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50 Years/50 Collections: Ed Pincus and Filming the Movement

Ed Pincus filming Black Natchez

The Ed Pincus film collection came to the Amistad Research Center in 2001. Pincus is a documentary filmmaker who has focused on exposing and exploring social and political problems. In 1965, Pincus and his partner David Neuman, spent ten weeks in Natchez, Mississippi, documenting the civil rights work taking place there. He used the footage they gathered to produce two seminal black and white 16mm documentaries. These two completed films, along with hours of unedited raw footage, make up the Ed Pincus collection at Amistad.

NAACP Field Director Charles Evers addresses a crowd.

The first film, Black Natchez (1966), charts early attempts to organize and register Black voters in Natchez. The film follows the work of the Freedom Democratic Party (FDP) and the NAACP, highlighting the differing approaches of the two groups. It also tracks the formation of a local Deacons for Defense and Justice group, an armed protection group created in response to the hostility the Black community was facing. While they were chronicling these stories, George Metcalfe, the recently elected president of the local branch of the NAACP, was bombed in his car leaving his job at the Armstrong Tire Plant and hospitalized with serious injuries. Pincus’ camera was on hand to capture the fallout and general public sentiment following the attack as the African American community, along with local and national civil rights activists, gathered to address the problem.

Deacon James Jackson discusses the picket with the clients in his barber shop.

The second film shot that summer, Panola (1969), focuses on a single individual Pincus and Neuman met during their time in Natchez. It is a portrait of Panola, a Black man who may be a police informant. It follows the ups and downs of his life as he tries to make sense of violence and non-violence during the same turbulent period portrayed in Black Natchez. Both documentaries are pioneering examples of the cinema verité style and have been widely hailed by critics.

Workers in the Natchez NAACP office discuss negotiations with the city

Also included in the Pincus collection is the raw footage for an intended sequel to Black Natchez that was never completed. Pincus and Neuman returned to Natchez in 1967 following the murder of Wharlest Jackson, the treasurer of the Natchez branch of the NAACP in a bombing similar to that of Metcalfe. This footage revisits the locations and individuals from the first film, two years later. It highlights the continued presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Natchez, and the continuing activism to battle against it.

Wharlest Jackson at a Deacons for Defense organizational meeting in 1965

All told, Pincus’ Natchez film projects resulted in over 230 reels of film and audiotape, including 115 hours of film out-takes of never-before-seen footage of civil rights meetings, day-to-day organizing, and community activities. Contact the Center to learn how to view the collection.

The Freedom Democratic Party tries to organize a march to the court house.

A tank passes a group that has gathered to discuss voter registration.

Images from the Ed Pincus film collection. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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