Collaboration with the National Civil Rights Museum

4 Apr

The Film & Media Archive has collaborated with the National Civil Rights Museum to add film and audio from the Henry Hampton Collection to the museum’s permanent collection.

The newly renovated National Civil Rights Museum will re-open on April 5, one day after the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. To mark the re-opening the museum will hold a forum hosted by Tavis Smiley that will feature panelists including Marian Wright Edelman, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Attorney Barry Goldstein, among others. The re-design of the museum sought to feature more multi-media and interactive exhibits to help visitors experience and understand more of the history of the civil rights movement.

As Executive director Beverly Robertson said in a story from NPR,

It was time to take a fresh look at the civil rights movement through the eyes of the people who gave it life…We had to blend history, technology, information boards, artifacts, audio, video to create what we believe is an engaging museum.”

Visitors can sit at a segregated lunch counter or on a segregated bus while they listen to audio of the speech Martin Luther King gave at the Holt Street Baptist Church at the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

This focus on multi-media exhibits and displays featuring audio and video of primary source material made the Film & Media Archive a great partner for the  National Civil Rights Museum. Henry Hampton, creator of Eyes on the Prize, shared similar goals for his series and wanted to highlight the accomplishments, actions, and leadership of people who were not famous but who made up the movement and made its success possible.

Sections and excerpts of the interviews from the Henry Hampton Collection now on permanent exhibition at the museum include ones with people who had never been publicly interviewed before Eyes on the Prize, such as Jo Ann Robinson, one of the leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Josephine Mayes, a voting rights activist, and William O’Neal, an FBI informant from Chicago.

Other video and audio footage of interviewees will be on permanent display including sections from the following interviews: Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine; E.D. Nixon, civil rights leader from Montgomery; Diane Nash, student leader in the Nashville movement; James Farmer (audio only), national civil rights leader and one of the organizers of the 1961 Freedom Rides; Victoria Gray Adams (audio only), a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic PartyJohn Hulett, voting rights activist in Lowndes County, Alabama; and Huey Newton, Black Panther activist.

The full text of all of these interviews are available on the Eyes on the Prize Interviews digital project site which also contains complete transcripts for all the interviews from Eyes on the Prize.



Dorothy Height and The Great Depression

28 Mar

Dorothy Height, an activist for civil rights as well as women’s rights, was celebrated on Google’s front page on what would have been her 102nd birthday. Height’s name is not as well-known as some other figures that were prominent in the civil rights movement, but she was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

Height was interviewed for the Blackside series, The Great Depression, and spoke about her early life as an activist in New York and her work with the organizer and politician, Adam Powell, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Her interview is part of the newly digitized collection, The Great Depression Interviews, where researchers can watch and read the entire transcript of the interviews conducted for the series. In her interview, Height described how she worked to fight what she described as a slave market, a system of labor where people from the suburbs of New York would drive in and pick out domestic workers from a street corner. This was an exploitative system where workers would work long hours for very little pay and no benefits or any way to negotiate or improve their working conditions. Height said,

What had happened was that as more and more women came from the South, and they were in need of work, and they didn’t have references, and they didn’t have jobs, what developed what was called the Bronx Slave Market. And that meant that the women went to certain corners, and employers would come, and just as in slavery, they would look and choose the one that looked the strongest or the healthiest, take that person home with them to get their work done, and then sometimes they would turn the clock back. I got into this because at the Harlem YWCA so many girls and women, coming from the South especially, came to us with these stories of desperation, how it was they went home with the women at eight o’clock in the morning and they left their house at midnight, and she turned back the clock and said to them it was only six o’ clock, and they didn’t know until they got out into the streets. And she would only pay them what she wanted. And then, if she went to the police, they would, this woman would say, “I don’t even know this girl. She tried to get into my house,” so that we had young teenagers as well as older women who were just desperately looking for work. One time, I went before the city council, because we were protesting this. We had a small committee that was trying to see what could be done. And I’ll never forget saying to them that it was called, that it was known as the Bronx Slave Market. And the Bronx councilman didn’t want to hear that, and he said, “Well, how could you call it that?” I said, “Well, it’s not only in the Bronx, it’s in Brooklyn, too.” It was all over the city. Desperate domestic workers were simply being exploited.

