Happy July Fourth! John Huston’s “Birthday Present” to America

“All films are created equal. I don’t think there is such a thing as a small film. We’re not pulling any punches here. Scene for scene, everything is being done to the best of our abilities. Each scene as we make it is the best scene I’ve ever made—in my imagination.” –John Huston, on Independence

In June of 1975 director John Huston and a team of Hollywood professionals rolled into Philadelphia to make a film at Independence Hall. Four decades later, the film still screens at Independence National Historical Park, with twelve shows a day.


John Huston directed Independence as a bicentennial “birthday present” to America.

How, you might ask, did a little government film draw stars like John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), and cinematographer Owen Roizman, (The Exorcist)? The answer is that it was never a “little” film in the sense that so many government productions were quickly out of date and replaced. The National Park Service commissioned the film as a centerpiece to its Bicentennial celebrations and intended that it would be in use at Independence National Historical Park for twenty years. NPS budgeted nearly $400,000 for the production, a fortune for a non-theatrical film, even if it would have been low-budget by 1975 Hollywood standards.

Independence tells the story of our nation’s beginnings by bringing back the founding fathers from “a cask of Madeira wine” where, as a result of a wish by Benjamin Franklin, they had apparently been preserved for two hundred years so they could see how we turned out.

In a letter to Orson Welles, Huston called the project his “200th birthday present to the United States,” and he threw around a lot of weight in order to create the best possible product, including asking Welles to star as Benjamin Franklin, and bringing on board an Academy Award nominated cinematographer. Welles turned the role down, but Eli Wallach did not, telling a Philadelphia newspaper that working with John Huston again was “part of the lure, but that he also wanted to make the film because the Park Service planned to show it “for years and years”. Wallach said that he and his wife (who plays Abigail Adams) “turned down a lot to do it.”

With all the pieces in place, Huston fought to maintain a high level of quality for the production. In an article in the Philadelphia Bulletin, producer Lloyd Ritter noted that a John Huston film cannot be made “with a Bell and Howell and a candle.” He recounted one time when Huston arrived to find that there were not nearly enough extras in a scene of a room full of delegates. Ritter told Huston that the production could not afford more extras, “but Mr. Huston is perfectly capable of sitting in his camp chair until the 20 extras show up. And he did so.” Ritter added that Huston also found creative ways to keep costs down. Still, Independence ran $125,000 over budget, resulting in a dispute between producers Twentieth Century Fox and the government over who should pay the difference (all of the information for this post comes from a one and a half inch thick file labeled “Cost Overrun”).

The production clearly meant a lot to Huston and the other participants. The actors and crew famously received union scale rather than their usual asking price, and when Fox fired the producer and shut the production down on the seventh day of shooting, Huston offered $5000 of his own money and held a midnight meeting in Congress Hall to get everyone to come back the following day for no pay.

The result of John Huston’s “birthday present” is a film that holds up remarkably well and continues to serve its original purpose twenty years beyond its expected lifespan—the only other government film that comes close is John Ford’s Sex Hygiene, which I have been told was still in use in the 1960s, but would have been dreadfully dated even by then (you can’t really compare the two, of course).

If you have time this holiday, have a look at Independence. Even if you don’t learn something, I promise you’ll be entertained!

Why Do I Know That Face?

Most of the actors starring in Independence may not have well-known names, but you’ve probably seen their faces. Their IMDb pages feature hundreds of credits over decades of working as character actors. Most of them played more than one part in Murder She Wrote, apparently the Law and Order of its day. Click through the slideshow to find out why you might recognize them.

Note on sources: Most of the information for this post came from the “Cost Overrun” file, including photocopies of newspaper articles from June of 1975. In some cases, the full date or title was not copied and I’m guessing, but the articles I referenced are below.

-“Bicen Movie Rolls at Historic Site.” Naedele, Walter F. Philadelphia Bulletin. June 24, 1975

-“Huston Told to Halt Bicen Film 5 Days Early.” Naedele, Walter F. Philadelphia Bulletin. June 29, 1975.

-“Independence No Easier To Win Today Than in 1776.” Seltzer, Ruth. Philadelphia Inquirer.  June 30, 1975.

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Declassified Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings – 3rd Quarter

In an effort to provide information on recently declassified motion pictures and sound recordings the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch will publish a quarterly list of newly declassified records.

This quarter’s list includes a film from a series of Air Force Intelligence Reports (Local Identifier 341-IR/National Archives Identifier 5964869). The reports cover countries around the world during the 1950s and 1960s. The film below shows the pomp and circumstance of a military parade in Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia May Day Parade, 1953 (Local Identifier 341-IR-98-53/National Archives Identifier 18559968) *This catalog entry is not currently live in our catalog. We apologize for the inconvenience and will repair the link for this entry as soon as possible.


