The Alliance of Ethics & Art (AEA) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. We are grateful to join with others in the fight against racism, and to seek solutions based on principles of Aesthetic Realism, the education founded by philosopher Eli Siegel: (1) Every person's deepest desire is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis. This desire is the source of education and all the arts and sciences. (2) The greatest danger of people is to have contempt--"the addition to self through the lessening of something else." All human injustice is caused by contempt--from a child's sarcastic "put down," to lying, bullying, economic exploitation, voter suppression, war. These principles when studied make it possible for racism to end. Our title is based on Eli Siegel's statement that "Ethics is the art of enjoying justice."
— Alice Bernstein
Bishop Frederick James in Rosenwald Howard Junior High School-Prosperity, SC. Photo credit: AB
From the Director
I've just returned from South Carolina with photographer and Aesthetic Realism Associate Allan Michael, after conducting interviews with unsung pioneers for the Alliance's oral history project, "The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights." The project's title derives from what Eli Siegel, the great philosopher and founder of the education Aesthetic Realism, explained: there is a "force of ethics" working in reality and in people throughout history. I'm grateful for the honor of interviewing men and women whose choices on behalf of respect and justice are evidence of ethics as alive, immediate, powerful.
Bishop Frederick James and the Rosenwald School
The central purpose of this trip was to videotape an interview with AME Bishop Frederick James (shown above) about efforts to fully restore Howard Junior High School (HJHS)--the Rosenwald School built in 1923-24 in Prosperity, SC, which he attended from 1st-10th grades in 1927-37. The fine education he received led to a distinguished career as theologian, educator, and community leader. His dream, at age 92, is to preserve this beloved school as a community resource for education, culture, and economic uplift in the 21st century.
The history of the Rosenwald schools is hardly known and needs to be. Briefly: Early in the 20th century, the Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald learned from Booker T. Washington about the utter neglect of education for black children in the segregated South. Rosenwald established a Foundation which matched funds contributed by black and white populations in local communities. Over 5500 schools were built in 17 Southern states, enabling hundreds of thousands of black children to be educated in finely constructed, airy, sun-filled buildings. HJHS, which is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is among very few (about 500) Rosenwald buildings still in existence, and is considered to be particularly significant and beautiful.
"Restoring this school has kept my hopes alive, and my expectation is to finish this job in my lifetime," said Bishop James.
Interview participants at Shiloh AME Church in Prosperity, adjacent to HJHS, were: (seated, l-r)
Rudy Barnes, local attorney; Mike Bedenbaugh, Executive Director of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation; Bishop Frederick James; Rev. Dr. Elaine Eskew, pastor of Shiloh AME Church;
(standing, l-r) Cecil Williams, noted Orangeburg civil rights photographer and videographer for this interview; Rev. Eddie Mayes of Columbia; Alice Bernstein; Allan Michael. Photo credit: Barbara Williams.
The Alliance is honored that our work is a means of furthering knowledge about and preservation of the legacy of Rosenwald schools. We are proud to join with Bishop James and other distinguished South Carolinians to explore programs, based on Aesthetic Realism, which enable education to succeed for every child, and for justice to all people to become a living reality now and in the future.
More Interviews, History--and Art
I'm also grateful to have interviewed Dr. Tom Crosby of Columbia, SC, whose oral history collection of 44 interviews with men and women who attended Rosenwald schools is in the archives of the University of South Carolina, and who himself attended a Rosenwald school.
Rosenwald Teacherage at SCSU (l-r) Alice Bernstein, Ellen Zisholtz, Tom Crosby, Jannie Harriot.
Photo credit: Allan Michael.
At South Carolina State University (SCSU) in Orangeburg, we videotaped a tour of the exhibition of works from the museum's African art collection.
It was led by Ellen Zisholtz, Director and Curator of the I.P. Stanback Museum: Africa Revisited: The Art of Power and Identity. Above are shown three magnificent bronzes from the African kingdom of Benin. The tour was narrated by SCSU graduate Davion Petty (shown right). We then walked on the campus to a Rosenwald Teacherage (Teachery) building, originally used as a home for single teachers. There we were joined by Jannie Harriott of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, and thanked her in person for the commission's support of our People of Clarendon County/Answer to Racism project.
Our trip concluded with a far-ranging and lively interview with retired businessman and president of Palmetto Health Foundation, Samuel Tenenbaum (shown right). Originally from Georgia, he spoke about his work for civil rights in Atlanta and far beyond, including with Dr. Martin Luther King and other leaders.
I look forward to saying much more later on. For now, I'm grateful to close with a poem that Bishop
James read aloud to conclude the interview at Shiloh AME Church. I see this poem as standing for the purpose of all our work, and of my grateful life:
Something Else Should Die:
A Poem with Rhymes
In April 1865
Abraham Lincoln died.
In April 1968
Martin Luther King died.
Their purpose was to have us say, some day:
From Hail, American Development (Definition Press)
© 1968 by Eli Siegel