Learning From Experience: Maria Varela’s Perspective, SNCC Field Secretary, 1963-1967
Learning Materials by the People for the People
By the end of 1964 and early into 1965, it was a given that any materials produced for adult education or communication would have photographs showing Black people taking leadership. Around the middle of 1966, we went the next step from using images in print publications to using them in filmstrips.
The advantages of filmstrips were numerous:
Filmstrips were inexpensive to produce and reproduce.
Filmstrips did not require a great deal of technical knowledge to produce.
Filmstrips were a natural tool for people who communicate in concrete terms.
Filmstrips also forced people inclined to ramble or use abstract terms to break down the information concretely in a more story-like approach.
If You Can Farm, You Can Vote
ASCS filmstrip, “If You Can Farm, You Can Vote,” SNCC Adult Education Material, Courtesy of Maria Varela
One of the first filmstrips we made was about the election of farmers to local ASCS (Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service) Committees. These committees decided how many acres could be planted each year in various crops. In Mississippi cotton was the biggest crop they regulated. Because in every county across the South the ASCS was in the hands of white farmers, the extra acres were always allotted to big farms and plantations, excluding Black farmers.
We took complicated technical material about the elections to create a filmstrip that made clear a process that had long tried the patience of organizers. The text for “If You Can Farm, You Can Vote” came from a meeting we recorded of farmers organizing themselves to nominate candidates, as well as an interview with Mr. Luther Honeysucker, who in 1965 won a seat on the ASCS committee candidate of Madison County, Mississippi.
The filmstrip’s results were impressive. “For the first time, I understand this business with the envelopes,” one local person announced. Staff and community members who had used the strips passed on other remarks they had heard from farmers:
Now, I understand what this cotton committee is all about.
Now I understand why it’s important for us to elect a lot of people all over the county.
We had hoped that local leadership across the Black Belt would take over these tools and not always depend on the SNCC Photo Department or me to create these materials. However, we had not paid attention to how labor intensive it was to create a filmstrip. The whole front end took probably weeks if not months to do. The images for the strip had to be collected and/or shot or or drawn. Then using a copy camera, the images had to be shot in order. If we messed up, we had to start all over again. But once the negative was made, we could produce 20-25 strips in a day at a cost of roughly $1.00 apiece. The other advantage was that with the books, we had to hand-deliver them all over the Black Belt. With filmstrips, we could simply drop them in the mail.
Maria Varela describes the process of creating filmstrips: