Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer

28 Aug

Group photo of students and volunteers with Richard Beymer at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Group photo of students and volunteers with Richard Beymer at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer

An exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer is now on view in Olin Library, Gingko Room.

Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer highlights primary source materials from the Washington University Libraries Film & Media Archive’s newly acquired Richard Beymer Collection and inaugural Henry Hampton Collection.The exhibit also celebrates the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) grant awarded to the Film & Media Archive in 2014 to preserve Beymer’s documentary A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer.

Best known for his roles as “Tony” in the film adaption of West Side Story (1961) and “Ben Horne” in David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks (1990-1991), actor Richard Beymer’s documentary film, A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer (1964) offers a rare portrait of segregated Mississippi during this historically significant time in American History. Beymer was one of the few filmmakers to spend significant time working with Freedom Summer volunteers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As a result, other documentary filmmakers frequently seek his footage. Most recently, filmmaker Stanley Nelson relied heavily on A Regular Bouquet when completing his film, Freedom Summer, which premiered in June 2014 on PBS. Beymer’s footage was also included in Henry Hampton’s seminal documentary series, Eyes on the Prize (1987). Featured in episode five, Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964) Hampton combined stock footage and first-hand accounts to retell the events of Freedom Summer.

Portrait of three boys during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964.  © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Portrait of three boys during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964.  © The Richard Beymer Collection.


In 1964, civil rights activists launched Freedom Summer, a project in Mississippi to register black voters, provide educational opportunities, and build the movement for integration. The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella group of civil rights organizations that included SNCC working in Mississippi, issued a call for volunteers, and nearly 1,000 responded. After receiving training, the volunteers, mostly white, northern college students and recent graduates, joined the existing group of predominantly black activists.

Richard Beymer set out to film these activities in order to create a training tool for COFO’s future volunteers.  Comprised of testimonials from volunteers and Black Mississippi residents, A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer consists of rare and historically significant primary source depictions of segregated Mississippi against the backdrop of violent opposition. The film also includes footage of Freedom Schools, which provided instruction to over 3,000 black students. The schools directly challenged Mississippi’s segregated education system by offering instruction on black history and constitutional rights. Portraying the intimate relationship between teacher and student, the film includes interviews, class instruction, sing-alongs, and a discussion of the student-written Pleasant Green Magazine

Students at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

Students at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © The Richard Beymer Collection.

The threat of racist violence haunted Freedom Summer from the beginning. On June 21, one week after the first volunteers arrived for training, three activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, disappeared. The FBI conducted a massive search and found their corpses on August 4. Despite the threat of violence, Freedom Summer volunteers engaged in door-to-door voter-registration efforts. Beymer filmed the registration drive and interviewed participants. One resident discussed the economic tactics used by segregationists: “When you put ‘By whom are you employed’ [on the application form], you’re fired by the time you get back home.” Mississippi officials rejected the vast majority of voter-registration applications submitted by African-American residents that summer. But the events of Freedom Summer increased public support for new civil rights legislation, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When Henry Hampton made Eyes on the Prize one of his main goals was to include the voices of people who had not been recorded or widely recognized before. Many local activists in remote areas of Mississippi who had organized early on to gain voting rights, often at great risk, were featured in the episode Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964). Hampton interviewed Robert Moses and Amize Moore, two of the main architects and planners of Freedom Summer, Unita Blackwell, local activist who became one of the delegates in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), Casey and Tom Hayen, Freedom Summer volunteers, and Myrlie Evers, civil rights activist and widow of slain Mississippi leader Medgar Evers. Hampton also interviewed segregations, including William Simmons, a member of the Citizens’ Council—a pro-segregation organization that operated in Mississippi—to show what the prevailing political climate was like in Mississippi in 1964 and what the Freedom Summer volunteers had to combat. By interviewing people from both sides of the issue, Hampton brought a multifaceted portrait of Mississippi to viewers.

Together A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer and Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964) create a complex portrait of life in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and an understanding of the social and political pressures that existed during this volatile period in our nation’s history.



“Is this America?” Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party

22 Aug

“If the freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America.  Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America?”

–Fannie Lou Hamer

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Fannie Lou Hamer’s speech to the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention. August marked the end of Freedom Summer, a campaign designed in words of Robert Moses to, “open up the state of Mississippi.” The efforts of Moses and other activists such as Amzie Moore, Dave Dennis, and Fannie Lou Hamer centered around attempting to change the voter registration system in Mississippi where in 1962 only 6.7% of African-Americans were registered to vote. In the summer of 1964 the Freedom Summer campaign was launched and volunteers from all over the country came to Mississippi to help register African-Americans to vote.

