Were You There?

1964 documentary sheds light on FSU and voting rights; a free screening on Oct. 30 is open to the public

By Janet Gibson

Were you on the Fayetteville State campus in 1964?

If so, you’re encouraged to attend a free screening and panel discussion of a rediscovered documentary, “Vote and the Choice is Yours,” at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, in the Broadwell College of Business and Economics, room 145.

Who knows? You might just see some familiar faces and places.

And even if 1964 is way before your time, attend anyway. “The film captures a certain time and place in the history of Fayetteville State,” says Dr. Chuck Tryon, an English professor who is organizing the event. He adds that many students and community leaders of the era are featured in the 27-minute footage.

“In the film, we hear from students about why they are voting, how they are voting and how they think of themselves as agents of change,” says Tryon. The Voting Rights Act, the landmark federal legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting, passed in 1965.

The history of the film – and the story of how it has come around full circle to FSU – is a fascinating study.

Rewind to the early 1960s. Then-Governor Terry Sanford had a vision for storytelling about the people, places and history-making events unfolding in the state. The result was the North Carolina Film Board (1962-65). Some of the productions aimed to paint postcard-perfect scenery to generate pride and tourism. Other films focused on the workings of the Legislature. An early civil-rights advocate, Sanford also was committed to spotlighting “minority report films.” Some were filmed at the state’s HBCUs, including what was then Fayetteville State College.

“The Fayetteville State film is part of the direct-cinema trend, capturing people as they are and where they are, that unexpected perspective with no pristine camera angles,” says Tryon, who teaches “Introduction to Film and Visual Literacy.”

He adds, “We see Fayetteville State students who conducted surveys of Cumberland County voters describing the results from a modified news desk. The students also conducted interviews with people going through their daily routines, many of them while shopping at a grocery store.”

The effects are raw and real. The Oct. 30 film screening is made possible because of Tryon’s relationships in the North Carolina film community. Enter Dr. Martin L. Johnson, an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of “Main Street Movies: The History of Local Film in the United States.”

At a conference, Johnson met Skip Elsheimer of Raleigh, owner of A/V Geeks, a company that digitizes home movies and archives films for universities and museums. Elsheimer, a collector of roughly 25,000 films, shares many of them with audiences across the country, including a 16-millimeter version of “Vote and the Choice is Yours” –believed to be the only one in existence. Elsheimer knew that Johnson was including details in his book about Sanford and his vision. Both Elsheimer and Dr. Johnson concluded that “it would be cool to bring the film back to Fayetteville State,” and so they approached Dr. Tryon.

Elsheimer recalls that he picked “Vote and the Choice is Yours” a few years ago for $1 during a sale of “old films” at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

“The film captures a time 55 years ago when some people were afraid to vote,” he says. “In the film, you see that the students are trying to get people out to vote.”

Johnson calls the film a “time capsule” of Fayetteville State campus life 55 years ago. “The film is provocative and raises questions about conversations that we’re still having today,” he says.

A panel discussion will follow the screening. The panelists will include Dr. Johnson of UNC; A/V Geeks’ Skip Elsheimer; and Dr. Stanley Johnson, a longtime professor of history at FSU who brings insights and memorable stories of life on campus and in Fayetteville during the civil-rights era. Clitha Mason, a graduate of FSU, will co-moderate the discussion with Dr. Tryon.

For more information, email Dr. Chuck Tryon at ctryon@uncfsu.edu, or call 910-672-2223.