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Film & Media Archive Completes Preservation of Rare Civil Rights Documentary

The Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive has completed the preservation and digitization of the rare civil rights documentary The Streets of Greenwood (1963). The project was made possible by a 2016 Basic Preservation Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF).

Still from “Streets of Greenwood”

Co-produced by Jack Willis, John Reavis, and Fred Wardenburg, The Streets of Greenwood chronicles the voter registration efforts of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Greenwood, Mississippi, in the summer of 1963. The documentary features footage of SNCC activists and like-minded protestors, as well as interviews with hardline segregationists such as Greenwood Mayor C. E. Sampson. It also includes footage of Pete Seeger performing folk classics such as “We Shall Overcome” and “Eyes on the Prize.”

Washington University sociology professor David Cunningham calls the voter registration campaign in Greenwood “one of the great unsung turning points” in the struggle for civil rights and praises the “rich visuals, ear-to-the-ground viewpoint, and astute narration” used by the filmmakers to capture the SNCC’s work.

Still from “Streets of Greenwood”

“From protest footage, to police dogs, to Pete Seeger’s cotton-field performance, The Streets of Greenwood packs a tremendous amount of valuable material into its compact 20 minutes,” Cunningham says.

The Streets of Greenwood was filmed in July 1963, just a few weeks after Byron de La Beckwith of Greenwood shot civil rights leader Medgar Evers and one month prior to the March on Washington. It was the first film from Jack Willis, who went on to become an Emmy Award-winning director and producer. In 2014 the Film & Media Archive acquired the Jack Willis Collection. His acclaimed documentaries include Lay My Burden Down (1966); Appalachia: Rich Land, Poor People (1968), and Hard Times in the Country(1969)—all films that reflect Willis’ affinity for what he calls “unheard voices, unserved voices.”

Still from “Streets of Greenwood”

The NFPF grant also provided funding for the preservation of outtakes from The Streets of Greenwood. The outtakes include never-before-available silent footage of Seeger, civil rights leader Robert Moses and musician Theodore Bikel, as well as footage of a young Bob Dylan. The Film & Media Archive was one of 39 institutions selected for a Basic Preservation Grant by the NFPF in 2016.

Links to the Film and Outtakes

Washington University’s Film & Media Archive is a nationally recognized center for scholarship, teaching, and learning. The Archive is committed to the preservation of documentary film and other media that chronicle America’s great political and social movements with a particular emphasis on the African-American experience. 

For more information, contact Curator of Film & Media Andy Uhrich.