Some of CRL’s extensive holdings in African-American newspapers were recently put to use in a documentary aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The Trials of Muhammad Ali, produced by Kartemquin Films, explores the period in which the famed fighter went from heavyweight champion of the world and sports icon to a controversial and polarizing political figure. It examines one event in particular: his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War, a decision inspired by his membership in the Nation of Islam.
CRL preserves an extensive run of the Nation of Islam’s primary publication, the newspaper Muhammad Speaks. The newspaper both documented and served as a platform for Ali’s politicization, and was a key source for the film. The film’s producer, Rachel Pikelny, acknowledged that CRL’s notable microfilm holdings of Muhammad Speaks, which cover the years 1961 to 1975, were of particular importance to her research.
Ethnic newspapers have long been an area of collecting focus for CRL. Muhammad Speaks is just one of the hundreds of CRL-held titles published by US ethnic and minority communities, which also include German-, Polish-, Jewish-, Hispanic, and Arab-Americans, and a host of others, dating back to the late eighteenth century. Until recent years, these newspapers were rarely used by researchers. As interest in the history of American ethnic and immigrant communities grows, however, the importance of preserving these kinds of materials becomes more evident.