For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of inventorying the Ed Pincus Film Collection. Mr. Pincus is a documentary filmmaker who worked in the 1960s to document the Civil Rights Movement in Natchez, Mississippi. Our collection contains two complete documentaries produced during this time period (Black Natchez and Panola), and many hours of footage that never made it into a completed film.
While examining the films, I have had the opportunity to watch much of this unused footage. Some of the material I have spent the most time with has been the reels he shot for an intended sequel to his featureBlack Natchez. It has been an eye-opening look into life in Natchez in 1967. The film was shot the week following the murder of Wharlest Jackson, the treasurer of the Natchez branch of the NAACP. Jackson had been working in the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant, and had recently been promoted to a position that had been previously held by white workers. On the evening of February 27, a bomb detonated in Jackson’s pickup truck and killed him. He had received threats at the plant, and the incident highlighted the continued presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Natchez. In the week that followed, the African American community, along with local and national civil rights activists, gathered to address the problem.
What Pincus captured were the protest marches, community meetings, and general public sentiment following Jackson’s death. The rolls of film he shot are genuine, often candid, portrayals of a city at a time of turmoil. At times, Pincus and his partner, David Neuman, turn the camera on an individual and interview him. Everyone from a prominent civil rights leader like Charles Evers to the average man in the street is asked to express his thoughts and feelings about the racial tensions and violence in the city. Some of the most engaging rolls to watch, however, are shot in a more “fly on the wall” style. My favorite scenes are the ones shot in a local barbershop, where the camera simply looks on and listens in while members of the community discuss the murder and the state of the city while having their hair cut and socializing. They talk about leaving the city, and consider if it is worth staying for jobs or not. They discuss law enforcement and the judicial system. They debate the effectiveness of the tactics of marching and protest being used by the civil rights community. The conversation is casual, often cracking jokes and dissolving into laughter in the midst of serious conversation. The NAACP and Deacons for Defense and Justice meetings are fascinating, but it is these conversational scenes that bring the civil rights struggle home to me in a very real way.
It is easy to have respect for the tremendous work done by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but a historical respect and personal empathy are very different things. With the perspective of history, it is easy to forget that these men and women didn’t know what was going to happen next. They didn’t know if they were safe, or who among them would be the next target of violence. But they still marched publicly, made speeches, and worked to foster communication with the white community, despite the jeopardy it put their lives in, because they knew that it needed to be done. It is the way these films bring such an important historical era to life that will make them invaluable to researchers. I feel inspired by the individuals portrayed in them, and it makes me feel that my own work is that much more important. Amistad continues working to make these films accessible, and to share these very personal stories with future generations. Look for more updates on our efforts to preserve the Ed Pincus Film Collection in future blog posts.
Posted by Brenda Flora.
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