Fannie Lou Hamer was the daughter of sharecroppers and had been working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to try to expand voting rights for African-Americans in Mississippi. This was no easy task and people engaged in this work were often threatened, harassed or beaten by segregationists. Hamer was a member of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (MDFP), a group that she and other activist formed in response to Mississippi’s all-white Democratic party representatives. The MDFP traveled to the national convention in Atlantic City in 1964 and demanded to be recognized and given voting privileges. Hamer gave an electrifying speech where she described an episode of shocking police brutality after she and her fellow activists were arrested in Winona, Mississippi on false charges. She was so compelling as a speaker that President Johnson called an emergency press conference to divert attention away from her and the MDFP’s demands which were not in line with his political agenda. Despite these efforts the speech was picked up and played on news programs and garnered a lot of support for the Freedom Party’s demands. Eventually the Democratic Party agreed to two votes for the MDFP, but Hamer and her fellow party members rejected that compromise.

Even though the MDFP didn’t meet their goal, Fannie Lou Hamer focused the attention of the nation on the appalling conditions that black Mississippians were forced to endure, and her honest and emotional speech remains a pivotal moment in the history of the civil rights movement. You can hear Hamer’s speech in its entirety in the link above.



Summer Seminar at Washington University Libraries

31 Jul
Participants in the African-American Memory Seminar at Washington University Libraries.

Participants in the African-American Memory Seminar at Washington University Libraries.

Washington University Libraries and the African and African-American Studies Department at Washington University conducted a four-day seminar on July 22-25, 2014 for local middle and high school educators to study the complex issues surrounding the history and artifacts of the Civil Rights Era.

The African-American Memory: Preserving the History of the Civil Rights Era seminar was led by university faculty including Dr. Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, Professor of English and of African and Afro-American Studies,  Dr. Jonathan Fenderson, Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies, and Dr. Stefan M. Bradley, Director and Associate Professor of African American Studies (Saint Louis University), and provided an in-depth exploration of Washington University’s renowned special collections, including the archives of Henry Hampton, creator of the acclaimed documentary series Eyes on the Prize.

Sylvester Brown, interviewee and journalist, and Paul Fehler, producer, discuss the film "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" with seminar participants.

Sylvester Brown, interviewee and journalist, and Paul Fehler, producer, discuss the film “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” with seminar participants.

In addition, curriculum topics, such as defining the Civil Rights Era, primary source research, visual literacy, preserving the materials and memory of the marginalized, and the rise and fall of the American city were discussed. The seminar also included a visit to the Missouri History Museum Library & Research Center and a screening of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, with a question-and-answer session conducted by Paul Fehler, producer, and Sylvester Brown, interviewee and journalist. Film & Media Archive, University Archives, and the Modern Graphic History Library staff also conducted sessions and introduced the participants to resources in the collections as well giving an overview of how to conduct archival research.


Participants in the African-American Memory Seminar at Washington University Libraries.

All photos by Alison Carrick.

John Seigenthaler, Journalist and Editor of “The Tennessean” Has Died at Age 86

11 Jul
John Seigenthaler in "Eyes on the Prize"

John Seigenthaler in “Eyes on the Prize”

John Seigenthaler, a writer and long-time editor of The Tennessean has died at age 86. Seigenthaler was interviewed for Henry Hampton’s series Eyes on the Prize, and his filmed interview has been preserved by the Film & Media Archive as part of the ongoing Mellon Project. His interview, available to read online, was featured in the episode Ain’t Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961), where he spoke about confronting an angry mob during the Freedom Rides.

After working as a reporter and assistant city editor at The Tennessean for many years, he left the paper in 1960 to work as an administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy who was the Attorney General at that time. This position placed him in the middle of one of the most violent chapters of the civil rights movement. The Freedom Rides in 1961 were a campaign to challenge the non-enforcement of the Supreme Court decisions that said segregation on public transportation was illegal. Seigenthaler, along with Assistant Attorney General, John Doar, were sent to negotiate with Alabama Governor John Malcolm Patterson. Days went by without a meeting and the situation continued to escalate.

In his interview, Seigenthaler describes meeting with Governor Patterson,

Finally, Gov. Patterson did agree to a meeting and I went down from Birmingham to Montgomery to meet with him, went into that antebellum building that is the State Capitol there. He had me into his office, had his whole cabinet seated around this great conference table. Commissioner of Safety was a man named Floyd Mann, he was a bright, articulate, tough-minded police officer, and Gov. Patterson lectured me for the better part of half an hour at times pounding the table telling me how these outside agitators had to get out of that state. That this state was not about to permit the Federal establishment to move in and to assert the rights of those people. That this was an Alabama matter. That I, in fact, was an intruder

Patterson did agree to provide protection for Doar and Seigenthaler and the Freedom Riders on their way to Montgomery, but on the morning of May 20, 1961, the Alabama State Highway Patrol abandoned the Riders at the Montgomery city limits. The group was set upon by a mob, described in vivid detail in Blackside’s interview with Frederick Leonard, and in his interview, Seigenthaler described what happened to him in Montgomery.

