Carol Radovich (Rockefeller Archive Center) introduces

            One Tenth of Our Nation (American Film Center, 1940)

Craig Kridel (USC Museum of Education) The Making of One Tenth: Difficulties Portraying the Progress and Problems of Black Education

Julie Hubbert (University of South Carolina) Roy Harris and the Musical Score for One Tenth of Our Nation


ABSTRACT by Craig Kridel <>

            One Tenth of Our Nation, arguably the first documentary about black education in America, was produced for premiere in Chicago at the 1940 American Negro Exposition. This complex, troubling 25-minute documentary -- somewhat unsuccessfully displaying the “progress and problems of black education” -- includes noteworthy cinematography and a remarkable music score written by one the country's leading orchestral composers, Roy Harris. The film had been safely stored but unseen for 60 years until its rediscovery at the Rockefeller Archive Center in 2008 and is presented at the 7th Orphan Film Symposium in recognition of its 70th anniversary.  

Here’s the entry in Rick Prelinger’s The Field Guide to Sponsored Films (NFPF, 2006), which notes that no copies of One Tenth of Our [a] Nation had been located at the time of the book’s publication. The National Film Preservation Foundation published the Field Guide in order to focus attention on identifying and rediscovering works such as this one. Researcher and education historian Craig Kridel worked with archivist Carol Radovich to track the film down. Now that the film has been found, we have the more accurate title (. . . of Our Nation), running time, and access information for this public domain title. 

One-Tenth of a [sic] Nation (1940, sound, 3 reels, b&w, 35mm)
sponsor: American Film Center, with funding by General Education Board, a Rockefeller Foundation project.
production:  Film Associates Inc.
director:  Felix Greene.
writer:  Maurice Ellis.
camera:  Roger Barlow, Henwar Rodakiewicz, Theodore Lawrence.
music:  Roy Harris.
commentary [narration]:  Maurice Ellis  [This credit does not appear in The Field Guide. Ellis was an African American theater actor who had appeared (as Macduff) in Orson Welles’ famous staging of the “Voodoo” MacBeth in 1936. At the time of One Tenth, he was in the Broadway production of  Cabin in the Sky (1940-41).]

Copyright not registered.

Resources:  Three articles appeared in the Chicago Defender in 1940: “Film on Race Education to Be Made This Spring,” April 27; “3 Photographers for Exposition Are Jailed,” June 29; “Film on Negro Education Shown at Race Progress Exposition Here,” September 7.

Living Films: A Catalog of Documentary Films and Their Makers (New York: Association of Documentary Film Producers, 1940), 46.

William J. Sloan, “The Documentary Film and the Negro: The Evolution of the Integration Film,” Journal of the Society of Cinematologists 4 (1964–65): 66-69.

HOLDINGS: Not reported*.

Film advocating the improvement of educational facilities for African Americans, then one-tenth of America’s population. The documentary describes African American education in the South, from one-room schools to modern universities, and was considered by William Sloan “perhaps the most outstanding” prewar film on the “problems of the Negro.” NOTE: While filming in Memphis, crew members were jailed on suspicion of being agitators. Also released in 16mm.



*Two 16mm prints of the film were located in the Rockefeller Archive Center (Sleepy Hollow, New York) two years after this report.

• In 2010, the RAC preserved One Tenth of Our Nation at Colorlab.

• See A Researcher's Guide to Reference at the Rockefeller Archive Center.



General Education Board (1902-1960) a Rockefeller-funded philanthropic organization, whose mission in part was to support public education in the American South, with particular focus on African American schools

American Film Center (1938-1948) a clearinghouse for educational films; advocate for documentary production

About the composer:

Leroy Ellsworth Harris (1898-1979) 

An anonymously authored but expansive website documenting the life and career of Roy Harris: