The Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive has been awarded a 2016 Basic Preservation Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). The grant will be used to preserve and digitize the rare civil rights documentary The Streets of Greenwood (1963).
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, Miss., 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.
“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. Willis’ 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.”
In 2014 the Film & Media Archive acquired the Jack Willis Collection. The collection contains film, video, and manuscript material from Willis’ original, independent productions.
The Film & Media Archive will use the NFPF grant funding to preserve outtakes from The Streets of Greenwood, along with a print of the film donated by Willis.
The Film & Media Archive is one of 39 institutions selected for a 2016 Basic Preservation Grant by the NFPF. For information about the organization and a full list of winners, see the National Film Preservation Foundation article about the preservation grants.