We arrived at the Federal Building which adjoins the bus station about 2 or 3 minutes after the bus arrived. As John got out of the car, you could hear the shouts from across the way, the screams. I looked across the way and baggage was being hurled into the air, above the bus station shed. Doar ran for the Federal Building and I drove up the street and quickly through an alleyway on the backside of the bus station and as I came down the far side, I saw this almost anthill of activity. The Freedom Riders on–emerging from the bus were attacked, were being mauled. It looked like 2, 300 people just all over them. There were screams, shouts. As I drove along, I saw two young women who were Freedom Riders being pummeled to one side. There was a woman who was walking behind one of these young women. She had a purse on a strap and she was beating her over the head and a young skinny blonde teenager in a t-shirt was sort of dancing her backward in front of her punching her in the face. Instinctively, I just bumped up onto the sidewalk, blew the horn, jumped out of the car, came around, grabbed the one who was being hit, took her back to the car. The other young woman got into the back seat of the car and I opened the door, pushed this young woman, whose name I think was Susan Wilbur, and said “Get in the car.” And she said, “Mister, this is not your fight, I’m non violent, don’t get hurt because of me.” I almost got away with it. If she had gotten into the car, I think I could have gotten away, but that moment of hesitation gave the mob a chance to collect their wits and one grabbed me by the arm, wheeled me around and said, “What the hell are you doing?” And I said, “Get back, I’m a Federal man.” Turned back to her and the lights went out–I was hit with a pipe over this ear and literally don’t remember anything that happened. They kicked me up under the car. I woke up half hour later. I was wearing John Doar’s shirt–I’d been on the road a long time and I had borrowed his shirt from him. I remember waking up…the shirt was drenched with blood and my first thought was, poor John, I’ve ruined his shirt. The officer who was beside me was a lieutenant. He had my notebook which had all sorts of phone numbers in it, like Fred Shuttlesworth, the black leader, Bull Connor, the White House, the Justice Department, John Patterson and he told me, he said “Well, you’ve had some trouble, Buddy, is there anybody I can call for you?” And I said, I had enough wits about me to say, “Yes, if you would call Mr. Kennedy.” Kennedy would that be? And I said, “Either the President, or the Attorney General” and he said “Who the hell are you, Buddy?” And I said, “Well, I’m the Attorney General’s Administrative Assistant.” He said, “We’ve got to get you to a hospital.”

Later on, when he had recovered from his skull fracture he ran across the FBI memo, as an assistant to Kennedy, which identified his attackers,

I found on the first day a memorandum from J. Edgar Hoover to the Attorney General. He had read it and placed it on my desk, and it identified the thugs who had beaten me, by name, said that sources close to the violence had identified these people by name. I’ve kept that memorandum, and I haven’t read it in a long time, but I’d like for my children and grandchildren to take it out occasionally and read it. It might help them understand just how the South was. But also, how the FBI was.

–All quotes from Interview with John Seigenthaler, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 3, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

Seigenthaler eventually left his position in the Kennedy administration and returned to The Tennessean as the editor in 1962. The paper covered issues of segregation including sit-ins and protests, which were ignored or not covered by other papers in the South. He also assigned a reporter, Jerry Thompson, to go undercover as a Klan member, and then published the stories as a series in The Tennessean. Seigenthaler continued to be active after his retirement from the paper in 1991.




“A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer” to be preserved with National Film Foundation Preservation Grant

27 Jun
Photo from the Richard Beymer Collection.  © Richard Beymer

A young man attends a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © Richard Beymer.

Washington University Film & Media Archive is excited to announce that we have received a National Film Preservation Foundation Grant (NFPF) to preserve Richard Beymer’s documentary A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer. Beymer, an actor and filmmaker, traveled to Mississippi in 1964 to document the efforts of voter registration activists and the daily life of African American Mississippians. Beymer shot the film in black and white with a 16mm Bolex camera and captured unique footage of the daily life of children attending what were called Freedom schools-alternate schools set up by voter registration activists-as well as the political activity and the violent response from segregationists in Mississippi. “A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer” has become a touchstone and primary source for Freedom Summer, and footage from it attracted the attention of filmmakers and has been reproduced in many documentaries, including “Eyes on the Prize,” and more recently in Stanley Nelson’s “Freedom Summer.”

