Emmett Till and “Eyes on the Prize”

28 Aug
Emmett Till in a photograph taken by his mother on Christmas Day 1954, about eight months before his murder.

Emmett Till in a photograph taken by his mother on Christmas Day 1954, about eight months before his murder.

August 28, 2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the Emmett Till’s death. The murder of Emmett Louis Till in 1955 was one of three lynching in 1955, but his mother’s decision to have an open casket funeral and the subsequent attention surrounding Till’s case galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. Till was from Chicago and had been visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi when he reportedly flirted with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant who ran a grocery story with her husband, Roy Bryant. There are varying stories of what exactly occurred at the store, but a few nights later on August 28 Till was taken from his great-uncle’s home by Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam and then brutally beaten and murdered. The extent of Till’s injuries was so extreme that his mother Mamie Till Bradley asked for an open casket funeral to show the brutality of what had been done to her son. The funeral was documented in a Jet magazine story, published on September 15, 1955.

This event shocked the nation helped galvanize the modern civil rights movement.This article and the accompanying photo of Emmett Till’s mutilated body were seen by a young Henry Hampton. Hampton, who was the exact same age as Till, lived in St. Louis, Missouri–not that far from Money, Mississippi–and never forgot Till’s story. It had a lasting impact on him, and when he made his documentary series, Eyes on the Prize he began the story of the civil rights movement with Till’s murder. The Film & Media Archive has many documents, photos, and material relating to the history of lynching and the Emmett Till case. For this section of the documentary, Hampton interviewed Curtis Jones, Till’s cousin, journalist William Bradford Huie, who interviewed Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam for Look magazine, and journalist James L. Hicks, who covered the trial.

Mose Wright stands and points to J. W. Milam, a white man accused of kidnapping and murdering Wright’s 14-year-old great-nephew Emmett Till, during the murder trial in Sumner, Mississippi, September 1955.

Hicks described how Till’s great-uncle, Mose Wright testified and identified Till’s killers,

He was called up on to testify as to, could he see anybody in the courtroom identify anybody in that courtroom that had come to his house that night and got Emmet Till out. He stood up and there was a tension in the courtroom because we had been told…that, hey, the stuff is going to hit the fan when they stand up and identify, when Moses Wright stand up and identified J.W. Milam and the other fellow…And he looked around and there was a tension and he says in his broken language, “Dar he.”

Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp who directed the 2004 documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, did extensive research at the Film & Media Archive. This film and subsequent publicity surrounding it led to the reopening of the Till case in 2005. The Film & Media Archive provided interview transcripts and documents to the Justice Department while they were investigating the case. The FBI concluded their investigation in 2006 and passed on recommendations to chief prosecutor for Mississippi’s Fourth Judicial District, Joyce Chiles to re-open the case. Chiles did conduct an investigation but at the end declined to press charges against Carolyn Bryant or any of the other people who were allegedly there the night of Till’s murder.

Despite this outcome, the Film & Media Archive continues to be a valuable resource for primary source materials on this case. Please contact the archive for more information on any of these resources.

RAWSTOCK: Back to School Edition

21 Aug

Rawstock-flyer-tabledisplay

Friday, August 28
8:00pm
Melt – 2712 Cherokee St.

The Washington University Visual Media Research Lab presents RAWSTOCK, a FREE archival screening night celebrating the educational films of yesteryear. Check our Facebook page for more info.

Julian Bond, Civil Rights Activist and “Eyes on the Prize” narrator, dies at 75

17 Aug
Julian Bond with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Atlanta, 1963.

Julian Bond with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Atlanta, 1963. Photo by Richard Avedon.

Julian Bond, civil rights activist and “Eyes on the Prize” narrator, has died at 75. Bond was present at the start of the civil rights movement during the 1960s as a co-founder and communications director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He participated in many early campaigns and voter registration drives in rural Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. He entered politics in his twenties and was elected to four terms as a Representative in Georgia, and later served six terms in the Georgia Senate. He was also chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1998 to 2010 and was the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Julian Bond was the narrator of the series Eyes on the Prize for all fourteen episodes. After Henry Hampton’s death Bond was a champion of Hampton’s work and the Film & Media Archive where all the materials that went into making Eyes on the Prize are housed. When the Film Archive opened to the public in 2002, Bond delivered the keynote address and spoke about Hampton’s original plan to have an onscreen narrator,

