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Steve Fayer, writer and producer, dies at age 80

11 Dec

Steve Fayer,  who worked as a writer on thirteen episodes of Eyes on the Prize and many other productions, has died at age 80. Fayer began his career in commercial television and then worked for Blackside, Inc. as a writer for several ground-breaking documentaries including Eyes on the Prize, The Great Depression, and as a producer for America’s War on Poverty. Fayer also wrote George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods On Fire, a biographical documentary about the former governor of Alabama. He was co-author of Voices of Freedom, an oral history of the civil rights movement with Henry Hampton and Sarah Flynn, which gathered a lot of material from outtakes of interviews conducted for Eyes on the Prize.


Fayer was an integral part of Blackside and had a close working relationship with filmmaker and founder, Henry Hampton. In the manuscript material that is part of the Henry Hampton Collection, Fayer’s work, writing, and comments can be found as Hampton, and the other producers and writers of Eyes on the Prize collaborated, discussed, wrote scripts, and fine-tuned the series.

In addition to scripts and other manuscripts, in an another document Fayer responds to treatments put together by Hampton and other producers for the third episode of Eyes on the Prize II: Power! with these remarks,

Exploring the influence of Malcolm [X] on ‘the future of American civil rights” is too narrow a construction. I thought his story is included in the series to show his influence on black people, on their aspirations, their perception of themselves whether in or out of the civil rights movement with particular emphasis on folk in the ghettos of America’s cities who will very soon steal the headlines from the movement.

Again, the question: Is the apparent (but not real) absorption of SNCC into the BPP the emotional payoff for wha[t] has happened in the Panther story, and in the hour? Is it more media event than real? If people believe that it is a sign of a new American revolution, have they been misled? What do mainstream blacks think? Whites?…I guess what I am asking is what is the truth here, the whole truth about empowerment of black folk in America? That’s what the hour has been about: concrete battles, a victory, a defeat. What do the Panthers represent on that spectrum?”

Fayer’s writing reveals that he wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions that helped shape what became Eyes on the Prize. He won an Emmy for his script of Mississippi: Is This America? and a Writers Guild of America award for his work on George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire.

Unita Blackwell in "Mississippi: Is this America?"

Unita Blackwell in “Mississippi: Is this America?”












Judy Richardson: Civil Rights Activist and Filmmaker

7 Dec
SNCC sit-in protest in Atlanta. Photo by Danny Lyon.

Judy Richardson at a SNCC sit-in protest in Atlanta. Photo by Danny Lyon.

Blackside, Henry Hampton’s film production company not only produced many award-winning documentary series, but was also a place to foster the next generation of great documentary filmmakers. Judy Richardson was a Blackside alum who went on to make her mark as a film producer, editor, and lecturer.

When Richardson came to work with Henry Hampton in the late 1970s on an early version of Eyes on the Prize she brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to the production. Richardson attended Swarthmore College and became politically active there and eventually joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She worked in the SNCC offices in Atlanta, Georgia where she met and worked alongside James Forman and Julian Bond. She was involved with many of the major campaigns of the civil rights movement including Freedom Summer and SNCC’s efforts to register African Americans to vote in Lowndes County, Alabama.

Richardson began working with Hampton as a series researcher and content advisor for Eyes on the Prize I. Her first-hand knowledge of the events and people of the series combined with her research and producing skills helped make Eyes on the Prize a huge success.  She continued working for Blackside as an Associate Producer for Eyes on the Prize II and then as a co-producer for Malcolm X: Make It Plain (Blackside/ROJA Productions).

