Public broadcasting archive assembles look at protest in America

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Civil rights marchers protest in Washington, D.C., in the late 1950s. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Civil rights marchers protest in Washington, D.C., in the late 1950s. (Photo: Library of Congress)

A timely new online exhibit from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting presents the history of “Speaking and Protesting in America.”

“Protesting and dissent have been very relevant topics over the last year, especially with the contentious election,” said Casey Davis Kaufman, archives project manager.

The curated presentation highlights public radio and television content from 1956 to 2008 documenting how Americans have exercised their First Amendment rights. It’s culled from radio call-in shows, local newscasts, raw footage and interviews. Coverage shows everything from peaceful marches to acts of civil disobedience.

The exhibit premiered Jan. 21 with a Facebook Live event co-sponsored by American Experience, public TV’s history series. A panel at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library discussed “Documenting Protest.”

Online visitors can sift through some 50 recordings. In one 1962 interview from the Pacifica Radio Archives, civil rights icon Rosa Parks discusses why she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955; a 1973 segment from WYSO focuses on women gathered in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to protest sexism in the workplace on International Women’s Day.

Exhibit topics cover protest activities around civil rights, labor, the environment, racism and injustice, women’s rights, the Vietnam War, disability rights, farming and agriculture rallies and rights for senior citizens.

The archive now holds more than 70,000 programs from over 100 stations.  Staff discovered that curating and organizing the material into exhibits helps the public and researchers more easily find gems in the digital trove, Kaufman said. Previous exhibits, which are the most popular landing pages in the archive, looked at presidential elections and campaigns, how public media has documented climate change since the 1980s, civil rights in the South and stations documenting their own histories.

The archive, which operates through a partnership of the Library of Congress and WGBH, works with universities to give graduate students curation experience. Michelle Janowiecki, who is studying history and archive management at Simmons College in Boston, curated the latest exhibit.

Archive staff continue to build the collection of material that’s accessible online. They’re currently digitizing 32 years of NewsHour programs; working with American Masters to digitize its large collection of arts and culture interviews; and preserving and presenting Native films as part of Vision Maker Media’s “40 Years, 40 Films, 40 Weeks.”

In December the archive received $345,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for work on PBCore, a metadata standard for managing public media collections.

  • TomKaz

    I’m curious to know if this program covers these topics in a quantifiable way:

    – Who protests more, the left or the right? What percent of protests are attended by Democrats, progressives, socialists, communists, greens, etc. compared to those attended by Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians? And how large are those protests on a left/right basis?
    – When “protesting”, which group (left/right) engages in violence and vandalism most often? Which group leaves more trash and property damage (per protester) in their wake?
    – When “protesting”, which group (left/right) violates the civil rights of others most often? Which group blocks roads, bridges, access to businesses, or access to public facilities more often?
    – Who is organizing and promoting these protests on each side? Who is funding these protests?
    – How often are protesters on each side assaulted from their political adversaries when protesting?
    – Who is attending these protests on each side? How many are missing school or work to protest? And are their schools/employers accommodating their absences in some way? How many professional protesters are on each side? How many professional protest organizers are on each side? Who are they and who is paying them?
    – Of the topics being protested, how representative are the views of the protesters to the views of the public at large?
    – Does the MSM cover protests equally and fairly? For example, how much coverage does the annual March for Life protest get compared to left-sponsored protests of a similar size…or smaller?

    I’ve never seen any major news organization explore any of these topics in depth. I wonder why?

    Btw, why did the American Archive of Public Broadcasting stop at 2008? That was 8+ years ago.

    • Dru Sefton, Current

      Hi Tom: I checked with the archive regarding your question about 2008. Kaufman,
      the project manager, replied: “2008 was the most recent date we found for
      materials in the Archive that are related to protesting. For the entire AAPB
      collection, we have materials dating to as recently as 2015. We are continuing
      to grow the collection with up to 25,000 hours per year and understand the
      importance of preserving content created today and in the recent past. To aid
      stations in preserving their recent and current digital content, we have hosted
      webinars on digital preservation and have placed recent graduates of master’s
      degree programs in 10-month positions at seven stations focusing their efforts
      on digital preservation. Actively managing digital content created today will
      ensure that it can be preserved and accessible well into the future.”

      • TomKaz

        Thanks for the answer.

  • Good for ‘GBH and PBS.