Library, WBIR develop Black History Collection

Mary Pom ClaiborneOur Town Readers

Housed in the East Tennessee History Center, The Knox County Public Library’s Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS) preserves East Tennessee’s cultural history through film, video and audio. The moving image collection dates back to 1915 and consists of thousands of reels of film and videotape containing advertisements, documentaries, home movies, industrial films, newsreels and television programs – all created in or related to East Tennessee and the Southern Appalachian region.

The Rev. W. T. Crutcher of Mount Olive Baptist Church discussing his lawsuit to integrate Whittle Springs Golf Course. 1958.

When people come to tour TAMIS, they usually have a few questions. “How do I get my home movies digitized?” (TAMIS will digitize them for free in return for the donation of the original film reels to be housed in climate-controlled storage.) “Do you watch movies all day?” (No, I wish!) “What’s your favorite film in the collection?” (I like the underwater films by Larry Wittmer.)

Although most questions had easy answers, there is one that was more complicated than others: “What kind of materials do you have for Black history?”

Black history is an important part of our regional history, but it’s underrepresented in our collections. Home movie technology tended to be expensive – not just the cameras, but the film, too. This means that our home movie collections often show a very narrow view of the world through the eyes of a typical white, middle-class family in East Tennessee. Though these stories are extremely valuable, they don’t tell the full story, and we would be remiss if we did not seek out underrepresented communities in our materials.

In revisiting our collections to determine where we could find these underrepresented community stories, we realized that these stories could be found in our news collections. Specifically, our WBIR-TV news collection. This collection had already previously been cataloged, and we were able to search the existing catalog to identify stories relating to local Black history. In order to make this collection more accessible, we focused on making these materials searchable through our online catalog.

The stories we’ve been able to make available to the public have been incredible. News clips showing neighborhoods affected by Urban Renewal give us unique views of an area that no longer exists. Footage of local civil rights leaders such as the late Dr. Robert J. Booker or the Rev. W. T. Crutcher speaking brings their stories out of the past by showing us how they looked and sounded in real time. There are clips of important moments in the local Civil Rights movement, including the protests at the Tennessee and Bijou theatres downtown. The WBIR Black History Collection contains news stories of celebrities that came to Knoxville, such as Olympian Jesse Owens and musician Ray Charles.

Currently, there are just over 100 records in the Calvin M. McClung special collections catalog for the WBIR Black History Collection. Each entry includes a description of the content of the film, and a few have links to view the videos online. TAMIS intends to continue cataloging these materials and hopes to make more material available online through a partnership with WBIR.

Mary Pom Claiborne is Knox County Public Library assistant director for communications, marketing and development. Janine Winfree with TAMIS provided information for this story.


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