After working at Blackside, Richardson went on to make her own films with Northern Lights Productions including the 2008 documentary, Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre, 1968. This film tells the story of a little-known incident from 1968 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. During an attempt by students attempted to integrate the All Star Bowling Lane South Carolina Highway Patrol officers shot into a crowd of protesters. Three men were killed and at least thirty-one people were treated for injuries after the event. Another facet of Richardson’s work at Northern Lights Productions is museum exhibits and installations. She created an exhibit for the National Park Service’s Little Rock Nine Visitor’s Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati), the New York State Historical Society’s “Slavery in New York” exhibit, and the Paul Laurence Dunbar House (Dayton). (Source: The History Makers)

Richardson’s work extends beyond film into other projects. She recently co-edited Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts By Women in SNCCan anthology which gathers together the stories of women in SNCC. She is also a lively and exciting speaker who conducts workshops for teachers on how to teach the civil rights movement. The Henry Hampton Collection at the Film & Media Archive contains not just the films by Blackside but also a detailed and extensive record of the filmmakers’ process. Judy Richardson’s correspondence, research notes, and producer’s files are an important and vital part of that history. For more information, contact the Film & Media Archive.

Judy Richardson conducting a Teacher Training Workshop on "Eyes on the Prize" - Washington University

Judy Richardson conducting a Teacher Training Workshop on “Eyes on the Prize” – Washington University

Talk by Documentary Filmmaker Jon Else

10 Nov

Opening title from "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years"

Talk by Documentary Filmmaker Jon Else
November 18, 2011 – 12 p.m.
Olin Library – Room 142

The Washington University Film & Media Archive is pleased to welcome producer and documentary filmmaker Jon Else to campus this month. Else is visiting the Archive to conduct research for his forthcoming book about the Eyes on the Prize series and its creator Henry Hampton.

On Friday, Nov. 18, at 12 p.m. in Olin 142, Else will discuss his research and share his experiences working as producer and cinematographer for the Eyes series—arguably the most influential documentary series of its time.

Else has produced and directed numerous documentary films including The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven, A Job at Ford’s part of Henry Hampton’s series The Great Depression, Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature, Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle, and Open Outcry. He has also served as cinematographer on documentaries for PBS, BBC, ABC, MTV, and HBO.

Else has received a MacArthur Fellowship as well as several Academy Award nominations.  His numerous awards include four Emmys, several Alfred I. DuPont and Peabody awards, the Prix Italia, the Sundance Special Jury Prize, and the Sundance Filmmaker’s Trophy. In addition to writing and filmmaking, Else teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC – Berkeley.

The Nov. 18 brown bag lunch presentation will take place in Olin 142 and is free and open to faculty, students, staff, and the public. For more information and to RSVP (preferred), contact Film and Media Archive at or 314-935-8679.

Hands On The Freedom Plow

27 Jul

Image from The University of Illinois Press

A new book, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, covers the vital but often overlooked role of women in the civil rights movement. Co-edited by Judy Richardson, former Blackside producer and current senior producer at Northern Lights Productions, this book gives voice to fifty-two women who were part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and on the front lines of the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, and voter registration efforts to name just a few campaigns.

The book gives us first-hand accounts of the women who were engaged in many of the pivotal events of the civil rights movement, and also addresses the role of women not only in society but within the movement as well. The book gives the reader a “behind-the-scenes” look at a vibrant organization and revisits the debates that occurred within an organization that was as varied as the individuals doing the front line work of organizing and fighting against an apartheid system in the South. The topics of self-defense and nonviolence, the role of white people in SNCC, and the role of women, are all revisited and discussed through the eyes of women who were active in the movement.

As the editors write in the introduction,

“Though the voices are different, they all tell the same story–of women bursting out of constraints, leaving school, leaving their hometowns, meeting new people, talking into the night, laughing, going to jail, being afraid, teaching in Freedom Schools, working in the field, dancing at the Elks Hall, working the WATS line to relay horror story after horror story, telling the press, telling the story, telling the word. And making a difference in this world.”

Many of the women interviewed for this book were also interviewed by Blackside for Eyes on the Prize. Judy Richardson, a producer on that series, brought a unique perspective to the production, both as a woman and as someone who had been active in the movement. Henry Hampton, and the producers of Eyes on the Prize, set out to document the civil rights movement with the voices of activists who were not nationally known. Women’s voices often got lost in the recounting of events, so this book and Eyes on the Prize, both assure that these accounts are heard, and that women are recognized for their major contribution to the civil rights movement within SNCC.