From April 1, 2015 through June 30, 2015 the following records were declassified.

Motion Pictures:

Local Identifier           Title

341-IR-98-53              May Day Parade, Yugoslavia, 1953

342-USAF-28653      Operational Systems Test Facility for ICBM Titan at Vandenberg

                                      AFB, April 1960

342-USAF-34616      TAC Operations, McCoy AFB, November 1962

342-USAF-49604*  Operation Eagle Pull / Operation Frequent Wind

*Only Reels 5, 12, 49, 69, 106 and 164 have been declassified


Sound Recordings:

Local Identifier           Title

No sound recordings were declassified during this quarter.


Descriptive information for declassified records can be accessed by searching for the item number, ex. “341-IR-38-56”, in NARA’s catalog. You may also search on the Declassification Project Number (NND), if you know one. For example, searching on the declassification number “NND 64803” returns entries that are part of Declassification Project 64803. A list of declassified textual records can be found on the National Declassification Center’s web page.

Check out the post “From Top Secret Vault to Open Stacks: Declassification of Moving Images” to learn more about the declassification process. Lists of other recently declassified moving images and sound recordings can be located by clicking on the Declassification Quarterly Reports category on the left side of the blog.

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From War Dogs to Remote Controlled Monkeys: Animals in the Military

Dogs have a long history serving alongside humans in military campaigns. The earliest recorded use of war dogs is from around 600 BC, and dogs have acted as scouts, sentries, and fighters in conflicts around the globe. Some dogs, such as Sergeant Stubby in World War I and Chips in World War II, have even been decorated for bravery and exemplary service.

One reason why dogs have been so successful in the military is likely the species’ long relationship with humans. Dogs are intelligent and can be trained to perform a wide array of tasks, as seen in the film below.

Not all military uses of animals have been so successful. Twentieth-century warfare contains many grand ideas that were never implemented, even after significant financial investment. One example is the bat bomb under development during World War II. The Marine Corps spent over $2 million on Project X-Ray, which involved a plan to drop thousands of hibernating bats carrying incendiary devices over Japanese towns and cities. When the bats awoke, they would spread out to roost in flammable local structures, at which time the bombs were set to ignite. The project was cancelled before deployment (possibly because focus had shifted to the atomic bomb), but not before some accidentally-released bats set fire to a hangar at the Carlsbad Army Auxiliary Air Base in New Mexico.

A second project that never made it out of development during World War II was Project Pigeon. Overseen by behaviorist B.F. Skinner, the goal of this project was to create a pigeon-guided missile. Three pigeons trained to recognize a target would be enclosed within the nose cone of a missile and would peck at the image of the target as displayed on a small movable screen. This action would cause the missile to correct course toward the target. Though this particular project was cancelled, carrier pigeons played a large part in both World Wars, transporting messages over the battlefield. They may also have been used to some extent for aerial photography and reconnaissance purposes.

Another fascinating military animal project is described in a United States Air Force film that was declassified in 2012. Identified as Paisley Print Task I, the 1972 film depicts a project to train rhesus monkeys to follow remote direction to penetrate enemy territory for reconnaissance and sabotage purposes. The project was carried out by the Environmental Medicine and Human Engineering divisions of the 6570th Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The film describes the training given to the monkey, and then demonstrates an electrode vest that is remotely controlled by an operator to correct the monkey if it strays off of the desired course. According to the film’s narrator, successful implementation of the Paisley Print project would allow the Air Force to send monkeys equipped with cameras, or carrying explosives or supplies, into enemy territory that humans could not safely enter in order to carry out offensive countermeasures. Though the monkey successfully performs on the largely obstacle-free course at Wright-Patterson, it is unlikely that a remote-controlled vest would override the monkey’s instincts in a true combat situation.

There is very little documentation available about Paisley Print, and it is likely that the project never progressed beyond the development stage. You can watch the film report Paisley Print Task I below.

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The Great Beard Contest of 1941

Last week, Heidi transferred several reels of film documenting “overseas activity” in the summer of 1941. Nestled among shots of city streets and training exercises were playful scenes depicting a facial hair contest at Fort Stotsenburg in the Philippines. If a beard contest doesn’t scream “put me on the Internet” I don’t know what does, so here you have it.

At the end of May 1941, the United States found itself up against the brink of war. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed an “unlimited national emergency” that required the nation to ready itself “to repel any and all acts or threats of aggression directed toward any part of the Western Hemisphere” and again reminded Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The commanding officer’s memo announcing that the men should allow their beards to grow appears to be an attempt to lighten the grave situation.