In a recent New York Times article, Beymer talked about his time in Mississippi during that turbulent, violent time,

“I was just filming everything that appealed to me,” Mr. Beymer, now 75, said in a telephone interview from his home in Fairfield, Iowa. “The only audience I had in mind, I suppose, was the next generation of people who came down here, so they could see what they were getting into. That gave me total leeway to just do my experience.”

The film used animation, photographs, black and white footage along with voice-over interviews with volunteers and African Americans residents who were organizing on multiple levels. The striking black and white footage shot by Beymer is lyrical and shows the unguarded moments of  the children who attended the Freedom Schools and the volunteers who had come down from the North. Often showing joyful scenes of children singing and playing the film is simultaneously an impressionistic portrait of life in a very specific place and time, segregated Mississippi, and also a challenge to people who tried to maintain that system by denying the vote and other basic human rights to African Americans.

In 2013, the Film & Media Archive acquired the Richard Beymer Collection. In addition to the film elements of A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer, and a collection of black and white photographs that were shot during filming, the collection contains other titles by Beymer including “The Innerview,” “Point of Departure” and “Perfect Movies.” It also includes a taping of part of show 3 of “Midnight Snacks” by Andy Kaufman on which Richard Beymer appeared.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and the preservation of A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer, an exhibition and screening is planned for later this summer. As part of the NFPF grant, after the preservation work is complete the film will be made available online. 

For a full list of the awards see the National Film Preservation Foundation’s press release.




Educational Films Arrive at the Film Archive

20 Jun

Washington University Film & Media Archive Staff processing films from the Educational Film Collection.


In 2003, the Film & Media Archive obtained 200 educational films from the St. Louis Public School’s Film Collection. Another portion of the collection went to the St. Louis branch of the Academic Film Archive of North America, and the rest were stored in various locations in St. Louis and in Columbia, Missouri. After almost nine years, a large portion of the remaining St. Louis Public School films are now part of the Educational Film Collection at the Film & Media Archive. Nadia Ghasedi, Head of the Visual Media Research Lab (VMRL), Irene Taylor, Film & Media Cataloging and Preservation Archivist, and Barry Kelley, Processing Assistant, spent two full days in Columbia, Missouri testing many of the remaining films for vinegar syndrome, a condition which deteriorates film, checking for duplicate titles, and packing up the prints to be shipped back to St. Louis. Now, Irene, Barry, and two student assistants are assessing and cataloging approximately 6,500 films.

Film reels from the Educational Film Collection. Washington University Film & Media Archive.

Federal funding throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s helped make this a thriving genre, but now many of these academic films are in danger of being lost and an effort is underway to preserve these films. Often overlooked and discounted, the films are a rich visual resource and can provide glimpses into the past fashions, social customs and attitudes, as well as provide a snapshot of the culture at a special point in time. Mainly from the 1960’s and 70’s, the collection includes purely education documentaries, dramatizations of literature and history, and “guidance” films which were made to highlight social mores, or focus on safety issues, and the subjects include African-American history, the labor movement, dance and music performances, and advertising.

Sample titles from the collection include, Eli WhitneyHarriet Tubman and the Underground RailroadImmigrant from America;Minorities – Patterns of ChangeTribute to Malcolm XThe Labor Movement: Beginnings and Growth in America, How to Save a Choking Victim, I’m the Only Me, Pioneers of the Plains, and Zero: Something for Nothing.

Photos by Alison Carrick.

Film reels from the Educational Film Collection. Washington University Film & Media Archive.

Film reels from the Educational Film Collection. Washington University Film & Media Archive.

Ruby Dee (1922-2014)

13 Jun
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten

Ruby Dee – Photo by Carl Van Vechten

Ruby Dee, the actress and activist who appeared in films and plays for over seven decades has died at the age of 91. She played Rachel Robinson in The Jackie Robinson Story in 1950, and reprised her groundbreaking stage role as Ruth Younger in the 1961 film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun.

Ruby Dee and her husband Ossie Davis were a vibrant part of the arts during the 20th century and were very involved in the civil rights movement. Both were interviewed for the Blackside series that focused on African Americans in the arts, I’ll Make Me a World. They both were close to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Davis gave the eulogy at Malcolm’s funeral and he spoke about that in a separate interview for Eyes on the Prize II.

Rather than wait for Hollywood producers to develop roles for African Americans they produced their own plays and films including Purliefirst a play then a film, Uptight, a film Dee co-wrote and starred in, and then they both starred in a television series With Ossie and Ruby. Dee was also supportive to younger, talented filmmakers and appeared in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever. In all she had a

In addition to these interviews, the Film & Media archive also contains correspondence between Henry Hampton and Ruby Dee.




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