Archive | September, 2012

National Film Registry Nominations

28 Sep

Henry Hampton interviews William B. Huie for “Eyes on the Prize”

The Library of Congress is seeking nominations for the National Film Registry.Members of the public are invited to submit their suggestions. The registry seeks nominations of films that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The Film & Media Archive is asking people to nominate Eyes on the Prize: American’s Civil Right Years 1954-1965. The series, created and produced by Henry Hampton, is culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Hampton set out to tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement from multiple perspectives, but most importantly, from the people who made up the movement. Previous documentaries had focused on the leaders of the movement whose contributions, while undeniably important, were not the whole story. This six part series which debuted on PBS stations, is considered to be the definitive documentary on the Civil Rights Movement. Eyes on the Prize won more than twenty major awards and attracted over 20 million viewers.

That is why we are asking member of the public to nominate Eyes on the Prize: American’s Civil Right Years 1954-1965 for the National Film Registry. To nominate the film, follow this link. The official selections will be announced in December.

Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun

21 Sep

The 2008 documentary, Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun aired on PBS’ American Master series and told the story of the fiercely independent writer and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston.The film used archival footage, some shot by Hurston herself during her trips to gather ethnographic songs and folktales, and footage from a Blackside interview with Alice Walker from the series, I’ll Make Me a World.

Hurston came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance while studying at Barnard College. After becoming a protegé of famed anthropologist, Franz Boaz, and being granted a fellowship, she traveled extensively throughout the South documenting African-American culture. On her travels she recorded over 200 blues and folks songs with ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress, and filmed religious services in African-American churches. These explorations led to the book, Mules and Men, now regarded as a folklore classic. Her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, also based in the Deep South was listed in Time’s Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

Recognition of Hurston’s achievements came long after her death and her reputation was largely resurrected by writer, Alice Walker. Their Eyes Were Watching God and Hurston’s anthropological work were often downplayed or disparaged by her fellow Harlem Renaissance writers due to her work’s apolitical nature. Hurston was often at odds with writers such as Richard Wright, who criticized the use of African-American dialect in her work. She died in obscurity and her work was brought to light by Alice Walker when she wrote, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” an article published in Ms. Magazine in 1975 which describes Walker’s efforts to find Hurston’s unmarked grave and place a marker there. In Walker’s interview for I’ll Make Me a World she talks about the impact and influence Hurston had on her own writing.

In this audio recording, Zora Neale Hurston sings a version of the work song, “Mule on the Mountain.” She begins describing the song and its origins and ends with an explanation of how sometimes there are “thirty or forty verses,” and the song is “grown by incremental repetition until perhaps it’s the longest song in America.”

More recordings and documents by Hurston can be found at the Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942 – Library of Congress.

Disaster Preparation Workshop – Oct. 1, 2012

14 Sep

A one day workshop on disaster preparation and wet salvage of archival and library materials will be held at Washington University West Campus Conference Center on Oct. 1, 2012. This is a hands-on event for archivists and librarians sponsored by the Association of St. Louis Area Archivists (ASLAA).

Libraries and archives in the Midwest are vulnerable to many types of natural disasters including floods, fires, tornadoes, and even earthquakes from the New Madrid fault. This workshop will cover basics of disaster planning and recovery of materials such as paper, photographs, textiles, film, and video. There will be lectures and a hands-on workshop giving participants a chance to observe the ways different media are damaged in a disaster and then actual experience recovering wet and damaged materials. The workshop will be suitable for beginners through experienced participants, and will address issues for handling special collections and archival collections.

The workshop is hosted by Washington University in conjunction with the National Archives at St. Louis and will be held at the West Campus Conference Center. The Association of St. Louis Area Archivists is sponsoring the event and accepting registrations. For more information contact ASLAA or the National Archives at St. Louis.

Emmett Till and “Eyes on the Prize”

7 Sep

Emmett Till in a photograph taken by his mother on Christmas Day 1954, about eight months before his murder.

A recent episode featured on NPR  told the story of Abel Meeropol, a poet and teacher, who was moved to write the song “Strange Fruit,” after seeing a photograph of a lynched African-American. The song written in the late 1930s was eventually made famous by Billie Holiday and named the Song of the Century in 1999 by Time magazine.

This violent and disturbing chapter of American history has been documented in recent years with an exhibit, that is now also an online resource: Without Sanctuary. These murders were often not well reported at the time and many times no one was prosecuted or brought to trial for the deaths. As Without Sanctuary has documented, evidence of these crimes in the form of postcard photographs were openly sent, mailed, and displayed with no fear of prosecution by the participants or witnesses of these atrocities. Anti-lynching legislation was routinely introduced over the years, but from 1882 to 1968 only three bills were passed in the House of Representative only to be struck down in the Senate.

The murder of Emmett Louis Till in 1955 was one of three lynching in 1955, but his mother’s decision to have an open casket funeral and the subsequent attention surrounding Till’s case galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. Till was from Chicago and had been visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi when he reportedly flirted with a white woman. The woman, Carolyn Bryant, ran a grocery story with her husband, Roy Bryant. There are varying stories of what exactly occurred at the store, but a few nights later on August 28 Till was taken from his great-uncle’s home by Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam and then brutally beaten and murdered. The extent of Till’s injuries was so extreme that his mother Mamie Till Bradley asked for an open casket funeral to show the brutality of what had been done to her son. The funeral was documented in a Jet magazine story, published on September 15, 1955.

This article and the accompanying photo of Emmett Till’s mutilated body were seen by a young Henry Hampton. Hampton, who was the exact same age as Till, lived in St. Louis, Missouri–not that far from Money, Mississippi–and never forgot Till’s story. It had a lasting impact on him, and when he made his documentary, Eyes on the Prize he began telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement with Till’s murder. The Film & Media Archive has many documents, photos, and material relating to the history of lynching and the Emmett Till case. For this section of the documentary, Hampton interviewed Curtis Jones, Till’s cousin, journalist William Bradford Huie, who interviewed Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam for Look magazine, and journalist James L. Hicks, who covered the trial.

Mose Wright stands and points to J. W. Milam, a white man accused of kidnapping and murdering Wright’s 14-year-old great-nephew Emmett Till, during the murder trial in Sumner, Mississippi, September 1955.

Hicks described how Till’s great-uncle, Mose Wright testified and identified Till’s killers,

He was called up on to testify as to, could he see anybody in the courtroom identify anybody in that courtroom that had come to his house that night and got Emmet Till out. He stood up and there was a tension in the courtroom because we had been told…that, hey, the stuff is going to hit the fan when they stand up and identify, when Moses Wright stand up and identified J.W. Milam and the other fellow…And he looked around and there was a tension and he says in his broken language, “Dar he.”

Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp who directed the 2004 documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, did extensive research at the Film & Media Archive. This film and subsequent publicity surrounding it led to the reopening of the Till case in 2005. Again the Film & Media Archive provided interview transcripts and documents to the Justice Department while they were investigating the case. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam had been acquitted by an all-white jury in 1955, and no other people were prosecuted for Till’s murder, despite accounts uncovered by Beauchamp of more people than Bryant and Milam being at the scene.

For more information on the materials on this case, please contact the Film & Media Archive.