CHARLOTTESVILLE – What is believed to be the only surviving TV news archive of original film clips from Virginia’s civil rights era is now available to the public online.
In a five-year project, University of Virginia Library digitally preserved 20 years of historic news footage and anchor scripts from Roanoke television station WSLS-TV. The archive includes broadcasts that aired between 1951 and 1971. According to a Library of Congress estimate, less than 10 percent of local news film from that time period survives.
The audiovisual archive is expected to become an invaluable resource for historical researchers, documentary filmmakers and educators.
“This was a significant collaborative effort,” said Karin Wittenborg, the university’s librarian and dean of libraries. “It’s a privilege to preserve and make available this important part of history.”
The film collection is available to the public through the library’s online catalog, Virgo. Each news story is searchable by both keywords and controlled subject terms. The collection also can be searched by the dates of the news stories.
The first 3,600 news clips are online already and the remaining approximately 13,000 clips and 18,000 pages of anchor scripts are being uploaded throughout the remainder of the year.
The archive is prized for its coverage of the Civil Rights Movement and Massive Resistance efforts in Virginia, but it also features a wide-ranging selection of stories, including beauty pageants, polio vaccinations of first- and second-graders and police officers raiding an illegal whiskey distillery in Henry County.
The collection is believed to be the only comprehensive archive of local news film available online and accessible to the public. The library acquired the collection in 2004 when a graduate student visited WSLS seeking historical footage for a project. The station indicated it no longer had room to store the archive of more than 360,000 feet of 16-millimeter news footage.
A $254,600 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities helped the university preserve and digitize the collection.