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SF State launches comprehensive online archive of historic student strike

New website features hundreds of photos, news footage, posters, documents, oral histories 

As social movements across the globe are more active than ever, San Francisco State University just upgraded its own archives of the historic 1968 – 1969 Black Student Union/Third World Liberation Front student-led strike. Now, anyone can do their research easily through one comprehensive website, the San Francisco State Strike Collection. It is home to hundreds of historical photos, news footage, posters and flyers, documents and oral histories.  

The new website launched last week on Nov. 6 — marking 55 years to the day when SF State students first walked out to demand a curriculum that reflected the diversity of Black and other ethnic communities. The contentious, heavily policed strike continued for 115 days, becoming the longest college student strike in American history and forever changing the face of higher education. It not only resulted in SF State establishing the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies, it also paved the way for a nationwide movement in ethnic studies as an academic field. 

The new online collection, organized by Special Collections & Archives in the J. Paul Leonard Library at SF State, combines materials that were previously available on several different websites. University Archives, the Bay Area Television Archive and the Labor Archives and Research Center are the sources for the materials.  

“The SF State Strike Collection is a major contribution to students, faculty, staff and community members who want to reflect, teach, study and understand the sacrifices made to establish the College of Ethnic Studies,” said Grace Yoo, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies. “It preserves the legacy of activists who founded the College of Ethnic Studies and shares this legacy with the rest of the world.” 

The collection also includes content that was previously not available, with more coming soon. An interactive exhibit tells the story of the strike through text, images and video, including events beginning in 1966 that led to the strike. At the time, SF State students created the nation’s first Black Student Union, which then proposed an institute of Black studies to a campus academic committee. 

“Our hope is that the site will highlight the social justice legacy of the campus, tell the full story of the strike and show how ordinary students mobilized to create the College of Ethnic Studies, special admissions and more,” said Eva Martinez, team processing lead for Special Collections. 

Visit the San Francisco State Strike Collection


SF State Bay Area Television Archive is a treasure trove of history on film — and streaming online

Students can license historical footage for their own work for free, while most filmmakers must pay to do so 

When filmmakers want access to historical footage of the Bay Area’s past, they turn to San Francisco State University, home to a massive and unique archive of local television news-film and documentaries from the 20th century. While Academy Award-winning films such as “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Milk” and “O.J.: Made in America” paid market rate to license the footage, San Francisco State students may do so for their own work at no cost.  

Based in the J. Paul Leonard Library on campus, the Bay Area Television Archive features more than 135,000 videos from Bay Area television stations. A visit to the new Bay Area Television Archive website is a YouTube-like rabbit hole of a time machine dedicated to the issues and events that gripped the region decades ago.  

The original daily news coverage allows one to learn how major events unfolded and how communities responded when the word was spread. Curated collections feature the civil rights movement (including the Third World Liberation Front student strike at SF State), the Zodiac Killer, 1970s adult entertainment, old-school hip hop and much more. One can watch speeches by Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou’s entire KQED-TV series “Blacks, Blues, Black” from 1968 — rediscovered and restored by Alex Cherian, the Bay Area television archivist on staff, after not having been seen for decades. 

Footage from the archive has been used in more than 1,000 documentary, television and community projects in the last 15 years, with dozens more coming out every year.

“Back in the 1980s when these film assets were being disposed of by the local TV stations, SF State and the head of collections then, Helene Whitson, were the only people who were in the position to step up and say, ‘Don’t throw it away, give it to us. We’ll give it a home,’” said Cherian.

Saving history 

Cherian comprises a one-person shop, so far having preserved 6,000 hours of footage at the archive and digitized 350 hours (approximately 6% of the total collection) since he moved from his native England in 2007 to join SF State. He enjoys the arduous process of preservation. 

“You get an intimate feel for the film and you get the sense that — for want of a better phrase — you’re saving it,” he said.

Cherian can only save the documented history of the Bay Area on a reel-by-reel basis. Inside the archive’s climate-controlled vault, a staggering amount of footage is still waiting to be rediscovered. It would take decades to digitize it all, and some of it will deteriorate beyond repair.  

“San Francisco State is a natural home for this [archive] because we work closely with the community, and there’s so much social justice history preserved in these TV collections,” Cherian said. “...  It’s a primary resource for our history. It’s more of a philosophical thing, if you will, or an ethical thing than anything else. That’s why it’s here and that’s why we are doing our best to work with it.” 

