A Bit of Celluloid History

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Oct. 21, 2013

A Bit of Celluloid History

Trinity University receives grant to preserve amateur film in the Claude and ZerNona Black Papers

By Miriam Sitz '10

Film ReelSAN ANTONIO - In early 2012, Trinity University acquired a collection of documents that belonged to local civil rights activists Rev. Claude William Black Jr. and ZerNona Stewart Black, his wife. The collection contains materials related to local and national civil rights, as well as social and civic issues, from the mid-1800s to 2009.

Found among the handwritten notes, scrapbooks, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera of the collection that will be housed in the Special Collections and Archives area of Trinity's Coates Library were three silent 16mm amateur films. Shot in color, they required specialized attention. Through a 2012 grant from the Summerlee Foundation, two of these films underwent reformatting and digital preservation work at the Texas Archive of The Moving Image in Austin.  They now reside in the Trinity Digital Collections.

The third film, however, required more extensive treatment.

"This film in the Claude and ZerNona Black collection was so fragile that it was almost lost," said University librarian and professor Diane Graves, who praised project archivist Donna Morales Guerra  for recognizing the value of the film and the need to preserve it. "Donna Guerra realized that, and sought the grant that will ensure that this wonderful visual record of San Antonio and civil rights history will be preserved and protected for the ages."

Guerra applied for funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation to archive the third film of the Claude and ZerNona Black collection. In September 2013, Trinity University was selected as one of 20 institutions to receive a grant - $9,200 for completion of the preservation project.

Colorlab, a full-service archival film preservation laboratory in Rockville, Md., evaluated the 800 feet of film on the 12-inch reel and determined it too shrunken, brittle, and delicate to safely run through a projector. Without extensive rehabilitation, the third film's contents would have remained inaccessible.

The National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) was established in 1996 to support film preservation in the United States. The NFPF has saved more than 2,000 films and collections across the nation and in Puerto Rico, and is affiliated with the Library of Congress' National Film Preservation Board.

"Preservation and digitization of unique materials - those not widely held by other academic institutions - is increasingly a responsibility and a focus of academic libraries in general," said Graves, "and of Trinity's Coates Library in particular."

The papers were a gift from Taj Matthews, Black's grandson and the executive director of the Claude & ZerNona Black Developmental Leadership Foundation.



Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer in San Antonio. A graduate of Trinity University in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and environmental studies, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz.