In 1998, Shawn Wilson made an amazing discovery. In trying to track down old photos of his mother, he uncovered a treasure trove of images created between 1948 and 1975 in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenville, Miss. The photographer, Henry Clay Anderson, who was still alive yet frail, had saved much of his work from that era and many of his photos, with the help of Mr. Wilson, were eventually compiled into a book. The entire collection of more than 2,000 prints and 4,000 negatives has since made its way into the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
A letter from the museum describes the collection: “Unlike photojournalists who visited the South and often focused solely on the painful and often violent aspects of the struggle for civil rights through the 1950s and 1960s, Rev. Anderson worked diligently to capture the normal, everyday life of this vibrant community as an insider, providing a picture of African-American life that has rarely been told.”
At the time of the discovery, Mr. Wilson started conducting interviews with the photographer and others in the Greenville area with the intention of creating a documentary. He and a small team were able to document what Mr. Wilson calls, “some of the most powerful untold stories about legal segregation.”
In 2010 Mr. Wilson revisited the rough cut he had made almost 25 years earlier and was encouraged to expand the project to include his own personal journey into what would become a 50-minute film called “Separate, But Equal: Rare Images from the Segregated South.” Many of the interviewees, including the subject of the film, have since died, but Mr. Wilson has managed to chronicle what the Smithsonian letter describes as the “…alternative story of the Deep South — one of resilience, beauty and steadfastness amidst violence and despite inequality…”
The film will be shown as part of the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival on Wednesday, Aug. 10, as part of the segment for the Nothing is Impossible Producer’s Award Nominees, from 5 to 6:30 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. For more information, visit mvaaff.com.