Gloves on his hands and a loupe over his left eye, Cherian analyzes the worn, often-damaged analog film. Before proceeding to the digitization process, he must clean each frame of celluloid film and resplice it carefully where needed. Film scanning equipment, funded by a donation from the Friends of the J. Paul Leonard Library, digitizes footage into 4K resolution.    

Eva Martinez, Special Collections processing team lead in the J. Paul Leonard Library, often sees Cherian wheeling a cart full of film reels. “One could think that’s his main activity until you visit the Bay Area Television Archive web page. There, his craftmanship is evident,” Martinez said. “Because of Alex, we have a unique and invaluable film archive that preserves the history and diversity of Bay Area politics, communities and cultural life.” 

A great resource for students 

Student Matthew Cardoza discovered the Bay Area Television Archive when researching a story for a Journalism class about the student strike. He soon found himself watching video after video, offering him new insight into the history, geography and people that define the region where he has lived his entire life. 

In an SF State “Audio Journalism” class during the fall semester, Cardoza and fellow student Sarah Bowen pursued a story comparing pollution in the Bayview-Hunters Point area of San Francisco in the past to today. A 1969 interview with a community activist from KPIX-TV helped them build a comparison between environmental conditions of the past and the present, as they also conducted their own interview with a community activist of today. Their piece will air on KQED-FM public radio on Feb. 22.

“It’s a great use of resources to have for SF State students,” Cardoza said. “I think it’s a perfect way for students to incorporate historical footage of neighborhoods and about different events that occurred back in earlier decades. I think it will help myself and many other students out in a number of ways.”  

To inquire about licensing footage from the Bay Area Television Archive, visit the Using the Collections page or contact archivist Alex Cherian.  

Exhibition caps massive project to digitize agricultural labor research material

‘Fields of Struggle: Agricultural Laborers in California, 1939 – 1966’ is based on more than 1,400 items collected by researcher and activist Henry P. Anderson

When San Francisco State University’s Labor Archives and Research Center (LARC) holds its annual program Thursday, Feb. 29, it won’t just celebrate the 38th anniversary of the event series’ launch. It will also mark the culmination of a two-year, labor-intensive effort to digitize the life’s work of one of California’s most notable labor researchers.

The free, open-to-the-public event — to be held 5 – 7 p.m. in room 460 of the J. Paul Leonard Library — will also serve as the official opening of a new exhibition, “Fields of Struggle: Agricultural Laborers in California, 1939 – 1966.” The exhibition showcases material from the Henry P. Anderson Papers, a collection of audio interviews, film footage, photographs, periodicals and more documenting the experiences of California agricultural workers. Anderson was studying for a master’s in Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1950s when he began collecting the material as part of a thesis project on Mexican agricultural workers. Anderson became convinced that the program that allowed the workers to come temporarily to the U.S., known as the Bracero Program, was riddled with abuses, and he used his research to advocate for change. He remained active for years afterward as a labor activist and historian.

Consisting of 1,460 items, the Henry P. Anderson Papers was catalogued and digitized under the direction of San Francisco State Digital Archivist Leah Sylva. Now it’s not just the backbone of the “Fields of Struggle” exhibition. It will be available online to researchers anywhere, anytime.

“Now researchers worldwide can access the correspondence, photographs and interviews remotely without needing to travel to campus,” Sylva said. “Also the selection process curates a sampling of material, presenting objects with high research value without the considerable labor usually required to hunt through archival cartons for relevant items.”

Anderson (pictured, right) passed away in 2016. He had supported LARC with charitable donations and had conversations with staff members about leaving the center his papers. Two years ago, the Anderson Family Trust brought that to fruition with a generous grant covering the cost of organizing and digitizing the papers. The papers were donated by the family and processed in 2019 – 2020 by Archival Processing Team Lead Eva Martinez.

A number of Anderson’s children and grandchildren will be on hand for the “Fields of Struggle” opening event Feb. 29.

“It is tremendously gratifying, rewarding and moving, for myself and my family, to know that my father’s work now is memorialized in digital form and lives on as a resource for labor researchers and historians,” said Dori Anderson Rodriguez, Anderson’s daughter. “My father’s labor research materials, which included recorded interviews, photographs and writings, was to him his most valuable and important legacy. It brings us great pride and gratification to know that his research is now preserved and can be used now and in the future.”

“Fields of Struggle: Agricultural Laborers in California, 1939 – 1966” will be open for class visits throughout 2024. Anyone interested in scheduling a visit should email Sylva.

The Feb. 29 LARC event will feature keynote speaker Mireya Loza, author of “Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual and Political Freedom.” Learn more on the J. Paul Leonard Library website.

Henry P. Anderson