Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and the Center for Creative Partnerships presented the documentary “Rosenwald” on March 16 as part of their Community Cinema social justice film series.
The film tells the story of Julius Rosenwald, the son of a Jewish immigrant who went on to build more than 5,300 schools across the south to improve education for African American children.
From 1912 to 1932, roughly 500 “Rosenwald schools” and auxiliary buildings were built in South Carolina. Twenty-one were constructed in Orangeburg County alone, one of which was the original Felton Training School on the campus of South Carolina State College in 1925.
In 2006, the Orangeburg Chapter of The Links Inc. adopted a program called “Rosenwald Schools” with the goal of placing historical markers at all 21 sites in Orangeburg County.
The Links is a national organization of African American women with a membership of more than 10,000 dedicated to sustaining the culture and economic survival of African-Americans and other persons of African descent.
Since the start of their efforts, four schools in the county have been able to receive these markers. One stands beside Duke’s Gym on the S.C. State campus.
Rosenwald was the president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1908 and national philanthropist. Along with the construction of the Rosenwald schools, he also provided funds to Booker T. Washington to assist in the building of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
“My M.O. is to make films about under-known Jewish heroes,” Aviva Kempner, director of the film, said. “I would say Julius Rosenwald is right there on the top of being the most under-known until the film’s come out.”
The film premiered at the NAACP Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 2015 and later screened at the Center for Jewish History in New York.
Kempner was at the March 16 screening in Orangeburg to hold a discussion with the audience members afterward.
“The important thing is recapturing our history,” she told the audience. “This history is lost if we don’t do it.”
Several people attending the showing were actual students at Rosenwald schools as kids.
Gladys Moss, a 1952 graduate of the Bowman Rosenwald School, attended from first through 11th grades.
“I display my diploma proudly,” Moss said. “We had a wonderful school. Taught us a lot.”
“Thank you for the film,” she added.
Joseph Sanders went through the ninth grade at Berkeley Training School in Monck’s Corner in 1955.
“It produced a lot of great talent,” he said.
“My goal is that every high school, college, junior high has a copy of this (film),” Kempner said.
Kempner was born in Berlin, Germany to a Holocaust survivor and a U.S. Army officer.
Her accomplishments include the 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship, 2000 D.C. Mayor’s Art Award, 2001 Women of Vision award from D.C.’s Women in Film and Video Chapter and 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award. Her “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” and “Partisans of Vilna” won CINE Golden Eagles.
Kempner writes film criticism and articles for a variety of publications including the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.
Ellen Zisholtz, moderator for the discussion and co-president of the Center for Creative Partnerships, said it is her hope that communities can figure out ways to make a difference that would be better for everyone.
“The only way we’re going to make things better is if we all do it together,” Zisholtz said. “Don’t separate based on things that don’t matter like skin color, or religion, or anything like that.”
The Community Cinema project was started to provide social justice education through films.
The first film presented was “Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun” in February. The film’s director, Kristy Anderson, and Hurston’s great-niece, Lois Gaston, were on hand for an open discussion with the audience.
The next film will be “The Ipson Saga” by Jay Ipson on Thursday, April 20. Ipson will be accompanied by Dr. Millicent Brown, a lifelong community advocate and spokesperson for economic, social and educational improvements in impoverished neighborhoods and communities of color throughout the South, the nation and the world.
The film series is funded in part by OCtech and South Carolina Humanities and sponsored by Cox Industries Inc.