In March 1972, about 10,000 African American politicians, activists, artists, and interested citizens, representing a broad spectrum of political views, came together at the National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana. This convention had several purposes: to discuss political issues of concern to the African American community, to draft an agenda for political change prior to the presidential conventions to be held later that year by the Republican and Democratic parties, and to find ways to increase African American representation in American politics. One product of this convention was the Gary Declaration, which stated that both major parties had failed African Americans, and called on African Americas to organize and create their own political agenda and movement. In other words, the delegates to this convention were looking for fundamental political change, not a few tweaks around the edges.
The National Black Political Convention was documented by William Greaves, in an 80-minute film, Nationtime—Gary, intended for television broadcast. However, the finished product was considered too radical for television, and the film was long considered to be lost. Then, in 2018, a copy of the complete film was discovered in a Pittsburgh warehouse, and was restored through the efforts of IndieCollect, an organization dedicated to preserving American independent films. The end result is that this film, bearing the name Nationtime, is now available in a 4K version from Kino Lorber.
In some ways, the National Black Political Convention mirrored the Republican and Democratic conventions, right down to the state delegates clustered together under a sign bearing the name of their state. It differed fundamentally, however, in terms of the ideas circulated by the delegates and featured speakers, which included reparations and the formation of a third party. Cinematographically, Nationtime is a fairly conventional television documentary, shot in black and white and featuring a voice of God narration read by Sidney Poitier, and mixing footage of featured speakers with shots of the sea of delegates gathered for the convention. It is innovative, however, in the way Greaves mixes poetry by Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka, read by Harry Belafonte, just as the convention itself combined musical performances with speeches and political discussions.
Today, the main interest in Nationtime relates to the event it documents, and for the way it captures the spirit of its time. To be honest, I didn’t know that this convention had been held, let alone the ideas discussed there, and I’m willing to bet a lot of other people are in a similar state of ignorance. It’s also quite instructive to note that many of the issues discussed almost 50 years ago are still relevant today—because the problems underlying them have still not been addressed. This convention also collected in one place the talents of a number of important African American leaders and entertainers, including Black Panther Bobby Seale, activist and education Dr. Betty Shabazz, poet Amiri Baraka, actor Richard Roundtree, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gary Mary Richard Gordon Hatcher, comedian Dick Gregory, and singer Isaac Hayes, and the film Nationtime preserves their efforts for posterity. | Sarah Boslaugh
Nationtime is available beginning October 23 from Kino Lorber, in theatres, virtual cinemas, and drive-ins.