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All-American News: The First African American Newsreel

In celebration of African American History Month, we’re highlighting a newsreel featured in the National Screening Room that was produced during the 1940s and 1950s specifically for black audiences. Begun in 1942, these newsreels were originally intended to encourage participation in and support for the war effort, and to reflect an African American perspective on world and national events.

Called All-American News, these newsreels were “some of the best and first consciously produced, positive images of black people” living their daily lives, contributing to the war effort, and making history (Reel Black Talk, p. 3-4).

The All-American News Company produced its first newsreels from headquarters in Chicago in the fall of 1942. A November 14, 1942, issue of the Motion Picture Herald reports that the new company was “headed by [Emmanuel] M. Glucksman, former Universal short subject producer and exhibitor” (p. 9). The Herald goes on to report:

Camera crews are operating in Chicago, New York, Cincinati [sic], Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cleveland and arrangements have been made to buy material from free lance cameramen in other cities. Editing is handled by Mr. Glucksman in Chicago. William Nix is narrator and William Kee is sports commentator. Prints are made at the DuArt Laboratories in New York (p. 9).

The newsreels were shown in black theaters in addition to or in place of other newsreels, and the Motion Picture Herald, as well as other film trade magazines of the times, tells us that 150 black theaters around the country contracted to receive the weekly reels upon their debut.

Along with Hollywood veteran Emmanuel Glucksman, the newsreels were filmed and produced by two young black filmmakers, William Alexander and Claude Barnett. Alexander, who was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1995, also narrated and conducted man-on-the-street interviews for a number of the newsreels (Reel Black Talk, p. 3).

In late 1946, Motion Picture Herald reports, All-American began branching out from newsreels. The company began to produce feature-length and short films with all-black casts as well as newsreels and digests. These feature films included the first all-black cowboy films with titles such as Haunted Trail and Galloping Ghost. An October 19, 1946, issue of Motion Picture Herald reports on the production of these Westerns, telling readers that “players will be sent from New York to South Texas where real cowboys will be recruited as extras” (p. 39).

There currently are 35 All-American newsreels in the National Screening room, released between 1942 and 1945. Topics include sports, music, significant events, success stories, human interest stories, black contributions to the war effort, and of course, black troops fighting in the Second World War.

The National Screening Room was launched as a digital collection on the Library’s website this past fall. The films selected for the collection are meant to showcase a wide range of the Library’s moving image holdings, from educational films to home movies, newsreels to fiction. Many of the films are in the public domain and are available for download, while others are included by permission of the copyright owners and may only be streamed from the Library’s website. The Screening Room continues to grow, as new films are added each month.

For more films in the Library’s collections from African American directors, producers, and actors, particularly films from the early and mid-20th Century, see our Black Films in the Library of Congress Finding Aid.

And as always, we have much more than what’s discoverable in the Library’s Online Catalog and in the Finding Aid. Get in touch with Moving Image reference librarians for more information on research with our collections or to track down a particular film.

 

Sources and further reading on All-American News:

Moon, Spencer. Reel Black Talk: A Sourcebook on 50 American FilmmakersGreenwood Press: Westport, CT, 1997.

Wheeler, Robyn. “News for All Americans” in American Visions, Feb.-Mar. 1993, p. 40.

Sampson, Henry T. Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films. 2nd ed. The Scarecrow Press, Inc.: Metuchen, NJ, 1995.

Issues of Motion Picture Herald can be found in the Media History Digital Library:

Teachers: read about how you can use All-American News  and other films from the National Screening Room in your classroom in this post from the “Teaching with the Library of Congress” blog.

 

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