This February 26th, the Smithsonian Channel will be airing a new documentary about civil rights leader Malcolm X, the charismatic spokesperson of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. The documentary, titled The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X , is part of the Smithsonian Channel’s Lost Tapes series and highlights archival materials never before seen by the general public, much of which came from the Washington University Libraries’ Henry Hampton Collection.
The Hampton Collection
Henry Hampton was an alumnus of Washington University in St Louis who established Blackside, Inc., the largest African-American-owned film production company of its time. Hampton created a number of prize-winning documentaries over his thirty-year career, including a 1994 two-and-a-half-hour documentary on Malcolm X called Malcolm X: Make it Plain.
Hampton’s documentary, co-produced with ROJA Productions, includes interviews with Malcolm X’s family members and other prominent figures who knew him, like Maya Angelou and Ossie Davis, and contains rare footage of Malcolm X speaking at rallies and meetings. The Washington University Libraries’ collections house film versions and transcripts of all of the interviews conducted for Malcolm X: Make it Plain, as well as additional materials like stock footage, photos, and scripts.
Obtaining the “Lost Tapes”
The footage obtained by The Lost Tapes is some of the B-roll footage that Hampton collected to splice into his documentary, much of which he never ended up using. These reels feature early color footage of Nation of Islam meetings that have never been seen by the public.
In order to use this footage in a public documentary, The Lost Tapes filmmaker Tom Jennings of 1985 Films had to get permission from the original copyright holder, but unfortunately the information in the records supplied by Blackside on the copyright permissions were incomplete. Film and Media Curator Brian Woodman was eventually able to help Jennings determine that the footage came from Abdul Salaam, Elijah Muhammad’s dentist. Jennings was then able to get in contact with the Salaam’s son, who gave the filmmaker permission to use the footage that will be featured prominently in the new documentary. Woodman says of the experience:
“It’s always gratifying to work with filmmakers who are as passionate about their subjects as 1895 Films. With their help, we were able to finally make contact with the Salaam family and make this rare Nation of Islam footage available publicly for the first time.”
If you are interested in Hampton’s original documentary on Malcolm X, you can read more about it under the Malcolm X: Make it Plain tab here, or check out the film from Olin or the companion book produced with the documentary. Although the Malcolm X interviews have not been digitized, you can request PDFs from any of the interviews conducted for the film from Special Collections. The digital project Eyes on the Prize: The Complete Interviews also has an interview with Sonia Sanchez available online in which she talks extensively about Malcolm X.