In the scenes that follow, the beards are displayed and the judges examine them. They declare a winner and hand over the prize.

The images captured in these scenes may be some of the last light moments the soldiers experienced. Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8th 1941. After six months of battle, the Philippines was surrendered to the Japanese. The American and Filipino soldiers left behind were treated harshly, forced to participate in the Bataan Death March and suffering in prison camps. The Allied Forces did not return to win back the Philippines until October of 1944, completing their task upon the Japanese surrender ten months later.

Watch the complete reel (the beard contest begins at 2:42):

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The Case of Sergeant Jon M. Sweeney

In February 1969, only a few weeks after arriving in Vietnam, Sergeant Jon Sweeney disappeared from Company M, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines. Unable to keep up with his company he was left behind and told to join the rear guard that was only minutes behind. When the rear guard arrived Sweeney was nowhere to be found. During the search Marines found Sweeney’s gun and ammunition, but nothing else. It would be nine months before anything more was heard of Sweeney.

Jon M. Sweeney

Jon M. Sweeney

During World War II President Franklin Roosevelt created the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBMS), under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to monitor axis radio broadcasts. In 1947 the FBMS was moved to the CIA and renamed the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). FBIS continued monitoring foreign broadcasts after World War II ended and it was through a North Vietnamese monitored broadcast that Sweeney was discovered. In his broadcasts Sweeney referred to himself as a deserter and spoke of joining the Vietnamese cause. Some broadcasts even provided instructions to others on how to desert and join the North Vietnamese, including this statement on July 16, 1970.

In August 1970 Sweeney was taken to Stockholm on a North Vietnamese passport and released. On his return to the United States he was charged with desertion and aiding the enemy. Executive Order 10631, signed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 established a Code of Conduct to be followed by US Prisoners of War. The Code says “I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.” At the time the US did not have a policy protecting Prisoners of War (POWs) from being tried for statements made in captivity. Sweeney admitted to participating in broadcasts, but said he did so under duress. After the trial Sweeney was found not guilty on all charges and honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.

Although he was tried and found not guilty, to this day there are some who believe that this was a miscarriage of justice and that Sweeney deserted and freely participated in North Vietnamese propaganda. You can learn more about the case of Sergeant Sweeney from the records in 127-IIFa (NAID 12005668), Sound Recordings Relating to Former POW Sgt. Jon M. Sweeney, 2/22/1969 – 9/1/1970, as well as textual records here at the National Archives.

A number of these audio recordings have poor sound quality due to being recorded from on-air broadcasts from Hanoi and Moscow.

This recording contains Christmas greetings from POWs to their families in the United States. Sweeney’s message begins at 24:48. Followed by his poem “Black Tomorrow”, which begins below.

NARA Local Identifier: 127-IIFa-16


Sweeney broadcast regarding Marine Corps Code of Conduct, May 14, 1970

NARA Local Identifier: 127-IIFa-26


Sweeney message to US Troops fighting in Vietnam, January 21, 1970

NARA Local Identifier: 127-IIFa-17

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Topic Magazine: Spreading Information to Africa

In 1990, editors at the Harvard Law Review elected their first black president in the journal’s 102-year history.  The newly elected 28-year-old president was a law student and community activist.  By that time, the lawyer-to-be had gained the respect of his peers and professors, all of who praised the student’s modesty, integrity, and drive to succeed.  The young student understood the significance of his appointment, “This is my 15 minutes…I think I have something to say.”  As it would turn out, the young academic would have a little more than fifteen minutes.  Eighteen years later, the first black president of the Harvard Law Review became first black president of the United States.

Barack Obama’s election to president of the Harvard Law Review was covered by Topic magazine. The United States Information Agency (USIA) printed Topic from 1965 to 1994.  The USIA printed the magazine in English and French, specifically targeting intellectuals in Sub-Saharan Africa.  In an attempt to appeal to their audience, the magazine often highlighted individuals with ties to Africa.  Barack Obama was no exception.  In addition to his academic credentials, Topic highlighted the fact that Obama’s grandfather was an herbalist in a Kenyan village some 60 years prior.  The magazine also mentioned Obama’s relatives in Kenya, and his African father, an economist at Oxford and Harvard.

Topic Magazine Issue 190, Photo Credited to Joe Wrinn , Harvard News Office

306-TM-Issue 190. Photo Credited to Joe Wrinn , Harvard News Office

When the USIA first published Topic in 1965, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War.  The first two decades of the Cold War also witnessed the birth of thirty-five new African nations.  Americans and Soviets vied for allegiance with the independent African countries. The new African countries represented potential trade partners and military allies.  In addition, many African nations were rich in raw materials and minerals that were essential to American industry.  Most importantly, however, Americans were concerned that if they did not convince the new African nations to embrace capitalism, the nascent countries would turn communist.  If Africa fell into the communist sphere, Americans believed it would put the safety of the United States and their Western allies in jeopardy.

Yet just as Americans touted their industrial capacity and moral superiority, critics around the world pointed out the hypocrisy of American foreign policy.  Americans preached freedom, but oppressed blacks in their own country.  Americans encouraged individual rights, but denied them to 20 million African Americans.  The later years of the 1960s proved to be some of the most turbulent times in American history.  Race riots, coupled with the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, left millions of Americans scared and uncertain about their country’s future.

As Cold War hostilities grew, the disparity between American ideology and their domestic relations became even more of a problem.  Soviet propaganda relayed news of Bull Connor’s attacks on blacks in Alabama, and enthusiastically covered the race riots in urban cities.  The USSR juxtaposed America’s claims of liberty with images of brutal lynchings and racist politicians. While America preached justice for all, the Soviets supplied stories of police brutality and arbitrary imprisonments of black men.  America’s race problem became its Achilles’ heel of international relations, and made it difficult to appeal to emerging African countries.

Topic Magazine Issue 41

306-TM-Issue 41

It was amidst this political climate that the United States Information Agency began to publish TopicTopic, as did many USIA publications, highlighted elements of the civil rights movement in a way that addressed the severity of the problem, but ultimately emphasized progress and hope for the future.   An article titled, “The Passionate Year,” recounted the domestic problems of 1966.  The author described how a sniper shot civil rights activist, James Meredith, and how riots flared in urban cities.  By acknowledging the problem, Topic presented itself as an unbiased magazine to its African readers.  The same article, however, ultimately emphasized improvement, “Behind the headlines there was steady, if slow, progress.” The magazine noted that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 allowed 452,000 Southern blacks to vote, and average incomes among black families rose to new highs.  Similarly, the magazine showed how Southern schools were integrated and black senators were elected to congress.  Although the United States continued to face domestic problems, Topic argued that American race-relations were getting better.

Many articles highlighted the impact of black entertainers on American culture.  Prominent African Americans such as Diana Ross, Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte were all reoccurring celebrities throughout the magazine’s publication.  In many instances, Topic specifically highlighted the connection between American culture and Africa.  Jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Duke Ellington credited their success to their African roots.  Nigerian boxer, Dick Tiger, was said to be an idol amongst American children.  Through these celebrities, Topic attempted to show that blacks could be successful in the United States, while simultaneously appealing to African audiences.

Topic Magazine Issue 21

306-TM-Issue 21

Topic also used politicians to place the civil rights movement within an international framework.  On a tour of the African continent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey said, “We in America, and you in Africa, know that the conditions which stand in our way shall be overcome.”  In an exclusive interview with Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader preached, “The struggle for independence in Africa brought to the Negro American a new sense of dignity and destiny…I would also like to think that our progress here has in turn inspired Africans.”  By framing the American civil rights movement within the context of global affairs, Topic was able to acknowledge American problems and appeal to an African audience.

As Topic evolved through the years, the magazine remained true to its audience.  While the content reflected the changing times, the subject matter remained steady.  Editors at the USIA consistently focused on art, international politics, and emerging technologies.  Articles continued to focus on prominent athletes and musicians, often with ties to Africa.  Similarly, editors continued to emphasize education and African Americans in the United States.  It was no surprise then, that a young Barack Obama, of African ancestry and exceptional intellect found himself nestled within the pages of Topic magazine.

Topic Magazine, Issue 139

306-TM-Issue 139

Although publication of Topic ceased in 1994, the magazine remains a spectacular historical source.  The magazines reflect an important, and often forgotten, subject of U.S. foreign policy in Africa during the Cold War years.  A full collection of Topic magazines is now housed within the National Archives Still Photos division.  The Still Photos division also has prints of many photos used in Topic magazine.

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The People and the Police: Washington D.C.’s Police-Community Relations Program, 1968

 “The question always comes when you live in a community that’s oppressed and people are living like we have to live in the black community, how do you get a handle on all these problems? And you solve them by trying to create in the citizens an awareness of a need for dramatic and drastic change in this community.”

            -Marion Barry Development of Community Control, 1971

Washington, D.C.’s Pilot District Project

Just months after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the riots that devastated Washington, D.C., the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) introduced a program intended to bring the city together.

OEO created The Pilot District Project, established in the Third District, to foster the development of community programs and improve the shattered relationship between the city’s citizens and its police force. As part of the ambitious project, the government agency contracted with Guggenheim Productions to produce a documentary and a series of training films that could be used when they rolled the program out to other cities around the country. Although OEO spent $197,879 to make the films, they were never released.[1]

The Office of Economic Opportunity was the agency created to stand up poverty-reducing programs sketched out in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, a major component of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty. Although the agency was broken up and dissolved by the 1980s, many of the programs it started are still in existence fifty years later. Head Start, the VISTA volunteer program, and Job Corps are a handful of the most successful. The Economic Opportunity Act also established Community Action Programs that gave the keys to change to community members, ostensibly with the belief that empowering citizens would be the most efficient way to bring about real change. A string of riots in American cities in the late 1960s exposed a deeply dysfunctional relationship between urban communities and the police: reports showed antagonism, prejudice and brutality from the police, and hostility, distrust, and contempt from the community.[2] OEO created the Pilot District Project to address this major problem.

These are the barest facts of the Pilot District Project and the films that we’re featuring in today’s post. The fact that the Office of Economic Opportunity was willing to plunk down what today would be over one million dollars for films that no one ever saw is remarkable, and not just because that’s an awful lot of money a product that was almost immediately warehoused in Suitland, Maryland.

That kind of investment shows that OEO believed they were undertaking a project that would transform police-community relations, one that would serve as a model for the rest of the country. Officials may have been overly optimistic, and the film project was certainly held up as an example of government waste at the time, but what’s easier to see in hindsight is that CG 8225: The People and the Police is an exceptionally well-crafted film that serves as a record of the Washington, D.C. community and the turmoil it was experiencing in the late 1960s. OEO may not have gotten what they wanted from the program or the film production, but more than forty years later, we all can benefit from this $200,000 mistake.

CG 8225: The People and the Police

CG 8225: The People and the Police begins with more than a minute of atmospheric shots of a poor section of the city waking up; pigeons coo while a man sleeps on a bench, businesses are unshuttered, and children start the walk to school. The film then cuts to two policemen in a cruiser. The officers discuss why it might be that they are perceived negatively. They agree that it’s likely only a small segment of the population that are the source of the problem, the citizens who commit crimes, who they don’t consider a part of the community anyway. The next logical jump would be that the police don’t actually have a problem with the community at all.

The film then switches to interviews with a range of black citizens, from the youth who complains that the police use racial slurs, to the older man who, with tears running down his cheeks, explains that the businesses are boarded up because they were burned during the riots. His final comment implies that although it was the riot that destroyed his business, the cops fled rather than try to impose order.

The Pilot District Project is then introduced with a few explanatory titles. Director Robert Pierce did not use a voice over and does not tell the viewer what to think of the project. One might expect that as the film unfolds, we will see how the differences between the police and the community were bridged. Certainly that was the intention of the program. What we actually get is an hour’s worth of footage covering a three-year period of meetings, protests, and interviews, and an endless struggle between the community, the police, and the program’s administrators over who would have the most control over the project.


D.C. activist Charles Cassell resigned when it became clear that there would be no community control of the Pilot District Project.

The lack of real power in the Citizens’ Advisory Board was the main concern of many of the community leaders who were appointed by the mayor to initiate the project. In fact, Charles Cassell, a D.C.-based architect and activist, provides what is probably the best sound bite of the entire film when he resigned over this very issue:

“We in the black community see the police as enemies and I remind everybody here that I may very well be shot as I walk out of that door if I happen to anger some white policeman. I’m very much aware of that and every black person is and therefore we want to control those individuals, especially since the central police force is not even capable of recruiting the capable black men in this black city and has to go out to places like Odd, West Virginia and find individuals who have very questionable backgrounds. I, Charles Cassell can no longer serve on a committee which cannot possibly make changes if it functions only in an advisory capacity. I see a constant recurrence of the conflict between the police and the community until the community finally has some measure of control over the police, and that means to make decisions.” (at 11:40)

In a November 3, 1968 article in the Washington Afro-American, Cassell followed up to say that “the pilot project is no more than something to verify and give credibility to the police department as it now exists.”

Prominent in the film is the tireless Marion Barry, who would become Washington’s “Mayor for Life.” In 1968 Barry was an established activist and ran a non-profit that employed out-of-work black youth. In many ways, the film becomes the Marion Barry Show as he attempts to wrest control of the project for the community. Barry’s presence is strong in the film, from the early planning meetings to organizing protests of the project’s first director, Dr. Robert Shellow. Barry eventually became chairman of the Citizens’ Advisory Board. His voice is used to narrate the short film Development of Community Control.