I was to be the on-screen narrator, describing movement scenes for a viewing audience as archival film and interviews with participants carried the story forward. And so we went to Montgomery, Alabama, and Henry poised me in the balcony of the Holt Street Baptist Church, where on December 5, 1955, at the first meeting of the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King made his first-ever civil rights speech. And we traveled to Selma, and in the early morning mist, I stood at the apex of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and intoned, in my best and deepest television voice, the words Henry had given me. And then we went to Money, Mississippi, and I stood on the Tallahatchie River banks at the spot where Emmett Till’s body had been discovered, and I did a stand-up in front of the store where young Till had sealed his fate by saying “Bye, baby” to the wife of the storekeeper. And as I stood there, my back to the road, pickup trucks with shotguns in their windows rolled slowly by and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood up. But I remember thinking, “This is going to be great. And I’m going to be the person that introduces viewers to all this drama. I’m going to be the person who serves as master of ceremonies on the great stage where twentieth century America’s greatest and most exciting dramas will unfold. Everybody’s going to see me.” Well, that project didn’t succeed. –Julian Bond, Keynote Address, September 20, 2002 – Washington University

After the initial project fell through, Hampton re-grouped and the next time he approached Bond about being the narrator,

He told me the on-screen narration did not work. The on-screen narrator would intrude between the viewer and the images and the sounds. It would be the narrator’s story, and not the story of the women and men who made the movie. And he knew exactly how to get me to agree. He told me that I often appeared in some of the archival film that they’d rescued from the basements and wastebaskets of television stations, but as the narrator I couldn’t appear both on-screen and off-screen. Instead, I’d have to be an off-screen presence and my image would never appear. And Henry told me I had a choice. I could have my image appear for fleeting seconds in one or two of the hours of the series or I could have my voice appear in all. Well, it was easy to agree. And of course he was right. No one could have appeared on-screen in this series without serving as a major distraction from the story, because for Henry the story was paramount. —-Julian Bond, Keynote Address, September 20, 2002 – Washington University

Bond and Hampton continued a collaboration which culminated in a series that went on to be seen by over 20 million viewers and is considered the definitive work on the civil rights movement. Washington University Libraries Film & Archive was honored to have Julian Bond commemorate the opening and to hear him speak about his experiences of working with Henry Hampton on Eyes on the Prize.

We Shall Overcome

8 May

“[This song] became the theme song of this movement. It’s a powerful song and you can go anywhere in the world today where there is trouble and you will find this song and still see people in the streets marching and singing it. It is our gift to the world.”

— Freedom Singers

Guy Carawan, one of the musicians who helped popularize the protest song We Shall Overcome died last week at age 87.

In 1989 Ginger Group Film Productions created a documentary, We Shall Overcome, about the song and its place in the civil rights movement. Filmmaker Henry Hampton acquired the original film interviews, stills, and sound and picture elements for We Shall Overcome from the Ginger Group and it is now part of the Henry Hampton Collection at the WU Film & Media Archive.We Shall Overcome traces the roots of the song from its beginnings in African-American spirituals and union songs to becoming the anthem of the civil rights movement both nationally and internationally. The holdings in the collection include original interviews with Bernice Johnson Reagon and the Freedom Singers, Guy Carawan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Taj Mahal, Julian Bond, and many others.

The film traces the history of the song and how it came to be sung as a political anthem, and how the lyrics and music jumped national lines and were eventually sung in countless protests and movements across the globe from the American South to South Africa. The song first appeared as a work song sung by slaves, then it surfaced as a gospel tune first published by Charles Albert Tindley in 1901 as “I’ll Overcome Someday.” Later the song, sung in a faster tempo, was used as part of political protest in 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina as part of a strike by tobacco workers.

A few years later in 1947 the tobacco union activists attended a workshop at the Highlander Folk Center in Tennessee with local African-American activists and shared the song with them. Zilphia Horton, Highlander’s musical director started using it in workshops. In an audio documentary produced by NPR, Horton described the song as,

A spiritual, sung by many different nationality groups. And it’s so simple. The idea is so sincere that it doesn’t matter that it comes from tobacco workers. When I sing it for people it becomes their song. –Zilphia Horton

Horton eventually sang the song for musician Pete Seeger. The music and lyrics were then published in a music magazine and popularized. Guy Carawan was another musician who eventually learned the song at a workshop at Highlander. He and others began singing the song at protests and it became an unofficial anthem for the movement. The influence and power of the song reached an apex when President Johnson used the phrase as part of a speech when he called on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Johnson’s use of the phrase “we shall overcome,” was a direct and explicit show of support for the Voting Rights Act and for Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

While the song was symbolic and appropriated by politics at times, its real power was felt at the numerous demonstrations where people stood and marched for long hours. The song has taken many forms and been arranged by countless musicians. Below are some different versions of it.

Judy Richardson and Scarred Justice

21 Apr
Judy Richardson

Judy Richardson

Filmmaker, producer, editor, and former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member Judy Richardson will attend a free screening of her film Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968. With a Q&A Session following the film.

Free Screening ~April 23, 2015 ~7:30 PM

Etta Eiseman Steinberg Auditorium

6465 Forsyth Blvd., Danforth Campus

Judy Richardson was one of the first producers on the Eyes on the Prize team the series created by filmmaker Henry Hampton and was instrumental in the production of the groundbreaking series about the civil rights movement. She began working on what would become Eyes on the Prize in 1978 and was a series research consultant, and then a series associate producer for Eyes on the Prize II. After Hampton’s death, Ms. Richardson continued to work in film as a senior producer at Northern Light Productions, as well as lecture, create exhibits,  and hold teacher-training workshops on the civil rights movement.

In this video clip from Brown University, Judy Richardson talks about what her goals were when working on Eyes on the Prize. She says,

The main thing about Eyes is it showed you people who looked like you in the audience. They were the ones who were the leaders. They were the ones who were plowing these fields long before any national organization gets there. And they are amazingly brilliant and amazingly brave and all of that stuff, and they look like the folks in the audience…but what Eyes does is it shows all these regular folks who made the movement, and sustained it, and they were just like those people in the audience.

Other interview clips with Richardson can be found here.

Continuing the work she did with Blackside, Richardson creates works which highlight little-known, underplayed, or ignored episodes in the history of the movement. Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968 tells the story of a confrontation between law enforcement and students from South Carolina State College and from Claflin University when the students tried to integrate the only bowling alley in Orangeburg, SC. The bowling alley had a whites-only policy despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act four years earlier.

When the students conducted a protest at the bowling alley, they were met by local police who forcibly tried to remove them from the bowling alley. After an altercation, several students and one policeman needed medical attention. Tensions continued to run high as the governor deployed the National Guard and two nights later on Feb. 8 there was another clash between the students and the state troopers. The officers fired into the crowd repeatedly with shotguns loaded with high-caliber buck shot. According to medical records, 30 students were struck, nearly all of them in the back or side as they were fleeing. Some were shot in the feet or legs while prone on the ground. Three men, Delano Middleton, Samuel Hammond Jr., and Henry Smith, died as a result of their injuries. A later FBI investigation concluded that the only gunfire had come from the police and state troopers.

The All-Star Lanes bowling alley was forced to integrate following a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, but no one has ever been prosecuted for the deaths of Delano Middleton, Samuel Hammond Jr., and Henry Smith.

This film screening is part of  the Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Series which aims to share documentary films made by minority filmmakers or that depict the stories of often underrepresented groups with a focus on the African-American experience. Co-sponsored by African and African-American Studies Department, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and Cinema St. Louis.

This event is part of the Law, Identity and Culture Initiative, in the School of Law, (Un)Civil Mediations: A Civil Rights and Visual Culture Symposium, co-sponsored with the Washington University Libraries System; African & African-American Studies and the American Culture Studies programs, the Department of Art History & Archaeology and the Center for the Humanities in the College of Arts & Sciences; the Missouri History Museum and the Post Race? Interrogations, Provocations & Disruptions Lecture Series with support funding from the Office of the Provost, Diversity & Inclusion Grants.

Screening of Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968 with producer Judy Richardson

10 Apr
Still from Scarred Justice

Still from Scarred Justice

Screening of Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968 with producer Judy Richardson

Free Screening
April 23, 2015
7:30 PM
Etta Eiseman Steinberg Auditorium
6465 Forsyth Blvd., Danforth Campus

Join us for a free screening of Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968.

Followed by a Q&A with producer Judy Richardson.

