Even in black and white with no audio, a home movie of families gathering and men playing trombones and marching to the beat of bass drums through the streets of Augusta, Georgia, present a vivid picture of a community often underrepresented in archival and historical materials.
Discovered in a decades-old film can, the home movie, which features a convention parade of an African American fraternal order known as the Black Elks, as well as a glimpse of life in the Laney Walker area of the city during the Jim Crow era, has been restored, digitized and preserved in the Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, the only archives in Georgia devoted to preserving the state’s moving image heritage. The footage is freely available online through the Brown Media Archives website.
“We’re always interested in preserving moving images of Georgia and home movies are one way we get to see the more personal side of important events, people and places,” said Ruta Abolins, director of Brown Media. “A recent donation of home movies include this long-unseen, important footage of Augusta’s African American community that we are excited to preserve and share.”
The Brown Media Archives, one of three special collections units at the UGA Libraries, preserves more than 300,000 items in film, audiotape and other recording formats, including home movies and news film spanning the past 100 years, as well as 200,000 digital files. The Black Elks footage is unique among the holdings and augments other collections that portray the lives of Georgians.
The Black Elks footage was discovered in the collection of Nelle and Walter Golosky, who owned N&W Camera Exchange at 220 8th St. in Augusta from 1938 until 1998. The Goloskys’ great-grandson, UGA alumnus Sam Wilson, donated the home movie reels, which includes footage of Windsor Manor, a historic home designed by architect Willis Irvin that the Goloskys purchased in 1946.
But Wilson was unaware of the rare footage chronicling Augusta’s Black community until the film was reviewed by Brown's film archivist.
“We see many, many parades in the home movies we preserve — pet parades, kiddie parades, holiday parades — but few images of festivities involving the Black community during this time period,” said Margaret Compton, UGA Libraries’ film archivist, who said she knew the scenes of people and life on Augusta’s 9th Street, the center of African American life in the city at that time, were unique. “The state convention footage shows music, booths and food that give insight into the culture at the time. Thanks to the Goloskys, we now have more of a glimpse into the lives of people in the diverse communities of Georgia in the 1930s.”
The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World is a nonprofit and one of the oldest and largest fraternal organizations with members stretching throughout the United States, the Republic of Panama, Canada and the Bahamas.
“The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World have been holding annual conventions since its inception in 1898. The parade and marching in of the brothers and daughters are significant as they symbolize our strength and unity,” Leonard J. Polk, Esq., who holds the title Grand Exalted Ruler for the organization, said of the state convention footage. “I am always proud of the lineage and history of this great charitable organization.”
The footage is one of several historically significant finds depicting diverse communities among the home move collections at Brown Media, including some of the oldest known footage of African American baseball players dating to around 1920.
“I am proud that this film gives voice and artifact to its community and am grateful to UGA's Brown Media Archives for preserving this footage so that it may be shared and inform others' histories,” Wilson said.