African American History Month and images in Cinema


This past week I worked with quite a few African American Studies faculty and their classes.  Based on the conversations and learning experiences generated, I fashioned this blog around the various topics and the films associated with those topics.

I’ve been working with Akil Houston, Professor of African American Studies for quite a while now and his list of films shown in class over the past few years is a list worth viewing.  He focuses on African Americans in the Media and the relation to the Black Power Movement and the Civil Rights Movement.  Recently I purchased Infiltrating Hollywood:  The rise and fall of the spook who sat by the door.  Dr. Houston shows The Spook Who Sat by the Door a feature film based on the book by Sam Greenlee about how a black man infiltrates the CIA and starts the Black Power movement.  This film was made in 1973 and caused quite a stir, hence the documentary.  But here’s the list I’ve compiled so far from Dr. Houston’s class:

AAS 254 taught Dr. Ron Stephens is in HISTORY OF INJUSTICE IN UNITED STATES and he is focusing primarily on the Papers of Robert Franklin Williams a collection we hold on microfilm only.  Within the papers are countless documents on the work of this historical figure.  According to the  California Newsreel description of the film Negroes with Guns Robert F. Williams was the forefather of the Black Power movement and broke dramatic new ground by internationalizing the African American struggle. Negroes with Guns is not only an electrifying look at an historically erased leader, but also provides a thought-provoking examination of Black radicalism and resistance and serves as a launching pad for the study of Black liberation philosophies. The students of Dr. Stephens class started their investigation with a presentation by Judith Connick, Curator of Alden Library’s Rare Books collection along with a session where they had the opportunity to work with historic documents held in the Archives and Special Collections Department.  They then moved on to spend time in microfilms with the Papers of Rob Williams with the guidance of librarian Nancy Story.  (There are treasures we have that are only available in a wide variety of microfilm collections.)  The class then proceeded to have a class with me where we spent time discovering secondary sources on Robert F. Williams, his association with Fidel Castro, Chairman Mao, and his participation in such events as the Freedom Riders, Bus Boycotts, Rosa Parks and more.  This last collection is currently on VHS but will be available on DVD soon.

I also worked with Dr. Joan Weston and her students studying Black Childhood in the United States.  As I mentioned earlier, the distributor California Newsreel provides us with many documentaries that cover issues of race in America.  Yes, many of the titles are on VHS, but we have VCR’s right by the circulation desk, so that pesky old media can still be utilized.  Try something like Off and Running,  a wonderful film about a Brooklyn teen-aged girl, raised by two Jewish mothers and with two adopted brothers, who searches for information about her African American birth mother. Her complex exploration of race, identity, and family begins to lead the teen into trouble in her personal life, threatening a promising career as a track and field athlete.

We have many titles that speak to the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, Black Panthers and many other events in African American History.  For more information on how Ohio University is celebrating African American History, visit the OU link to events throughout the month of February.

by lorraine wochna, subject liaison to African American Studies, Film, Theatre and Department of English.