SCARRED JUSTICE tells the story of South Carolina’s 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, an incident often termed the Kent State of the South. In 1968, police opened fire near the campus of South Carolina State University, leaving three young African-American men dead and 27 people wounded. Unlike a similar incident at Kent State, the incident did not make national headlines, and there has never been an official investigation into what occurred that night. Scarred Justice investigates the continued cover-up of the tragedy and follows ongoing efforts to seek justice.

The Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Series aims to share documentary films made by minority filmmakers or that depict the stories of often underrepresented groups with a focus on the African-American experience.

This event is part of the Law, Identity and Culture Initiative, in the School of Law, (Un)Civil Mediations: A Civil Rights and Visual Culture Symposium, co-sponsored with the Washington University Libraries System; African & African American Studies and the American Culture Studies programs, the Department of Art History & Archaeology and the Center for the Humanities in the College of Arts & Sciences; the Missouri History Museum and the Post Race? Interrogations, Provocations & Disruptions Lecture Series with support funding from the Office of the Provost, Diversity & Inclusion Grants.

50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March

6 Mar
Henry Hampton and G. Robert Hohler marching in Selma, Alabama on the day of James Reeb's memorial service. Photo by Thomas Adams Rothschild.

Henry Hampton and G. Robert Hohler marching in Selma, Alabama on the day of James Reeb’s memorial service. Photo by Thomas Adams Rothschild.

The Selma to Montgomery March was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. March 7, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of  Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, when civil rights activists first attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama but were met with brutal resistance from state troopers and deputized citizens on the Edmud Pettus Bridge. A small Southern town became the focus of the entire nation and after the images of the brutalized marchers were broadcast Martin Luther King issued a call for civil rights activists to come to Selma to help continue the march. A young Henry Hampton, originally from St. Louis but working for the Unitarian Universalists in Boston, was among the people who arrived to support the marchers. He was a firsthand witness to the events in Selma during the march on Turnaround Tuesday and later spoke about what he experienced there during an interview,

I was in Selma, and it was a story that at that point—literally it was the only time in my life that I’ve ever been prophetic—it was a moment when we were standing there on the bridge, the Pettus Bridge, in Selma. There were cameras buzzing overhead…the president and federal government in all its power was there. We had terrific villains. There was a man named Al Lingo, who was the head of the Alabama State Police, that most don’t remember. They remember George Wallace but together they were a formidable opposition who were literally killing people, and I looked around and said to myself, not being a native Southerner, I looked around and said, ‘This could make a terrific movie,’ and put the idea away for twelve or fifteen years. When someone asked me the question, if you had your absolute druthers and the money, what would you do? Ten seconds it came back, it would be the television history of the civil rights movement…something fundamental changed in the country on that bridge and rarely do you get that kind of visual moment that confirms this massive shift in the way that people are going to feel about each other. It doesn’t mean that everyone loved everyone but it meant, I think, that America was no longer going to step backwards. It was going to step forward and these are important moments.”

–An interview with Henry Hampton. Conducted by Chris Lydon, 3/31/94

Hampton went on to found Blackside, Inc., and to make Eyes on the Prize, a multi-episode documentary history of the civil rights movement from 1955 to the early 1980s.  The events in Selma that Hampton was a witness to became the genesis of Eyes on the Prize, and when Hampton told the story of Selma, Alabama in episode six, Bridge to Freedom (1965), he and his producers were able to interview many of the key players from that moment, including many participants in the Selma actions including Coretta Scott King, Ralph AbernathyDiane Nash, Amelia Boynton Robinson, James Bevel, Andrew Young, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, C.T. Vivian, James Forman, Frederick Reese, John DoarRichard Valeriani. Hampton and his producers also interviewed the political figures and law enforcement officers who were responsible for decisions that led to the clash on the bridge, Joseph Smitherman, mayor of Selma, Gov. George Wallace, Jim Clark, Sheriff of Selma. Two women who had participated in the march as children were also interviewed, Rachel Nelson West and Sheyann Webb. Given the number and range of interviews that were conducted for Eyes on the Prize, these primary source documents together give the viewer a multifaceted portrait of one of the most important episodes in the civil rights movement.

All of these primary source interviews can be found at the Eyes on the Prize Interview: The Complete Series, a project which made all the interviews from Eyes on the Prize I and II available as transcripts online.

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