MDAH Completes $500,000 Film Digitization Project

The Department of Archives and History has completed a half-million-dollar digitization project for one of its most significant and heavily used resources, the WLBT Newsfilm Collection. The collection is an important documentary source on the civil rights movement in the South from 1954 to 1971.

The WLBT Newsfilm Collection was used in the award-winning documentaries Eyes on the Prize and The Murder of Emmett Till. The collection has also been used by the FBI and the state attorney general’s office in civil rights cases. The collection includes footage of such nationally significant events as the arrival of the Freedom Riders, the Capitol Street Boycott, and James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi, as well as civil rights leaders Stokely Carmichael, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King.

“Scholars are beginning to use this collection as a source for research on other social and political events of the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Vietnam War, the women’s movement, and the space program,” said Elaine Owens, whose Image and Sound section handled the digitization project.

The film was shot on location in Jackson and surrounding areas by WLBT news crews and donated to MDAH in 1980. Only about 10 percent of the film and videotapes produced by local broadcast stations 1950–75 survives in public institutions. The vast majority was discarded when the stations transitioned from film to videotape.

MDAH was awarded a $227,000 Save America’s Treasures grant through the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2006 to undertake the project to preserve the film and make access to the collection easier. The matching grant required MDAH to provide personnel and facilities as well as additional funds. MDAH staff inspected, cleaned, and repaired the original 16mm film before digitizing a portion of the collection.

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