UVa Preserves Civil Rights-era News Films

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by Associated Press

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.— The University of Virginia Library is continuing to preserve Civil Rights-era television news footage that includes clips of civil rights leaders discussing plans for demonstrations and then-Gov. Lindsay Almond vowing to fight racial integration.

The WSLS-TV News Film Collection 1951-1971 is rare, original 16-millimeter film from Virginia’s Civil Rights era. It contains nearly 12,500 news clips and about 20,000 pages of scripts read by the Roanoke station’s anchors during broadcasts.

U.Va. said that the National Endowment for the Humanities has contributed $254,600 toward the preservation project.

The project is part of the endowment’s “We the People” initiative, which aims to enhance the study and understanding of American history, culture and democratic principles.

A 1959 film clip shows Almond, a staunch opponent of desegregation, hurling defiant language after a Virginia court issued a ruling against the state’s Massive Resistance laws. Almond had closed public schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk and Front Royal in 1958 rather than integrate them. State and federal courts declared his actions illegal.

A silent clip from 1960 shows Black and White children entering schools together for the first time in Virginia.

The Library of Congress estimates that less than 10 percent of local news film footage from the 1950s through the 1970s still exists. The U.Va. project will preserve the WSLS film as a historical resource that the public can access, said Kara McClurken, the library’s head of preservation services.

U.Va. acquired the collection in 2004. In addition to civil rights stories, the archive also includes footage about moonshine raids, beauty pageants, polio vaccinations and other events of the time.

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