Black and white photo of a large crowd of people walking away from a state Capitol building in protest.

Over the course of three months in 1961, then-Wisconsin NAACP President Lloyd Barbee and University of Wisconsin Extension faculty member Stuart Hanisch filmed a documentary using hidden cameras and microphones to capture instances of housing discrimination against Black people around Madison. The powerful, grainy, 12-minute film was effortlessly damning, often showing the addresses and faces of white landlords as they openly rejected applicants the moment they realized they were Black. Some offered excuses, while others seemed almost apologetic in their honesty. “I guess you know why. Sorry it’s that way, but I don’t want to have trouble with my neighbors,” said one white landlord to a Black actor posing as an applicant. “We don’t feel that we can rent to colored people,” said another, as chillingly “Midwestern nice” as the first.

But the public never saw the film. Despite University of Wisconsin–Madison officials knowing about the hidden cameras ahead of time and granting approval and even some funding, soon after screening the rough cut, the university legally restricted and locked it away in the UW Archives because they said it violated the privacy of the landlords. Barbee and Hanisch offered to obscure the identifying details, then asked to have the film rights returned — the university said no to both, instead deciding to film its own watered-down version using reenactments. This grabbed the attention of the NAACP, triggering headlines and statewide picketing, and Hanisch even resigned in protest — still, the original footage was never released. The 10 cans of film reels were sealed with magnetic tape and stored in red-stamped boxes for 50 years — until a 2019 initiative called the UW–Madison Public History Project, in an effort led by digital media archivist Cat Phan, petitioned to legally overturn the restriction, then worked with PBS Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Center for Films and Theater Research to restore and digitize the footage.