Interview with Dorothy Height , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 25, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

The entire transcript is available, as well as the video above. More information on the project can be found here.




RAWSTOCK Film Screening

21 Mar


The Washington University Visual Media Research Lab presents RAWSTOCK, a free archival screening night where anything goes!

Join us as we unearth the rarest treasures hidden deep within the vaults of Washington University Libraries. From educational films to burlesque acts, there’s no telling what we will find!

2712 Cherokee St.

St. Louis, MO 63118

Friday, April 25 ~ 8 p.m.

Check our Facebook event page for updates:

For any questions contact the Film & Media Archive at or 314-935-8679.



Audio Digitization in the Film & Media Archive

14 Mar
Manuscript from the James Merrill Collection.  Photo credit: Washington University Libraries

Manuscript from the James Merrill Collection.
Photo credit: Washington University Libraries

In conjunction with a recent St. Louis Magazine article, Yes & No by Stefene Russell and the James Merrill Digital Archive , Jim Hone, Film & Media Digital Archivist, digitized a recording from the Merrill Collection, James Merrill, An Evening of Words and Music.

The performance was recorded on April 26, 1985 and featured readings by Merrill, including excerpts from “The Changing Light at Sandover,” his epic poem. Other performers included Michael Beckerman, Harold Blumenfeld, Michael Ludwig, David Patterson, John McIvor Perkins and Rhian Samuel. Drafts of “The Changing Light at Sandover,” were originally written during nightly sessions as Merrill and his partner, David Jackson consulted a Ouija board. These notebooks and drafts are all housed at the Manuscript Department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.

Jim Hone, Film & Media Digital Archivist, collaborated with Special Collections and was able to capture and digitize this special evening to make the audio available to the public. Using Audacity, an audio editing program, Hone captured the analog recording, imported it into his system, and then created various digital copies. Several factors can influence the quality of the audio and what the archivist has to work with, including the recording equipment, the quality of the microphone, the space where it was recorded, and the placement of the microphones. Speaking about the Merrill recording, Hone said,

There can be enormous dynamic shifts in the sound. One of the poems read at the evening was about the birth of Merrill’s great-nephew and that is accompanied by a performance on a toy piano.

Hone had to adjust the levels by listening carefully to the entire tape and making adjustments from moment to moment as the audio levels went from soft (Merrill’s reading) to loud (the musical performances). Hone said,

Some of the music  is up at the highest levels. At other times if the speaker is not close to the microphone and is moving around the stage the recording becomes softer and quieter. When dealing with this type of media [an audio cassette] I have to live with the fact that if I pushed the volume it would sound terrible. You have to accept how it was recorded, the limitations of the process, where it was recorded, and the limitations of the space.

In general, as a film and audio preservationist, Hone applies very minimal processing. He leaves a certain amount of room tone and hiss, approaching the work as a straight preservationist. In the case where an audio technician is working with a production or a client then they might remove certain aspects of the original recording. In this case, the aim is to capture and preserve the original recording in an uncompressed format, usually a .wav file. Hone can then create an intermediate file and access copies (an mp3) that can be easily uploaded and shared via the web. Hone said,

The best I can do when there are problems is to find something in the signal that makes it coherent. Every cassette, every piece of media is an adventure and has its challenges.

Inside the Film Archive

14 Feb
Film & Media Archive stacks

Washington University Film & Media Archive stacks

The climate controlled vault at the Film & Media Archive was designed to address the challenges of storing film and other media to ensure the material lasts for the maximum amount of time and remains in the best condition.

Film preservation efforts varied over time, but unfortunately 90 percent of all American silent films made before 1929 and 50 percent of American sound films made before 1950 are lost. ( Dave Kehr (14 October 2010). “Film Riches, Cleaned Up for Posterity”New York Times.

To properly store film the temperature and humidity must be controlled and provide a stable environment for the materials. Filmmakers and historians recognized the need for this and the Museum of Modern Art in New York was one of the first institutions to collect and preserve film. Followed by the founding of the  George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in 1947, the American Film Institute founded in 1967, and The Film Foundation, created by Martin Scorsese in 1990. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but over the years film preservationists have  continued to make advances in how film is stored and treated.

The Washington University Film & Media Archive currently contains 6,500,000 feet (based on can size),  1,300 linear feet (manuscript boxes), 19,900 video tapes, 10, 150 audio tapes, 4,650 books, 160 CDs, 800 DVDs, and 25,000 photographs.

 Photos by Alison Carrick. 

Henry Hampton and “America’s War on Poverty”

7 Feb
Henry Hampton - Photo by Dave Henderson

Henry Hampton – Photo by Dave Henderson

This year marks the 5oth anniversary of the War on Poverty. In the 1964 State of the Union address President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a series of new programs and initiatives designed to alleviate inequalities and end poverty in America.

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.

Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union Address, Jan. 8, 1964

This extremely ambitious effort combined many programs including the Social Security Amendments of 1965 which created Medicare and Medicaid, the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which encompassed the Job Corps, the VISTA program and many others initiatives, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which created the Title I program to subsidize school districts with many impoverished students.

Henry Hampton, after tackling The Great Depression in 1993, began work on his series America’s War on Poverty. The program aired in 1995 and continued Blackside’s tradition of in-depth, innovative filmmaking. In an article published around the debut on PBS stations, Hampton said,

The war on poverty was a time when poor Americans were given weapons and resources to change their own lives,” Hampton said in a phone interview last week. “In watching this series, I think people will come to understand that most people want to work and thrive. I think people will also come to understand the enormous reservoir of human potential in this country.

A recent article by Eric Mink, who knew Hampton and worked with him on the  jury of the duPont-Columbia Awards in the 1980s, described Hampton’s method and documentary style,

Henry’s documentary — he served as executive producer; Terry Kay Rockefeller was the series producer — examines the planning, operation, problems and achievements of key programs that flowed from President Johnson’s initiative and the support of the American people generally. Its sources include official and unofficial records, personal notes and memoirs, in-depth interviews with direct participants (opponents and supporters alike), archival news footage, academic studies and a treasury of vintage still photos and relevant period music.

Hampton’s work looked into chapters of American history where he felt the full story had not been told, or had been reported in a one-sided manner. In addition to interviewing officials including  Sargent Shriver , known as the “architect” of the War on Poverty, Hampton sought out people who while not well-known had participated in the War on Poverty programs, such as Head Start. The range of interviewees he chose created a diverse portrait of this ambitious movement.

Library unveils Great Depression conversations

31 Jan

Fully searchable resource brings invaluable, previously inaccessible oral history within reach. 

In March of 1992, many years after photographer Dorothea Lange’s 1936 image of a migrant mother in California became one of the most iconic images from the Great Depression, a camera crew sat down with two daughters of the subject of Lange’s photo.

“We’re talking to Norma Rydlewski and Katherine McIntosh about their mother and their experiences,” the interviewer explained. “I guess what I’d like to get first of all is [a] sense of what kind of woman your mother was. What does it take to live through that?”

Portrait shows Florence Owens Thompson with several of her children in a photograph known as “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange.

For about 40 minutes, Rydlewski and McIntosh shared their stories with Blackside, Inc., a film company founded by 1961 Washington University graduate Henry Hampton. In the footage and transcript of that conversation, now accessible for the first time along with many more such interviews through WU Libraries, the family’s daily challenges come to life. The sisters describe not only their strong, beautiful mother but everything from field work and playing with dirt clods as children to early union meetings and the economical “saving grace” that was World War II.

