Civil rights era preserved through film archive at Washington University

The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, which opens nationwide today, Aug. 10, depicts a fictional slice of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Washington University in St. Louis holds one of the largest archives of civil rights media in the United States, thanks to the Henry Hampton collection and Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, a six-episode documentary on the American civil rights movement.

Since receiving a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in April 2011, Washington University has been in the process of preserving the acetate-based film used in Eyes on the Prize.


The WUSTL Film & Media Archive, a unit of the University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections, is preserving all six one-hour episodes of Hampton’s famous documentary, which include 13,000 feet of picture footage and 13,000 feet of soundtrack. Also to be preserved will be 75 hours of original interview footage, which includes 160,000 feet of picture footage and 160,000 feet of soundtrack.

Added together, that is approximately 65.5 miles worth of film — enough to drape over the St. Louis Gateway Arch 549 times.

Eyes’ acetate-based film is highly susceptible to decay. As part of the preservation process, the film is being transferred to a more stable, polyester-based film. Once transferred to a more stable medium, the footage will be accessible to students, researchers and any other interested viewers.

Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 is the first part of the Eyes on the Prize documentary series, which also includes Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads, 1965-1985.

Eyes on the Prize and Eyes on the Prize II ran during primetime on PBS stations in 1987 and 1990, respectively, attracting an audience of more than 20 million viewers.

For more information about the collection and the preservation process, including a video depicting University Libraries’ role in the preservation, visit: