The Great Migration

Digitizing African American Home Movies & Analog Audiovisual Media

Explore Initiative

The Great Migration is a unique digitization service program that partners the National Museum of African American History and Culture with individuals and organizations across the United States to preserve their important analog audiovisual media.

This initiative will invite members of the public to schedule an appointment with the museum's audiovisual conservation team, and have their media digitized in the Robert F. Smith Explore Your Family History Center on the second floor of the museum. Media conservators will facilitate free digitization of motion picture film (16mm, Super 8, and Regular 8mm), obsolete videotape formats (Hi-8/8mm, MiniDV, 3/4" U-matic, VHS, Betacam, 1" open reel video, and 1/2" open reel video) and various audio formats. Preservation and access are at the heart of this initiative, which has been made possible largely due to a $20 million gift from philanthropist and businessman Robert F. Smith. This donation has been earmarked to support digitization of both the public's family history and the museum's vast collections, as well as education and access to said material.

For more information, please contact us at:

  • Image displaying various motion picutre film gauges.
    A visual aide for identifying various film gauges (35mm, 16mm, 8mm, Super 8).
  • Image displaying example artifacts of various videotape formats.
    A visual aide for identifying various videotape formats (U-Matic, MiniDV, VHS, DigiBeta, Betacam, Hi-8).
  • Image displaying example artifacts of various audio formats.
    A visual aide for identifying various audio formats (Grooved Disc, DAT, CD-ROM, Audio Cassette, Reel-to-Reel Audiotape)

In addition to the Great Migration, the National Museum of African American History & Culture has collected and preserved a number of African American home movies; from both known and unknown families. While major motion picture film and television historically lacked diverse representation, black history was instinctively being preserved in everyday home movies. Today, these personal narratives serve as an invaluable tool for understanding and re-framing black moving image history, and provide a much needed visualization of African American history and culture. Just as the museum explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture; these films are a moving image record of these values in practice. In our home movie collections, we see the resiliency of civil rights activists in 1963 in Danville, VA, the optimism and drive of empowered youth in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn, New York during the 1960's, and the rooted spirituality of black Oklahomans in the face of race riots and segregation in 1920's Tulsa, Oklahoma. Explore some of our collections at NMAAHC Collections Search.

  • Photo of two female fencers in action on playground blacktop with 4 fellow fencers looking on at the match.
    A fencing match between two teens at the 1965 Brooklyn Olympics, Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth In Action, 16mm, Color, Gift of Pearl Bowser
  • Photo showing Cab Calloway on stage with both hands up in the air with his band, including a base player, drummer, trumpet player, and two saxophonists playing behind him.
    Cab Calloway on stage during his 1951 tour, Haiti, Cab Calloway in Haiti home movie, 16mm, Color, Gift of Cabella Calloway Langsam, ©️ Cabella Calloway Langsam
  • A teacher standing in a classroom with 5 of her students
    A teacher posing with her students, Tuskegee, AL, ca. 1941, J.Max Bond Sr. Home Movie #2, 16mm, Black & White, Gift from the Family of George C. Bond, ©️ Alison Bond

The past is of value only as it aids in understanding the present...

Isabel Wilkerson The Warmth of Other Suns