When The Great Depression, Blackside’s seven-part documentary series, debuted on PBS in October of 1993, the program wove together short segments from extensive interviews with 148 people who experienced the Great Depression, including Rydlewski and McIntosh. As illuminating as the documentary is in its own right, the many additional hours of oral history that Blackside recorded in the process of creating it are a treasure trove of primary source material—all of it newly viewable, browsable, and searchable online.

“Hampton’s film crews conducted hundreds of hours of interviews for their documentary series, but in most cases only a small portion of those interviews made it to the final program, leaving the complete interviews virtually unseen and inaccessible,” says Nadia Ghasedi, head of the library’s Visual Media Research Lab, where the Henry Hampton Collection resides. “This new resource of both the complete interview transcripts and video from The Great Depression enables anyone to search and view invaluable primary source material related to a pivotal time in 20th-century American history. It also allows researchers to see which portions of the interviews appeared in the final program, giving insights into the documentary storytelling process.”

Digital Archivist Jim Hone, who digitized more than 110 hours of interview material for this project, notes that the Blackside team produced a body of work that is “the gold standard of documentary form.”

“They sweated the details on every photograph, sound, and moving image in their programs,” Hone says. “Better still, they left us a meticulous record of their preparations, meetings, screenings, and self-critique. You can learn a lot by studying them.”

The diverse range of individuals whose reflections on the 1930s are now easily accessible include a grandson of Franklin D. and Eleanor Rooselvelt, celebrated authors Maya Angelou and Gore Vidal, longtime New York Times political reporter Warren Moscow, actors Karen Morley and Ossie Davis, Morton Newman, who worked on the Upton Sinclair campaign for governor in California, and many more from all walks of life. The multicultural, multiregional approach brings needed depth and color to an era that is often remembered and depicted as a monolithic event dragging the nation down for a decade, says Film & Media Archive assistant Alison Carrick, who managed the workflow of the digitization project.

“When we think about the Great Depression, images of the dust bowl and breadlines immediately come to mind,” Carrick says. “And that is part of the history Blackside covered with this series, but they also revealed complex and lively stories that are often overlooked—from union struggles, to heated political campaigns, Works Progress Administration projects, the New Deal, and more. What Blackside managed to do with this series and these interviews was to bring that period of history back to life in a vivid, engaging way.”

Hone adds that in working through every minute of the interviews and taking notes in the process, he’s been struck by the stories of human survival, persistence, and endurance.

“I recently started working on another Blackside series digitization project—this time America’s War on Poverty,” says Hone. “It’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle of history. I look forward to it every day.”

The Great Depression Interviews project illustrates the rich collections that WU Libraries staff members are bringing within easy reach of students, faculty, and the wider world. It’s also one example of the collaborative, complex nature of the work required to do so. From early steps like identifying the types of media on which each interview exists and cataloging the camera rolls, sound rolls, and video items, to transcribing and encoding the content in text files according to best practices, to the digitization of more than 300 videocassettes and final design of the online, user-friendly interface, efforts to make such collections as freely accessible and usable as possible are far from simple. Archive staff work closely with the Digital Library Services unit to bring such projects to fruition.

The result is a seamless, powerful tool with much potential for interdisciplinary research.

“One of the best features of the site, thanks to DLS, is that it is text/keyword searchable,” Carrick says. “This creates a way for users to pinpoint a subject, name, or event and quickly look to see where it occurs in each transcript. Our hope is that this feature will lead users to other transcripts they might not have thought contained similar subject matter.”

The homepage URL for The Great Depression Interviews is

Photo information for image above: Among the scores of interviewees whose reflections on the Great Depression comprise a newly accessible WU Libraries resource are two daughters of Florence Owens Thompson, the subject of Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph.

Article by Evie Hemphill (@evhemphill), a writer and photographer for Washington University Libraries in St. Louis.


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