The Roosevelt Experiment

Why and how did an integrated college in a segregated city start in downtown Chicago just as World War II was ending? In 1984 an independent documentary filmmaker, Jeff Spitz, found old pictures and film footage about Roosevelt University including a magazine article that referred to the school as "The Roosevelt Experiment." Tapping the memories of former students who crossed the color line, particularly Blacks and Jews, the film blends archival images and interviews into an exploration of race, racial quotas and democratic ideals. Former students recall being questioned during an anti-communist investigation that targeted their school. Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, a former student council president, shares poignant memories of getting into political arguments in the cafeteria. He called it an “insane but interesting place." Shortly after the film’s release Spitz returned to City Hall to interview Mayor Washington about fairness, diversity and clashing visions of government. Mayor Washington’s additional commentary appears at the end of the video.

0:35Copy video clip URL The footage begins with a title card. 

0:43Copy video clip URL FDR can be seen at a Presidential Podium. 

0:47Copy video clip URL A large military-led parade for FDR can be seen. 

0:51Copy video clip URL Various video clips of FDR are shown. 

1:17Copy video clip URL An unseen and unnamed narrator begins to speak to the audience. 

1:22Copy video clip URL The narrator talks about the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

1:45Copy video clip URL A downtown street market circa the 1930’s is shown. 

1:46Copy video clip URL FDR can be heard giving a speech. 

2:08Copy video clip URL First Lady Roosevelt discusses the importance of formal education. 

2:37Copy video clip URL Newsreel footage of World War II in the North African Theater and the European Theater starts to play.

2:55Copy video clip URL Newsreel footage of Wehrmacht Soldiers captured on the Western Front is shown. 

2:56Copy video clip URL Newsreel footage showing a person holding a newspaper on VE-Day and/or VJ-Day is shown. 

3:21Copy video clip URL Robert J. Ahrens, the Commissioner for the Department of Aging and Disability,  is introduced. 

3:53Copy video clip URL Mark E. Jones, a former Circuit Court Judge, is introduced. 

4:10Copy video clip URL Mayor Harold Washington is introduced. 

4:20Copy video clip URL A US Army photographic still of a Staff Sergeant of an Anti-Aircraft unit (as designated by the circular “AA” shoulder sleeve insignia) is shown. 

4:30Copy video clip URL A photographic still of students at the then-newly opened Roosevelt College (before it became Roosevelt University), is shown.

5:24Copy video clip URL A class at Roosevelt College taught to White students by a Black Professor is shown. 

6:05Copy video clip URL Footage of Roosevelt University in the nineteen-eighties is shown. 

6:20Copy video clip URL The narrator mentions how Roosevelt College was founded as an integrated school. 

6:31Copy video clip URL A skyline view of downtown Chicago in the nineteen-eighties is shown.

6:54Copy video clip URL A still of Edward J. Sparling, the first President of Roosevelt College, is shown. 

6:56Copy video clip URL The narrator discusses Starling’s life and background. 

7:23Copy video clip URL An issue of the newspaper, the “Chicago Defender”, is shown. 

7:34Copy video clip URL An issue of the newspaper, the “Chicago Sun”, is shown. 

7:51Copy video clip URL A newspaper photograph and accompanying description shows and tells of a US Army Staff Sergeant and World War II Veteran in his Class A Uniform, being one of the first students to enroll at Roosevelt College. 

8:09Copy video clip URL Photographs of Albert Einstein, Adlai Stevenson, Ralph Bunch, Marion Anderson, Thomas Mann, and Pearl Buck are all shown – with the narrator mentioning that they all, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, formed Roosevelt College’s first Advisory Board. 

8:24Copy video clip URL The narrator mentions that by nineteen-forty-nine, Roosevelt College had over six-thousand students. 

8:59Copy video clip URL Some former students can be heard discussing their experiences at Roosevelt College in tis first few years of existence. 

10:20Copy video clip URL A “LIFE” Magazine cover showcasing Roosevelt College is shown. 

10:24Copy video clip URL Frankie Laine is introduced. 

10:30Copy video clip URL Sarah Vaughn is introduced. 

10:35Copy video clip URL Harold Russell is introduced. 

10:40Copy video clip URL Sophie Tucker is introduced. 

10:44Copy video clip URL Lena Horne is introduced. 

10:48Copy video clip URL Jackie Robinson is introduced. 

11:22Copy video clip URL A political cartoon about Roosevelt College is shown. 

13:27Copy video clip URL A photograph of MLK being honored at Roosevelt College is shown. 

13:48Copy video clip URL News footage (in color) of the nineteen-sixty-eight Democratic Convention Riots is shown. 

14:02Copy video clip URL Students at Roosevelt College can be seen holding a “sit-in” protest during the nineteen-sixties.

15:47Copy video clip URL Chicago Chief of Police, Fred Rice, is introduced.

16:17Copy video clip URL A forty-year anniversary celebration can be seen being held at Roosevelt University. 

17:59Copy video clip URL Jesse Madison, the Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Consumer Services, is introduced. 

18:06Copy video clip URL Warren Bacon, the President of Chicago United, is introduced. 

18:11Copy video clip URL Bobby Rush, the Alderman of Chicago’s Second Ward, is introduced. 

18:15Copy video clip URL Dr. Bernice Miller, the President of Loop College (now Harold Washington College), is introduced. 

18:23Copy video clip URL Mike Alexandroff, the President of Columbia College, is introduced. 

18:27Copy video clip URL Congressman Gus Savage of Illinois’s Second Congressional District, is introduced. 

18:32Copy video clip URL Brenda Gaines, the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Office of the Mayor of Chicago, is introduced. 

18:38Copy video clip URL Chicago City Clerk Walter S. Kozubowski is introduced. 

18:45Copy video clip URL Former Michigan Congressman Raymond Clevenger is introduced. 

20:24Copy video clip URL Jeff Spitz, the director of the documentary, introduces himself.

20:52Copy video clip URL Spitz interviews Mayor Washington. 

27:27Copy video clip URL The screen goes black. 



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