Campus News

First digital archive of nation’s civil rights movement created

Among the thousands of gems preserved in the special collections at the UGA Libraries is raw news footage from television stations WSB in Atlanta and WALB in Albany. More than 30 hours of that historical film is now the centerpiece of a digital library of the civil rights movement.

“The Civil Rights Digital Library initiative is the most ambitious and comprehensive effort to date to deliver educational content on the civil rights movement via the Web,” said P. Toby Graham, director of the Digital Library of Georgia, based at the UGA Libraries. “It is national in scope, and there really is nothing else like it.”

Held by the Libraries’ Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, the moving images-about 450 clips-cover a broad range of key civil rights events. The desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. (1957); the Atlanta Temple bombing (1958); the Atlanta sit-ins (1960); the Freedom Rides (1961); the desegregation of UGA and Georgia Tech (1961); the Albany Movement (1961-1962); the desegregation of Ole Miss (1962) and the University of Alabama (1963); the Americus Movement (1963, 1965); and the Birmingham demonstrations (1963) are among the highlights.

“The video archive covers both national figures and local leaders,” said Ruta Abolins, director of the Brown archives. “There are more than two hours of film related to Martin Luther King Jr. His role in the Albany Movement is documented extensively, including clips of speeches at mass meetings, his arrest by local police, press conferences and his visit to a pool hall to urge local African Americans to adopt nonviolence in achieving change in Albany.”

In addition to the news film, the digital library includes related holdings from 75 libraries, archives and museums across the nation. Most of the more than 100 collections are original documentation of the period, such as oral histories, letters, diaries, FBI files and photographs.

A partnership with the online New Georgia Encyclopedia is a key component, providing concise, authoritative articles on events and individuals associated with the civil rights movement in Georgia, supplemented by images and multi-media files.

The possibility of creating something on a national scale was influenced by the development of the Digital Library of Georgia, which offers a seamless library of Georgia history and life, according to Graham, and the success of the NGE.

The CRDL initiative includes a special site for teachers, called “Freedom on Film” (currently in development) that relates civil rights stories from nine Georgia towns and cities, along with related news film, discussion questions, lesson plans and suggested readings. Freedom on Film is being developed by UGA faculty and students, under the leadership of English professor Barbara McCaskill and Derrick Alridge, director of UGA’s Institute for African-American Studies.

Graham credits McCaskill with motivating him to begin thinking about creating the library when she sought to create opportunities for her students to research, analyze and write about the clips from the WSB-TV archive.
“Students learn from the material in our collections and, in turn, support learning among others,” he said.