Henry Hampton, one of the most prominent documentary filmmakers of the 20th century and an authority on African-American life, history and culture, was also known for his charity work. The combination of his successful production company, Blackside and his position as a leading African-American historian attracted the attention of seemingly every aspiring documentary film-maker in the U.S., as well as anyone who wished to offer their own views on the African-American experience in a book, play or pamphlet. Hampton’s personal files, now held by the Film and Media Archive, are bursting with what my are commonly known as “begging letters.” Except these letters were not just asking for money, they were asking for time, attention and approval. And, in one case, a blurb for the dust-jacket. Last summer, I was sorting through one of several boxes of such letters, and came upon a request by one author who was requesting that Mr. Hampton take time to look at his book Dreams From My Father. That rang a bell. My eyes shot to the bottom of the page and there was the signature, Barack Obama. In 1995, the 44th President of the United States was a lawyer in Chicago and a first-time author who was hoping to convince Henry Hampton to take the time to read his book. Unfortunately, we don’t know if he ever got around to it or not, but at least we have the letter. It would be fascinating to get Henry Hampton’s take on the the historic election of Barack Obama, and have him discuss the historical implications of the journey from the summer of 1955, when the series Eyes on the Prize began to 2008, to the election of President Obama.
–Barry Kelley, Cataloger.