Capturing the voices and images of children from the past can be illusive. Even when the sources do exist, archives and libraries rarely make it easy to identify sources that relate the direct experiences of kids. One exception is The Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) website featuring short films by Melton Barker produced from the 1930s through the 1970s. http://www.meltonbarker.org
Barker was an entrepreneurial filmmaker traveling across the United States and remaking the same short film, “Kidnappers Foil” over and over. He made money by casting local kids and then selling tickets to screenings of his newest remake of the film in the community’s local theater. Unfortunately, most of Barker’s films no longer exist, but TAMI has posted a few priceless examples. The current collection features kids from small-towns in Arkansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. The young performers are clearly parroting Barker’s simplistic script, but the films reveal the kids’ voices and regional accents. The diverse ethnic and racial make-up of their daily lives is also depicted in some of the films’ black and white images.
The TAMI Melton Barker film collection is a terrific resource that helps break the myth that children’s experiences are too illusive for serious historical research.