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Out of the Archive’s new home

4 Apr

The Out of the Archive blog has moved and can be found on Washington University Libraries’ website:

Out of the Archive Blog: News and Events

Feel free to follow us over there for all the latest news and events happening in the Film & Media Archive at Washington University Libraries.


The Jack Willis Collection

17 Dec

Film & Media Archive acquires materials of civil rights documentarian Jack Willis

Filmmaker Jack Willis

Filmmaker Jack Willis at Washington University

In 2014 the Washington University Film & Media Archive acquired the collection of prolific documentary filmmaker and producer Jack Willis. The Jack Willis Collection contains film, video, and manuscript material from original, independent productions by Willis. His films tackle racism, poverty, and environmental issues and show his affinity for what he called “unheard voices, unserved voices.”

A native of Milwaukee, Willis was born in 1935. He grew up in Los Angeles and attended UCLA. He got his start in television as an associate producer for David Susskind’s interview show, Open End. Many of the guests on the program were civil rights leaders who had become prominent by the early 1960s. A meeting with James Forman, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), led Willis to travel to Mississippi to document the voter registration efforts of the SNCC in 1963 leading up to Freedom Summer. The film that resulted, The Streets of Greenwood (1963), was Willis’ first independent project and one of the most important documentaries of the period. Willis returned to the South to film Lay My Burden Down (1966), which chronicled the lives of tenant farmers in Selma, Alabama a year after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Throughout the 1960s, he wrote, directed, and produced a number of documentaries, including Every Seventh Child (1967), Appalachia: Rich Land, Poor People (1968), and Hard Times in the Country (1969). During these years, as he documented the struggle for civil rights, Willis had many hostile encounters with local authority figures, including one with Sherriff Jim Clark in Selma, Alabama.

Between 1966 and 1971, Willis produced a diverse range of documentaries for National Education Television, a forerunner of PBS. He continued developing and producing television programs such as the The 51st State, which ran on WNET in New York from 1972 to 1976. Winner of four Emmy Awards, The 51st State was a groundbreaking news program that often served as a platform for heated debates between audience members and local politicians. Willis also served as co-executive producer of The Great American Dream Machine, a satirical news program that aired on PBS from 1971 to 1973. The show featured Albert Brooks, Chevy Chase, and humorist Marshall Efron and won two Emmy Awards. Of his television work, Willis said, “I wanted to be involved in programming that was more informative and entertaining, to try to reach more people.”

In 1970, a surfing accident left Willis paralyzed from the neck down, but he regained mobility after six months of physical therapy and eventually returned to work. He co-wrote and co-produced the documentary Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang (1979), which investigated the government concealment of health risks connected to radiation and the testing of atomic bombs in the 1950s. The film won an Emmy Award, a George Polk Award, and a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award.

From 1978 to 1980, in preparation for a documentary, Willis conducted interviews with Rosa Parks, Fred Shuttlesworth, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Stokely Carmichael, James Forman, Ella Baker, and other people who had been deeply involved in the civil rights movement. The project was never completed, and the Jack Willis Collection contains more than 81 original interviews that have never been seen publicly.

The Film & Media Archive also holds the Henry Hampton Collection. Hampton was an acclaimed documentary filmmaker whose many projects included the 14-part television series Eyes on the Prize, which chronicled the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. The addition of the Jack Willis Collection to the archive represents a significant expansion of the unique and original material relating to the civil rights movement that is housed at the Washington University Libraries.


Jack Willis Screening

14 Oct

Thank you to Jack Willis for presenting the Streets of Greenwood (1964) and Lay My Burden Down (1966), as part of the Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Film Series.

Jack Willis Screening - Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Series

Jack Willis Screening – Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Series

Jack Willis is a journalist, filmmaker, television producer and executive. His films and programs have won many awards including 7 Emmys, the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism, and the First Amendment Award. His documentaries on race, poverty and other major social issues have been widely distributed in America and Europe. He is a Co-Founder and Sr. Vice President of Programming for Link TV, a Satellite channel currently in over 50 million American homes.

The fiftieth anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery in support of African American voter registration and the Voting Rights Act, and the recent release of Ava DuVernay’s Hollywood film Selma have brought these landmark events to the consciousness of contemporary Americans. At the same time, recent events have triggered unprecedented media coverage of longtime systemic problems in the policing of African Americans. Willis’ work is as relevant and vital now as it was when the films debuted in the 1960s, and we were honored to have him present his work at Washington University.

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

15 Jan
By National Archives and Records Administration (Army images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By National Archives and Records Administration (Army images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons















In advance of Martin Luther King day on January 19, we’d like to acknowledge the man on his birthday: January 15. Martin Luther King would have been 86 today and his words and actions continue to resonate today. King’s, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, was addressed not to the virulent, anti-black politicians but to a group he considered would be more sympathetic to his cause. The letter begins, “My Dear Fellow Clergymen,” and is an impassioned call for white, moderate  religious leaders to support the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham in the spring of 1963 and to re-evaluate their tepid support of the movement.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Film & Media Archive October Events

3 Oct

Home Movie Day in St. Louis


Washington University Film & Media Archive and St. Louis Public Library hosts this international event that invites the public to share their Regular 8mm, Super 8mm, 16mm, VHS and DVD home movies. In addition to screening home movies, the event provides an opportunity to learn how to care for home movies.

Home Movie Day in St. Louis is free and will be held in the Creative Experience Room, Saturday, October 18, 1pm – 3pm. Film drop off will begin at noon.

This is the 12th annual Home Movie Day, an event that celebrates home movies, amateur films, and filmmaking.

“Home movies provide invaluable records of our families and our communities: they document vanished storefronts, questionable fashions, adorable pets, long-departed loved ones, and neighborhoods in transition. Many people still possess these old reels or tapes, passed down from generation to generation, but lack the projection equipment to view them properly and safely,” stated Skip Elsheimer, president of the Center for Home Movies. “That’s where Home Movie Day comes in: the public brings the films, and volunteers inspect them, project them, and offer tips on storage, preservation, and video transfer—and free of charge, in most cities. And best of all, you get to watch them with an enthusiastic audience, equally hungry for local history,” added Elsheimer.

–Home Movie Day Press Release, 2014

For more information about this event, contact WU Film & Media Archive.
314-935-8679 ~

RAWSTOCK Halloween Edition


Washington University Libraries presents RAWSTOCK: Halloween Edition, a FREE screening of the scariest, creepiest, and most disturbing educational films, burlesque acts, and more!

Friday, October 24, 8pm at Melt, 2712 Cherokee Street

Costumes encouraged!





“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.



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).