African-American Filmmaker William Greaves on Booker T. Washington & Frederick Douglass

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

William Greaves was a prominent African-American filmmaker and producer, working from the 1960s through the 2000s. Greaves began as an actor, becoming a member of The Actors Studio in 1948. He won an Emmy Award for the groundbreaking TV newsmagazine series Black Journal and is perhaps best known for his films Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (1968) and Ali, the Fighter (1971). Greaves’ career led him everywhere from the National Film Board of Canada, to Africa, to India and around the world. One of the stops along the way was with the National Park Service, where he made films about prominent African-Americans Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.

Frederick Douglass: An American Life (Local Identifier: 79-HFC-225) was released in 1985. The film was available for purchase, along with Booker T. Washington: The Life and the Legacy at museum gift shops at NPS sites that are historically tied to anti-slavery movements – such as Harpers Ferry National Historical ParkThe film may have also been part of public programming at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC.

Booker T. Washington: The Life and the Legacy (Local Identifier: 79-HFC-242) was released in 1986 and may also have been incorporated into public programs at the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Hardy, Virginia.

These films are part of the Harpers Ferry collection from the National Park Service.  NARA received the Harpers Ferry materials in the winter of 2012/2013. William Greaves’ films were discovered this winter by one of our Motion Picture Archivists identifying titles within the collection. The film was then delivered to the Motion Picture Preservation lab where the copies went through condition assessment, archival arrangement, and digitization.

NARA is home to other William Greaves films, including the USIA film Wealth of a Nation and NASA’s Space for Women. As part of that discovery we established a relationship with Mr. Greaves wife, Louise, who we’re fortunate to be in contact with and have been able to provide her with digital copies and material for her husband’s archive. You can learn more about William Greaves at

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