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.

 

 

Yuri Kochiyama

6 Jun
Yuri Kochiyama

Yuri Kochiyama

 

Yuri Kochiyama, Japanese-American Activist and supporter of Malcolm X, has died at age 93. Kochiyama was interviewed for the Blackside/ROJA production, Malcolm X: Make It Plain. In the extensive interview done for this program, Kochiyama talked about her friendship with Malcolm, her allegiance with the civil rights movement, and being present in the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm was assassinated. In this interview with Democracy Now, Kochiyama talks about how her activism began after her family was placed in internment camps during World War II and friendship with Malcolm. A life-long activist, Kochiyama worked to get recognition of the civil rights violations that Japanese-Americans were subject to prior to and during WWII.

In addition to appearing in Malcolm X: Make It Plain, Kochiyama was the subject of the  documentaries Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice (1999) by Japanese American filmmaker Rea Tajiri and African American filmmaker Pat Saunders, and Mountains Take Wing (2010), a film about Kochiyama and Angela Davis. She appeared in several other programs and documentaries and her speeches have been published under the title, Discover Your Mission: Selected Speeches & Writings of Yuri Kochiyama (1998).

 

Maya Angelou

3 Jun

Writer and activist Maya Angelou has died at age 86. Angelou was active in the Civil Rights Movement, author of many celebrated poems, and served as poet laureate of the United States. Her prose book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is widely regarded as a leading work of literary autobiography. In this interview for Blackside, Inc.’s documentary The Great Depression, Angelou discusses living with poverty and segregation in rural Arkansas. She also discusses her early education and the impact that Joe Louis’s boxing victories had on African Americans in her community. 

Vincent Harding: Historian, Activist, and Advisor

23 May

Vincent Harding

Vincent Harding passed away on May 19, 2014. He was 82 and was an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. for ten years, and later acted as an academic series advisor on Eyes on the Prize and The Great Depression. 

Harding helped King write his speech Beyond Vietnam-A Time to Break Silence, which took a bold anti-war stance and alienated many of King’s supporters, including President Johnson. Harding was among a core group of King supporters who carried on his programs after he was assassinated.

Harding was not only a historian, but as someone who had lived through many of the pivotal events of the civil rights movement, he was an ideal person for Henry Hampton to bring into his project, Eyes on the Prize. One unique primary resource at the Film and Media Archive are educational sessions that Henry Hampton organized called “school.” These were two-week sessions that Hampton organized for Blackside producers where he invited scholars, activists, historians, and others to come and talk about their experiences. These sessions were invaluable as they gave producers an in-depth immersion into the subject matter, and a chance to talk to people who had lived through many of the events that would make up the stories of Eyes on the Prize.

Harding was a key participant in the Hampton’s “school” and  conducted sessions for Eyes on the Prize I, and II, and The Great DepressionBlackside also conducted pre-interviews with Harding for Eyes on the Prize II, and This Far by Faith, and the Film Archive holds a filmed interview Harding conducted for This Far By Faith. Some of the material only exists in audio format, but there are video sessions as well. These are unique materials that have been digitized and are available to view in the Film and Media Archive. Please contact the Film Archive for more information.

 

 

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