Marion Barry answers questions from the press after meeting with the police to discuss concerns about an expanded fingerprinting policy.

Unfortunately, the Pilot District Project never really took off. Many of the program’s shortcomings are on display in the hour-long film. It was simply not designed to address the stark inequality that existed in the city. In addition, it is clear that the community was not a united front. Throughout there are contingents of activists, businessmen, and what for lack of a better term I’ll call “little old ladies” that all have different beliefs about how to best guide the program or even what the community should be trying to achieve.

The government agency that created the Pilot District Project was also mired in bureaucracy, so it was perhaps destined to devolve into yet more bureaucracy once the board was elected. Meeting after meeting is shown to devolve into raised voices, debates over bad accounting, and even direct criticism of the wasting of precious time on parliamentary procedure. One unidentified man expresses his frustration at the February 13, 1971 meeting:

“I’m not on the board. I’m not on any of these committees. This is about the umpteenth meeting I’ve been to and I’ve noticed that all of these meetings are being taken up by bureaucratic procedures and Robert’s Rules of Order. And I noticed another thing–it seems like the black people here are scared to say anything. I don’t know that one Robert’s Rules of Order, one board meeting, has ever stopped a policeman’s bullet, or a policeman’s club from beating the hell out of a black person. Nothing is going to take place until black people get up off their a-ses in these meetings and begin to ask some relevant questions about this operation.” (at 47:51)

Toward the end of the film, several of the projects established with the project are demonstrated. A citizen rider program shows members of the community riding along with police to gain a better understanding of their work. Other community members listen to citizens’ complaints and problems. A young man in the Cadet Escort Service helps an elderly man buy his groceries. The program appears to have yielded some successes, although a 1972 report from the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice criticizes the citizen rider program and points out that with the services being grant-dependent, they cannot possibly respond to the constantly-changing needs of the community.[3]


Citizens called for the removal of the project’s director, Dr. Robert Shellow. The bottom of the sign reads “Committee for Community Control of Pilot 3rd District Project”

It’s not surprising, then, that when Guggenheim Productions delivered the film, plus three short “training films,” OEO had no interest in letting them see the light of day. A 1973 article in the Washington Post quotes Barry Locke, the OEO director of public affairs in saying that the agency did not have a clear plan for the filmmakers: “When you undertake a film project, you should determine what audience it should serve and how to distribute it before you shoot it. Apparently the people involved in the 1968 decision to make the film didn’t.” Director Robert Pierce explained that “OEO was not satisfied with the results because it didn’t make a positive statement.”[4]

The People and the Police, Forty-Seven Years Later

Looking through the National Archives’ file, it is clear that the OEO was trying to rid itself of the film project almost as soon as it was completed. The final date cited in the film is April 15, 1971. By December of that year, correspondence shows OEO had already begun to initiate transfer of the films and 53 boxes of associated material. Usually the Archives doesn’t receive records until decades after an agency creates them.

Today, we can be grateful that the OEO sent the films to the National Archives rather than stick them in a closet and try to forget about them. CG 8225: The People and the Police, along with its three short companion films, are valuable historical records of a specific time and place in American history that we can’t help but connect to the present. Washington, D.C. is not Ferguson, Missouri, and 1968 is not 2015, but these films are an example of how we can look to the past to find out not just what happened, but to recognize issues that nearly fifty years later, our nation still struggles to confront.

You may view all of the films on this playlist on our YouTube channel.


[1] Figure comes from original contract held in production file for CG 8225: The People and the Police. A 1973 Washington Post article puts the cost at $170,000

[2] Johnson, Wanda B. “A Study of Police Community Relations Programs in Washington, D.C.” September, 1972. Available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/17247NCJRS.pdf

[3] Johnson, Wanda B. “A Study of Police Community Relations Programs in Washington, D.C.” September, 1972. Available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/17247NCJRS.pdf

[4] Hamilton, Martha M. “OEO Shelves $170,000 Film.” Washington Post April 26, 1973. Copy held in production file for People and the Police.

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Two Down, One to Go: Preparing Soldiers for More War

After the Allied victory was declared against Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945 (a date known to history as V-E Day), US military officials presented troops with Two Down, One to Go, a film that serves as both Q+A session and pep talk to prepare them to shift their attention to Japan.

Of primary concern was the matter of who would return to civilian life and how that would be determined. Animated sequences demonstrate how troops will be surplused, and voices representing a range of American accents call out criteria to be considered, such as overseas service and number of children. The film repeatedly emphasizes that, above all else, the calculations will be done fairly, based on feedback from the troops themselves. Not everyone would get to go home, not when war still raged in the Pacific.

