An Unseen Body of Work Shows a Different Side of Black Power
The work of James E. Hinton focuses on the community-oriented elements of the civil-rights and Black Power movements.
Released on 9/24/2020
[gentle drum music]
[Jill Lepore] When I heard about
the James Hinton photograph and film collection,
I was kind of staggered that it existed
and how little of it has in fact been seen.
James Hinton, a filmmaker in the 1960s
was trying to capture that moment,
and to capture it in a way
that wasn't being captured by network television.
[Mercedes Hinton] My dad, he felt that the 1960s
was a very important historical moment
in our country's history,
and I think he very much wanted
to document the movement,
I think from his own perspective.
[film reel spinning]
[quiet flute music]
[chanting in foreign language]
[Amiri Baraka] Organization is the highest
and most elemental tenor of what we need.
A nation is organization at its highest,
most developed level.
We are in charge of building a nation.
[Elizabeth Hinton] This film captures
Amiri Baraka's Black Political Convention Movement.
This is a moment when, especially in Northern cities,
the Black Power movement is really taking a hold
and at that time Leroy Jones,
but later Amiri Baraka,
is part of this cultural nationalist strain in Newark.
[Amiri Baraka] They will force change.
They are change.
[crowd cheering and whistling]
[Elizabeth Hinton] The movement itself
was guided by this principle of self determination
that the strategy to realize that
is really rooted in ideas about Black pride;
A real, kind of, return to ideas about African identity:
that Black people, you know, should have the right
to control over their own institutions and their lives.
[Amiri Baraka] This is the midst
of the political campaign:
The year of the Panther.
We are spreading Black consciousness
in a city where Black is more than 65%
so that Black people will soon be able
to govern themselves again.
[Woman] Community Black school!
Community Black school!
[Amiri Baraka] New schools with new programs:
[Teacher] Are you ready?
[Students] Black people always ready.
That's right, teach.
[Student] I will now say the pledge.
[Students] I am Black! I am Black-
Teach. - I am strong, I am strong!
[Elizabeth Hinton] I love how she keeps saying, teach.
You know, it's a reciprocal thing, right?
And, of course, that scene is a kind of window
into the larger Black Independent School movement
that is centered around ideas of Black cultural pride.
[Teacher] Okay, now we're going to go
right into our Black alphabet.
Now, what is it that all Black people need in White America?
[Teacher] That's right, to be what?
Black! - Right!
[Narrator] Looking at the Black Lives Matter movement,
while wholly sympathetic with it,
a lot of white Americans are sort of like, But why?
Like, I thought this was kind of over,
and these films fill in those years,
they kind of fill in, what I think,
for mainstream America, has largely been unseen.
Offers the visual evidence:
No, this is why, this is why.
And Black people do not have this in White America,
what is that? - Justice!
Teach! And all the little brothers are what?
That's right. In fact-
[Elizabeth Hinton] The decision to,
rather than invest in organizations and institutions,
build a vibrant school where children, for generations,
could have been taught the Black alphabet, right?
That doesn't happen and instead the investment
comes in the form of policing, and surveillance,
and incarceration programs.
[Mercedes Hinton] My dad, he had this sense that,
you know, that history is often very much affected
by who's telling it.
I think he wanted the Black community
to, I guess, to free themselves from that negative gaze.
In the words of a Ghanaian proverb,
knowledge is like a garden,
if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.
[Elizabeth Hinton] One of the things
that I was really struck by
are his images of ordinary people during this moment.
You know, children playing and just the joy of childhood,
and the joy and energy of of the movement that,
in many ways, gets left out
of our understandings of this period.
Black is beautiful! Black is beautiful!
Black is beautiful!
[Mercedes Hinton] The snow gladiators, as sis said it,
I mean, we have it hanging in our house.
It's just a beautiful photograph.
Black life, in general,
I think he was trying to document both the beauty,
and the culture, and the traditions.
Political mobilization and all that.
Who are you, listening to me?
Who are you, listening to yourself?
Are you White or Black?
What does that have anything to do with?
[Narrator] One of the things
that's so wonderful about Hinton's films
is that they give us this, like, really important window
into what organizing looks like.
For me, as a scholar of many organizations in this movement,
like, you can't- the archive doesn't capture
what these kinds of discussions felt like,
especially in this era.
We think you'll have the Black people of this community
organized throughout the city,
and I think it's a great thing
that we are able to get the youth mobilized.
[Narrator] Americans have the idea
that, you know, there was a still quiet pond
and out of it, you know, rose, like,
a giant Martin Luther King to lead his people,
but the actual movement was all the millions of people
who getting up out of bed in the morning
and trying to go to vote year, after year,
[Elizabeth Hinton] And there's a real critique
of capitalism in that, that Black Americans,
and this goes back to ideas that were-
that had kind of steered the communist party in the 1930s,
but Black Americans are at the vanguard of a revolution.
In the vanguard of something that people haven't
yet [Unintelligible] get that. The American, the American.
The second part of the 20Th century of the Black man.
[Narrator] We look back at the Black Power movement.
We look back at this activism and it's really hard for us to
understand that people like Maulana Karenga and,
and people like Amiri Baraka really believed that this kind
of fundamental change was going to come.
[Elizabeth Hinton] These films capture really powerfully
the ways in which these forces of inequality
and the unfinished legacies of
the Civil Rights Movement continue to shape American society
and continue to structure fights for social justice.
Even the Black parliament is still conflicted
and deduce that it does not truly reflect
our character or nature.
[camera shutter click]
[Mercedes Hinton] Dad. He just had so much stuff
down in the basement and in terms
of his photography and the films.
I have only really begun to see them recently.
[Narrator] There's so much in archives
that people haven't seen.
I always feel as a historian,
all the good stuff is the stuff in boxes
that haven't been opened before.
The whole world should be looking at this.
It's just, just hits me, like, deep my gut as a historian.
[Mercedes Hinton] You know, the reactions that would come
when people saw, you know, these images,
You know, we had the sense that dad was right.
You know, these things are historically significant
and needed to be saved, you know?