Robert Hohler, friend and colleague of Henry Hampton, passed away on June 2, 2011 while hiking on holiday with his family in England. Robert, or Bob, as he was also known, was one of the first people Henry Hampton met upon moving to Boston. They worked together at the Unitarian Universalist Association, marched together in Selma during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and when Hampton left to found Blackside, Inc. and make “Eyes on the Prize,” Hohler remained a close friend and colleague.
When Hampton began to make “Eyes on the Prize” in the late 1970s-early 1980s, he and Hohler formed a non-profit organization, The Civil Rights Project, Inc., which served as a steward for archival materials generated by the productions and as a fund raising avenue for the films of Blackside.
In addition to his work and commitment to civil rights, Bob was also an advocate for the homeless and in later years worked as the executive director of the Melville Charitable Trust to help end homelessness and open up a debate regarding public policy on this topic. This was a deeply personal issue for Bob as he had experienced poverty as a child and had spent time in an orphanage.
When the Film and Media Archive opened in September of 2002, Bob Hohler gave a very moving and lively speech describing his meeting with Hampton, his involvement with Blackside, and the making of “Eyes on the Prize.” The text of the whole speech can be read here. Hohler described how the head of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Royal Cloud, met Hampton while he was taking a cab back from the airport. Hampton, who had left medical school and was looking for his next job, was the cabbie. Hampton so impressed Cloud that he was hired on at the Unitarian Universalist Association, which led to him meeting Hohler, traveling to Selma, and then conceiving the idea for “Eyes on the Prize.”
Hohler’s warmth, kindness, and commitment to social justice issues came through in his speech and we were honored to have him speak and hear the story of his friendship and work with Henry Hampton. Hohler concluded the speech with these words:
First, Henry’s life and work illustrate brilliantly the James Baldwin insight I came across a few days ago: “History”, Baldwin said, “does not refer merely, or even principally to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us and are unconsciously controlled by it.” What distinguishes Henry is that, like Baldwin, he harnessed that force to help us search for deeper understanding and truth.
Second, there is a wonderful symmetry to housing this great body of work at Washington University. Henry loved his alma mater and took a deep and justifiable pride in his roots. His work has come home to a place where people really understand its value and are prepared to use it in ways that will resonate through the ages.
Finally, the next time you take a cab be sure to have a conversation with the driver. You never know who may be behind the wheel and where that conversation may take you.
– Bob Hohler 9/20/02