From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


Lost and Found African-American History


Car Ferry (1:18)
School Children (:39)
Mother and Daughter (:07)
Parade (1:56)
House (:50)
Funeral Procession (:39)
Hamburger Stand (:09)
Marching Band (:19)
School Chidren (:35)
Graduation (:36)
Cowboys (1:16)
Oil Well (1:07)

“The African-American past is an iceberg, still 90 percent submerged.
Because so much material remains in family hands or lies piled in the
unvisited attics and basements of libraries, newspapers, and even
police stations, rich discoveries await. Currie Ballard, a historian in
Oklahoma, has just made what he calls “the find of a lifetime”-33
cans of motion picture film dating from the 1920s that reveal the daily
lives of some remarkably successful black communities.

The film shows them thriving in the years after the infamous Tulsa Riot
of 1921, in which white mobs destroyed that city’s historic black
Greenwood district, which was known as the Black Wall Street of
America. Through the flickering eloquence of silent film we see a
people resilient beyond anyone’s imagining, visiting one another’s
country homes, parading through downtown Muskogee in some two
dozen Packards, crowding an enormous church in Tulsa not long after
the riots, during a gathering of the National Baptist Convention.

Indeed, this extraordinary archive exists because someone at the
powerful National Baptist Convention assigned the Rev. S. S. Jones, a
circuit preacher, to document the glories of Oklahoma’s black towns,
Guthrie, Muskogee, and Langston. Reverend Jones surely has a way with
a camera as he comes in close on the animated faces of his neighbors,
sweeps wide to track black cowboys racing across a swath of ranch land,
or vertically pans up the skyscraper-high oil derricks owned by the
Ragsdale family, whose wells produced as much as a thousand barrels a
day. We know the names of these families and others because typed
labels accompany each of the eight-minute cans, and onscreen titles
introduce the various segments.

This is a historian’s dream, more than four hours of
never-before-seen film that is engaging, intimate, and shown in its
full context, incorporating names, dates, and places. And Reverend
Jones even traveled (as reflected in those 33 cans of film but not in
the excerpts here) to Kansas City, Denver, Arkansas, and even Paris and
Marseilles to film life there.

Ballard admits that he mortgaged his life away when the opportunity
arose to acquire this treasure. Now he’s hoping to find an
appropriate institution to take it over and transfer the highly
unstable film to disk, a costly operation. He wants the world to view
this material, to make people aware that only 60 years after
emancipation, and in the shadow of one of the nation’s most violent
and destructive race riots, these people persevered and built anew.
Perhaps someone out there, watching this, right now, will take the

For more information contact Wyatt Houston Day, a bookseller and
archivist who has been working with Currie Ballard. He’s at
whdbook [at] erols [dot] com [dot]

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