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New Footage from the Civil Rights Era Available for the First Time

by Brenda Flora, Curator of Moving Images and Recorded Sound

Community members discuss current events at the barbershop
Community members discuss current events at the barbershop

In the culmination of a multi-year project supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) the Amistad Research Center is excited to announce the digitization of the Ed Pincus Film Collection. The initiative is the largest film digitization project in ARC’s history, providing access to more than 85 hours of previously unreleased material tracking Southern civil rights organizing, voter registration, and white supremacist violence in the late 1960s.

For ten weeks in 1965, filmmakers Ed Pincus and David Neuman filmed in Natchez, Mississippi, charting the early attempts the Freedom Democratic Party (FDP) and NAACP to organize and register Black voters, also capturing the formation of the self-defense group the Deacons for Defense and Justice. During this period the car of Natchez NAACP president George Metcalfe was bombed. This footage became the basis for the documentary Black Natchez (1967). Additional footage shot during the same time period became the short film Panola (1970), which focused on the life of a single African American man at the height of the chaos.

Freedom Democratic Party members gather
Freedom Democratic Party members gather

Pincus and Neuman returned to Natchez in 1967, following the murder of NAACP treasurer Wharlest Jackson, to document Jackson’s funeral and the aftermath of his death. Pincus intended to use this footage to create a follow up film to Black Natchez, but that project was never completed.

The collection captures the response of the Black community and local and national civil rights activists to the bombings of Metcalfe and Jackson, including protest marches, meetings, and public sentiment. The films include scenes on the street, at barbershops and restaurants, and at organizational meetings. The collection is a window into the thoughts and feelings of the local community and activists about the racial tensions and violence in the city, captured at a historical turning point.

Charles Evers addresses a crowd
Charles Evers addresses a crowd

ARC has been the custodian of the films since 2002, when documentary filmmaker Ed Pincus donated his collection for long term preservation. Until recently, researchers were able to view the footage in person only, by traveling to New Orleans and projecting the original films under supervision of an archivist. The digitization of the collection means that the films are now available to a wider audience, including the Natchez community whose history is recorded here.

The Ed Pincus Film Collection will launch on the Louisiana Digital Library for free streaming access by the end of 2021. A portion of the footage will be featured in American Reckoning on PBS FRONTLINE’S Un(re)solved series.

This project is supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Council on Library and Information Resources

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