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WSFA donates thousands of items to Alabama Archives

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A television station has donated thousands of items including historic footage from the civil rights era to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, which will make the material available to the public.

WSFA-TV in Montgomery announced it had given the agency materials dating to the 1950s, including footage from news conferences by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., coverage of the Freedom Riders in 1961 and original film from the “Stand in the School House Door” by then-Gov. George C. Wallace in 1963.

The video also includes scenes from a visit to the NASA center in Huntsville by the President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1962 and special reports on the death of former University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1983.

While the TV station was planning to switch locations, managers determined it wasn’t practical to move the large numbers of delicate film reels and boxes full of video and other items.

Steve Murray, the Archives director, said archivists had long suspected the WSFA studios held valuable content for historical preservation, and his department jumped at the opportunity to add to its collection when a phone call came in late 2019.

“It was one of those kind of chilling moments … where the hair stands up on the back of your neck when you see these closets after closets of tapes and films,” Murray explained. “Just the opportunity to take something off the shelf and see a label … related to the civil rights movement or to other major public events and Alabama’s life and history really made you, made me appreciate the value of what was there.”

The donation includes more than 7,000 audiovisual items in a variety of formats, plus WSFA-TV scrapbooks, photographs, negatives, correspondence with viewers and officials and newsletters.

“We are intimidated by this collection, to be honest with you, because it is huge,” said Meredith McDonough, digital assets director for Archives and History, “and because it is unlike anything we have.”

Under the terms of the donation agreement, the department will use the material to benefit state citizens through museum exhibitions, K-12 classrooms and other educational products. WSFA-TV will be able to broadcast and publish the content of the collection after it is digitized.

The agency is processing “test batches” of film and it will take years to fully process the boxes. So far, about 15 hours of film has been digitized, which represents only 30 items in the collection.

No payment was made for the collection, WSFA-TV reported.

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