In fact, the strongest message in Two Down, One to Go is that while a major battle was won, the war was not over. The desire to go home should rank below the need to defeat Japan, an enemy characterized by Chief of Staff General George Marshall as “committed to World domination or death.” As Gen. Marshall intones, “we will not have won this war, nor can we enjoy any peace until Japan is completely crushed.”


Still from animated sequence in Two Down, One to Go.

Two Down, One to Go was clearly preparing American troops for extended battle and an invasion of Japan, one that would require the building of roads, bases, and the movement of massive equipment such as tanks and landing barges. Black and white footage cut into the color film shows how trails must be blazed and equipment landed on sandy shores. As we know, this was not to be the case. The prospect of drawn-out warfare against Japan was cut short when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the island nation just three months later.

During the film, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who commanded the Army Ground Forces, speaks about how the move to the Pacific will affect his men. That wouldn’t be too surprising, except that McNair died during the invasion of Normandy, when our own planes mistakenly dropped dozens of bombs too soon. That means that his segment had to have been filmed well before June 6, 1944 (D-Day). It is likely that the film was completed months in advance of V-E Day and was ready to present to troops in the European Theater of Operations before the ink was even dry on the surrender.

Two Down, One to Go ends with an extended sequence of American flags being raised and troops saluting, accompanied by an operatic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The film was undoubtedly intended to pump up the men who would view it and prepare them for another round of war. Gen. Marshall’s final words are so quotable that they could have come from a big budget war film:

“Upon you, the men who remain in active service, the destiny of peoples and nations depends. Others who come after you may read history, others may write it, but you men will make history.”

As you watch the film, put yourself in the place of those battle-weary soldiers who wanted nothing more than to go home. Then consider that those men saw it and instead steeled themselves to make history.

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Impending Disaster: Footage of the Lusitania’s Departure from New York

One hundred years ago, in the midst of the First World War, the RMS Lusitania left New York for Liverpool, England with nearly 2000 passengers and crew members aboard. In the film below, passengers arrive in a flurry of a cabs and board the ship. Less than a week later, most of them were dead, victims of Germany’s escalating wartime tactics.

Footage of the Lusitania as she departed from New York May 1, 1915. Intertitles have been extended for increased readability. (111-H-1221)

On May 7, 1915, just off the coast of Ireland, the ship crossed paths with a German U-boat and was struck by a torpedo. 1,191 passengers and crew would lose their lives. 128 were Americans, including writer Elbert Hubbard, who is seen in the featured film at 3:00. Many attribute the sinking of the Lusitania with increased hostility toward Germany in isolationist America. The United States entered World War I two years later.

For more on the Lusitania, see posts on our sister blog, Prologue, including a piece about the ship’s difficult-to-launch lifeboats that resulted in increased fatalities, and an interview with the Lusitania’s captain, William T. Turner, following the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

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Happy Birthday, Ulysses S. Grant!

This post was written by Mark Meader. Mark is an Archives Specialist with the Motion Picture, Sound and Video branch. He participated in historical reenactments for over forty years, including over twenty years as a Union private in Civil War reenactments.

There is a scene in Frank Capra’s film “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” where Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a small town poet who has inherited 20 million dollars, stands in awe of Grant’s Tomb in New York City, the largest mausoleum in North America. When Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), a reporter who is reporting his antics of being a hick in a big city asks what Deeds sees in the huge structure, he says “I see a small Ohio farm boy becoming a great soldier. I see thousands of marching men. I see General Lee with a broken heart, surrendering, and I can see the beginning of a new nation, like Abraham Lincoln said. And I can see that Ohio boy being inaugurated President – things like that can only happen in America.”

Grant was a typical rural Midwesterner, wrote Pulitzer Prize winning author Bruce Catton: five feet eight, stooped, unmilitary in his gait, with creased horizontal wrinkles across his brow giving him a faintly harassed look. Somewhere in that man was a proud, shy little West Point graduate who put on the best uniform he had to go back to his Ohio hometown on furlough, and was laughed at by the livery stable hangabouts for a dude. After that Grant preferred to wear the plain uniform of a private soldier, with officers’ insignia sewn to the shoulders. The man who directed so much bloodshed was made queasy by the sight of red meat, and had his cooked black, almost to a crisp. When he prepared for his day’s rounds he took two dozen cigars, which were tucked away in various pockets. He had the look about his eyes of a man who had come way up from very far down, a stubborn, taciturn bulldog-tough man who did not know when to quit, yet forbid his beloved wife, who quaintly spoke of him as “Mr. Grant”, to have an operation that would cure her crossed eyes because they were so dear to him.