Casey Hayden and Mary King were two women in SNCC who raised the issue of sexism within the movement, thereby sparking a discussion on the role of women both as activists and in the larger society. The paper, Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo, co-authored by King and Hayden, was an early feminist text that became very influential within the modern feminist movement in America. They both tell their stories in Hands on the Freedom Plow, along with many others, including Diane Nash, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Rutha Mae Harris, Prathia Hall, Victoria Gray Adams, and many others.

Some interview transcripts are available online (linked were available). One of the editors of the book, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, was also interviewed by Blackside for the series, This Far By Faith. To access the other interviews, please contact the Film and Media Archive.


Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre

1 Feb

Many of the producers who have worked for Blackside, the production company founded by Henry Hampton, continue to enjoy distinguished filmmaking careers. Starting with this post, we will provide updates on the work of Blackside alumni.

A veteran of many civil rights campaigns with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other social justice organizations, Judy Richardson first began working for Blackside in 1978. She served as series research consultant on the first Eyes on the Prize series, and as series associate producer for Eyes on the Prize II. She was also the co-producer of Malcolm X: Make it Plain. Ms. Richardson is now a senior producer at Northern Light Productions in Boston, Massachusetts, and continues to lecture and conduct teacher-training workshops on the history and values of the Movement.

One of Northern Light’s upcoming films is Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968, to be broadcast on PBS in February 2010. On February 6, 1968, African American students from South Carolina State College and from Claflin University—located side by side in Orangeburg—tried to integrate the All-Star Bowling Lanes. Located five minutes from both campuses, All-Star was the only bowling alley in that city. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act four years earlier, the owner retained his whites-only policy and refused to admit the students.

Local police supported the owner and tried to remove the students. An altercation ensued. When it was over, nine students and one policeman received medical treatment at a nearby hospital. According to journalist Jack Bass, who investigated the events in Orangeburg, “[South Carolina State] College faculty and administrators at the scene witnessed at least two instances in which a female student was held by one officer and clubbed by another.”

After that incident, the governor of South Carolina, Robert E. McNair, sent National Guard units to Orangeburg to set up road blocks around S.C. State. Many at the college were angry about the police actions on the 6th, and saw the Guard deployment as an aggressive act. On the night of February 8, some students lit a bonfire on the street in front of the campus. A fire truck arrived to put out the fire, accompanied by state troopers. The troopers marched toward the crowd and the students retreated, but a policeman was struck in the face by a piece of a banister that had been randomly tossed by a demonstrator.

Later, a number of students streamed back toward the remains of the bonfire. Shortly thereafter, officers fired repeatedly into the crowd with a variety of weapons, including shotguns loaded with high-caliber buck shot. According to medical records, 30 students were struck by the gunfire, nearly all of them in the back or side as they fled on the campus. Some were shot in the feet or legs while lying on the ground. Three of the wounded—Samuel Hammond Jr., Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith—died as a result of their injuries. A number of the victims reported hearing laughter from the police after the shooting ended. A subsequent FBI investigation found no evidence that guns had been fired by anyone other than the police.

On February 26, 1968, following a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the owner of All-Star Lanes allowed black customers into his establishment. The only person to be convicted as a result of the Massacre was a young black man from the local area, Cleveland Sellers. A veteran civil rights organizer with SNCC, Sellers had recently left the voter registration campaigns in Mississippi and Alabama to return to school at S.C. State. A South Carolina jury convicted Sellers of rioting—after the charges against him were changed from the night of the Massacre to the night of the blowing alley demonstration two days earlier—and he served seven months in the state penitentiary. Sellers received a full pardon in 1993.

The Massacre is commemorated every year at S. C. State University, and calls for a new investigation are increasing. Scarred Justice uses historical footage and original interviews from a wide range of participants to report this forgotten chapter in U.S. history. It was the only film screened at the NAACP’s centennial convention in July 2009. The following day, President Barack Obama addressed the convention, as did keynote speaker Julian Bond, a longtime civil rights activist and the narrator of Eyes on the Prize.

For more information about Scarred Justice and other films by Northern Light Productions, please visit the company’s home page:

Northern Lights Productions