Thursday, May 22, 2014

Guest Blogger: Kevin Vandiver, Charlotte Freedom School Partners

The current Faces of Freedom Summer photo exhibit looks back at the historic 1964 efforts by college students to register African American voters in Mississippi. As part of that project, activists organized Freedom Schools to awaken African American youth to black history and their rights as citizens. Today a new generation of Freedom Schools aims to help young people turn summers into a time of scholarly advancement. Our guest blogger, Kevin Vandiver works as the Development Coordinator for Charlotte Freedom School Partners

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project, which was a voting initiative for marginalized African Americans.  In addition to galvanizing the people to register to vote, there were about 30-40 Freedom Schools in ‘64, which were started to provide African Americans with an education that they were not receiving in the public school system. The actions taken to educate the surrounding communities was a method that advocates used to go on the offensive against oppression:  Education was a key to Freedom.   Whether it was in a classroom, church basement, or on someone’s front stoop, class was in session!  Taught by college students and other volunteers, the Freedom School students were taught black history and culture, math, and character-building.   The ages of the attendees ranged from small children to the very elderly—with the average age being about 15 years of age.  In 1964, over 3000 people attended the Freedom Schools in Mississippi.  

When we fast-forward 50 years to 2014, we understand that while there has been great change, that there are still miles to go.  In the day when there are still educational inequities, thousands of children not reading by third grade, and the billion-dollar cradle to prison pipeline, there is a continued need education and empowerment to achieve the potential with which every child is born. 50 years later, we can say that the ball has not been dropped.  The legacy of Freedom Summer of ’64 is very alive today!

We believe that Freedom School Partners works with many partners and community members to put children on a path of success, and there is room for all to continue in this work that began so long ago. 

This new education that Freedom School Partners endeavors to offer through its programming builds the character of scholars and interns alike, rebuilds spirits, brings together communities of hope, support, and fosters inter-generational leadership, helping us all to know that We Can—and Must—Make a Difference!  Our efforts to bring about this new education have empowered 4000 Children and 400 college students since its first Freedom School in Charlotte, in 2004. 

I am a part of this work—serving as a Development Coordinator.  I hope to spread the word and garner support for this great movement.  Our work is arduous, but it is good work—and it will change the face of our world.

Freedom School Partners join in solidarity with Ella Baker, who said, “We who believe in Freedom cannot rest until it comes!

How has public education changed in the last 50 years? Leave your opinion below or on our Facebook page. 

Freedom Summer/Freedom Schools, Then and Now reception, exhibit viewing and discussion will feature Charlotte Civil Rights activist J. Charles Jones and retired Charlotte Observer journalist Lew Powell. Join us Wednesday, May 28 at 6 pm. RSVP: Julie Attilus at or 704.371.4922.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ask a Curator: Bonnie Gurewitsch, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow Part Two

Today, we continue our two-part interview with Bonnie Gurewitsch, the curator of our new exhibit, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges. You can read part one here.

What would you like visitors to take away after viewing the exhibit?

My own experience of studying with a black professor at Brooklyn College in 1961-1962 was a highlight of my undergraduate experience. It was my first encounter with a black scholar, and it opened my eyes to the encounter between cultures and the pre-conceived notions people can have about each other. I saw how this played out in the Beyond Swastika story. I would hope that visitors would take away the lesson that the universal values of equality, fairness and kindness are applicable to all people.

How can the experiences of those profiled in the exhibit become lessons for present day students?

The experience of the scholars-immigration and integration into a new society-will resonate with many visitors who are themselves new Americans. Visitors might identify with the strong motivations of the students, who came from backgrounds that were deprived of material things but not of aspirations and the values of hard work. That two such different groups could come together to share experiences, skills, and knowledge and create an integrated world of mutual appreciation on campus, is a model of peaceful co-existence that would be useful today.

About Bonnie Gurewitsch
Bonnie Gurewitsch recently retired as an Archivist and Curator at the Museum of Jewish Heritage- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in New York City. She has been a Holocaust educator and oral historian for more than 40 years, Ms. Gurewitsch was a pioneer in the effort to develop a systematic approach to recording and cataloging Holocaust oral history. Ms. Gurewitsch lectures frequently and has served as consultant to several scholarly and educational projects, including the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg. 


Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow tells the compelling but little known story of Jewish professors who fled Nazi Germany during WWII, came to America and found teaching positions at historically black colleges and universities in the South. There they came face to face with the absurdities of a rigidly segregated Jim Crow society.

Discover the connections and encounters between these refugee scholars and their students, and their great impact on each other, the Civil Rights Movement, and American society.

Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges is on display now through September 14. 

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ask a Curator: Bonnie Gurewitsch, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow Part One

At Levine Museum of the New South, we love sharing history with compelling, often surprising stories that help people connect with the past and each other. The new exhibit, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refuge Scholars at Black Colleges, does exactly that. 

The exhibit was inspired by Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb's landmark book From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges and curated by Bonnie Gurewitsch, a recently retired Archivist and Curator at the Museum of Jewish Heritage- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in New York City. We had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Gurewitsch for our "Ask a Curator" series. Here's Part One and be sure to visit the Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow exhibit on display now through September 14.

What was your first reaction to the story behind "Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow?"

My first exposure to the story was the film "From Swastika to Jim Crow", by Joel Sucher and Steven Fischler. It was offered to the Museum of Jewish Heritage as a public program. I was among the staff members who previewed it. I was fascinated. I had never heard of Jewish refugee scholars teaching at colleges for black students. When Steven Fischler offered to provide us with contact information and the research notes he had collected during the making of the film, we agreed that we should work on telling this story in exhibit form.

As a curator, what challenges did you face during the curatorial process?

Outlining a story that would accurately reflect the experiences of the refugee scholars and the black students,  then finding the artifacts that would illustrate the main points of that story, and setting the story in the three-dimensional setting of an exhibition. We decided to create parallel background areas, one for the scholars' backgrounds and their immigration to the US, and a second for the background of the students and their decisions to go to college. We brought the two story strands together in the central section of the exhibition-the encounter, and showed the effects of the encounter on both groups.

What have you discovered during your curation of this exhibit? 

In the course of researching the topic, I discovered that the story is more nuanced than it seemed at first glance. Jewish refugee scholars were not generally welcomed at American colleges and universities. Refugee scholars had a very difficult time finding teaching positions; some took interim jobs just to support themselves, such as Prof. Fales and his wife. Teaching at historically black colleges may not have been their first choice, but it was often the only job available. The scholars knew as little about the students and their culture as the students knew about the professors and their background. There was a learning process of getting to know each other. 


Tomorrow read more about the curation of Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refuge Scholars at Black Colleges in Part Two. 

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