President of Sears and a very wealthy man. He came to see the parallels between the lives of Black people under the Jim Crow South and of the Jews under the boots of the Cossacks. He decided to put his money where his heart was and he helped to build over 5,300 schools for African-American kids at the beginning of the 20th Century. The way in which those schools were built – with sweat equity from the adults of the community – also cemented a strong communal feeling.
The Rosenwald Foundation went on to give grants to an amazing roster of Black artists – the impact of whose work is still felt today. These fellowship recipients ranged from James Baldwin to Marian Anderson to W.E.B. DuBois to Zora Neale Hurston to Katherine Dunham to Gordon Parks to Langston Hughes – and many more. And even to Woody Guthrie. The money often came at a crucial time in their creative and political lives.
Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner's Rosenwald starts a bit slow but before you know it, you are tearing up over the range of talents and brilliance in that generation of Black people and over the social consciousness and generosity of a man who was one of America's most forward-thinking philanthropists.
Here's the trailer:
And for fun, you can view for free the complete film of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, which was this same director's, Aviva Kempner, documentary about the first famous Jewish baseball player. (I've never seen it.) It's on Snagfilms.com, the website of free documentaries.