Grant poses in front of a tent in Cold Harbor, Virginia.
Image cropped. See full image at catalog link. 111-B-36 (NAID 524455)

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio in 1822, the son of a tanner. At the age of 17 he was given an appointment to West Point, the Military Academy of the United States, by his Congressman, Thomas Hamer, whose letter of appointment mistakenly listed him as Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio. Grant kept the name, and his friends at the academy nicknamed him “Sam” because his first initials were U.S. like Uncle Sam. He served in the Mexican War, although he opposed the idea of a large country such as the United States fighting a small country like Mexico. A brave soldier, he fought both under Generals Zachary Taylor at Monterey and Winfield Scott at Mexico City, where at Chapultepec Grant hoisted a disassembled small cannon to a bell tower to suppress enemy fire when it was reassembled. After the war, his marriage to Julia Dent in 1848, at which future Confederate General James Longstreet was his best man, was an island of stability in a military world of constant assignments to outposts all over the country. Because of one of these to Fort Humboldt in the California Territory was without his family, he started to drink and was forced to resign his U.S. Army commission of Captain.

He returned to his family and was unsuccessful at farming, bill collecting, and working in a tannery hide shop for his father-in-law in Galena, Illinois. Thought by most to be a ne’er-do-well, when the American Civil War began Grant surprised many when he helped raised a company of well-drilled recruits and went with them to fight for the Union. Because of his tough military training he was soon promoted to Colonel, then Brigadier General of Volunteers. Grant successfully campaigned against Paducah, Kentucky, then Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. His demand for the unconditional surrender of Fort Donelson led to his being called “Unconditional Surrender” Grant by the press, and President Lincoln promoted him Major General. But then, Grant was accused of being a drunk when the Union Army of Tennessee’s encampments were initially captured at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862, even though the army under his personal command was able to defeat the Confederates the second day. The battle was the costliest in the history of the United States up to then, with over 23,000 casualties. Critics opposed Grant’s command, but President Lincoln overruled them, saying “I can’t spare this man, he fights.”


Grant at Civil War encampment. 111-B-5041 (NAID 529151)

Grant’s further successful campaigns resulted in the capture of the Confederate bastion of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River in 1863 and its entire army, which effectually split the Confederacy in half. His capture of Chattanooga Tennessee in 1864 gave the Union final control of the state and opened Georgia and the heartland of the Confederacy to successful invasion by General William T. Sherman.  President Lincoln promoted Grant to command of all the armies of the North, and Grant and the Union Army of the Potomac, with bulldog tenacity, latched onto Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at the Wilderness in May 1864. They did not let go until the Lee’s Army surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, in April, 1865.

Because of his successful reputation of wartime service, Grant was elected as the Republican President in 1868 with his campaign slogan “Let Us have Peace.” Due to his difficulty in spotting self-opportunists, Grant’s two terms (1868-77) were riddled with scandals and there were many congressional investigations into corruption in his administration. Despite this, as President, Grant guided the South back into the Union, tried to protect the freed African-Americans and make them full citizens of the Nation, changed the government’s policy from Indian removal to living peacefully with Native Americans, and settled wartime claims with Great Britain.


President Ulysses S. Grant. 111-B-4065 (NAID 528217)

Upon leaving the White House, the Grants made a trip around the world that became a journey of triumphs, a highlight of the trip being an overnight stay and dinner hosted by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. A visit to Europe and the Holy Land followed, and they returned to Rome where they were received by Pope Leo XIII. Continuing the trip through the Far East, they were cordially received at the Imperial palace in Tokyo by the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and Grant helped mediate a dispute between Japan and China over the Japanese annexation of the Ryukyu Islands. The world tour was costly, and Grant, having diminished his savings, needed money and a new home. Family business ventures followed that were not successful, and he ended up penniless and destitute. Grant wrote several well-received articles for The Century Magazine for $500, and the editor of the magazine suggested that he write his memoirs, as many others Generals, such as Sherman, had done. He started them in 1884, but was diagnosed with throat cancer. Grant continued writing his memoirs in a cottage on Mount McGregor NY, finishing it 5 days before he died on July 23, 1885. It was a critical and commercial success, and provided well for his family. Grant was eulogized by many in the press, who likened him to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In his honor, President Grover Cleveland ordered 30 days of mourning for the Nation for this tanners’ son from Ohio, who had served his country well.

Information for this post came from the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and A Stillness at Appomattox by Bruce Catton, 1953. Grant’s memoirs are available to read online

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