Viewers will have a chance to watch the rare civil rights documentary The Streets of Greenwood at an upcoming St. Louis International Film Festival screening. The short documentary will be shown before a special free screening of In the Heat of the Night (1967) directed by Norman Jewison as part of the Mean Streets program. Co-presented by Washington University Libraries, this screening will take place at the St. Louis Public Library on Nov. 12. at 1:30 pm. With special guest Novotny Lawrence, associate professor of Race, Media, and Popular Culture in the Radio, Television, and Digital Media Department at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Streets of Greenwood was recently preserved and digitized by Washington University Libraries’ Film and Media Archive as part of a 2016 Basic Preservation Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF).
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 likeminded 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.”
“The film and its outtakes give a rare window into grassroots civil rights action that will be of great use to students, scholars, and media makers,” said Brian Woodman, curator of the Film & Media Archive.
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.
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. 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.”
All Mean Streets programs are free and open to the public. For descriptions of the films, visit the SLIFF website: http://www.cinemastlouis.org/film-categories/mean-streets-viewing-divided-city-through-lens-of-film-and-television.