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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.

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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?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Washington University Libraries to Digitize and Reassemble Interviews from Eyes on the Prize

2 Dec

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Washington University Film & Media Archive was awarded $150,000 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s Digital Dissemination of Historical Records program to digitize and reassemble the interview outtakes from the seminal documentary series, Eyes on the Prize. By Fall 2016, the Eyes on the Prize Digitization and Reassembly Project will make the rare, complete interviews from the first six episodes of the series available for the first time.

Eyes on the Prize attracted over 20 million viewers when it aired in the 1980s and 1990s and was praised by the Boston Globe as “one of the most distinguished documentary series in the history of broadcasting.” Eyes on the Prize consists of two series, the six-episode Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, and the eight-episode Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads, 1965-1985. More than 20 years after the broadcast of the entire documentary series, it remains the definitive work on the Civil Rights Movement, covering three decades of history, from the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 to the election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first African American mayor in 1983.

Henry Hampton - Photo by Dave Henderson.

Henry Hampton – Photo by Dave Henderson.

In 1968, Henry E. Hampton, Jr., a St. Louis native and Washington University alumnus, founded Blackside, Inc., the film and television production company that produced Eyes on the Prize, setting the stage for Blackside to become one of the nation’s most acclaimed documentary film companies. Over its 30-year history, Blackside won, or was nominated for, every major award in the documentary industry, including a Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism.

During the research and production of their series, Blackside created or collected thousands of items, including interviews, archival footage, correspondence, scripts, and producer notes. Washington University was selected in 2001 to be the sole repository and steward of The Henry Hampton Collection, which includes all materials from the Eyes on the Prize series and materials from other significant Blackside productions dealing with such diverse topics as the Great Depression, African Americans in the Arts, and America’s War on Poverty.

The interviews conducted for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 provide a unique perspective on the central events of one of the most important periods of American history. Covering the time between the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which mandated school integration, to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Blackside interviewed a wide range of participants involved in the Civil Rights Movement. As we commemorate such events as the 60th anniversary of the killing of black teenager Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, and as we continue to live through racially-divisive tragedies, such as the killing of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it is imperative that we make accessible these first-hand accounts not only to serve as artifacts of our collective memory, but also to serve as tools to facilitate discourse surrounding the ongoing struggle for civil rights.

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.

In episode one, Awakenings, journalist James Hicks and activist Amzie Moore discuss the murder of Till and describe the tension in the segregated courtroom in which two white men who later admitted murdering Till were acquitted by an all-white jury. Many interviewees also discuss the network of activists that was already in place before the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56 and the emergence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national leader of the movement. They also describe the toils of walking long distances during the boycott and the evils and absurdities of racism which persisted after the bus line was integrated.

Episode six, Bridge to Freedom, focuses on voting rights. Interviewees include John Lewis and James Forman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Dr. C.T. Vivian, and Reverend Andrew Young of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Ameila Boynton of the Dallas County Voters’ League. Vivian discusses his dramatic courthouse confrontation with the local sheriff, Jim Clark, who physically attacked Vivian in front of television news cameras. Clark was also interviewed for the series, along with other segregationists such as Governor George Wallace. Vivian also speaks of his determination: “It does not matter whether you are beaten; that’s a secondary matter. The only important thing is that you reach the conscience of those who are with you and of anyone watching.”

C.T. Vivian - Interview from "Eyes on the Prize"

Interview with C.T. Vivian  in “Eyes on the Prize”

In an effort to provide a level of accessibility, the Film & Media Archive has made the interview transcripts comprising Eyes on the Prize available online with full-text search capability possible with the use of Text-Encoding Initiative (TEI) mark-up. This resource, a collaborative project with the Digital Library Services, is unique in that each transcript represents the complete interview. Inclusion of the interviewers’ questions and the portions of the interviews not used in the final program provides users with invaluable oral histories and enables the user to think critically about the choices of series producers in selecting footage to tell their story.

In spring 2015, the Archive completed the preservation of the the 16mm, acetate-based A & B rolls and master sound elements, as well as the approximately 75 hours of interview outtakes and accompanying ¼ in. audio from the series’ first six episodes with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2014,the digitization and reassembly pilot was completed to inform project timelines and workflows. To view the pilot please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KsXv7EOFlU

Crawford Media Services will provide digitization services, and reassembly will occur in-house. Once completed, the interviews will be made freely available with enhanced metadata through the Avalon Media System.

–Nadia Ghasedi – Principal Investigator

Rosa Parks and the 60th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

1 Dec
Rosa Parks with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Source: Ebony Magazine

December 1, 2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott, a pivotal event in the history of the Civil Rights movement, began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on December 1, 1955. She was arrested, sparking a year long boycott and protest, and a Supreme Court case which ended segregation on public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.

Ms. Parks had been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) throughout the 1940’s and the incident in 1955 was not the first time she had objected to the segregated bus laws. It wasn’t until 1955 that she was arrested, and this incident brought Ms. Parks to national prominence as well as a local preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. Both went on to play major roles in the Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks was interviewed by Blackside for “Eyes on the Prize” in 1985. In this interview she gives a very detailed history of her previous interactions with various Montgomery bus drivers, the oppressive atmosphere for African-Americans in the South at that time, and how the boycott unfolded after December 1, 1955.

The full interview can be read via the Film and Media Archive’s website. This interview was preserved as part of a grant from the Mellon Foundation and will be digitized as part of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

From the interview:

And when he saw me still sitting, and that had left the three seats vacant, except where I was, he asked me if I was going to stand up and I said, no I’m not. And he said, well, if you, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you, call the police and have you arrested. I said you may do that. And he did get off the bus and stayed for a few minutes and I still stayed where I was and when two policemen came on the bus, the driver pointed me out and he said that he needed the seats and other three stood, that one, he just said that one would not. And when the policeman approached me one of them spoke and asked me if the bus driver had asked me to stand and I said yes. He said, why don’t you stand up? I said, I don’t think I should have to stand up. And I asked him, why do you push us around? He said, I do not know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.

— Rosa Parks

Blackside interviewed other people who were involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, including E.D. Nixon, Jo Ann Robinson and Ralph Abernathy. More interviews can be found here: Eyes on the Prize Interviews, The Complete Series.

For more information about any of these interviews, please contact the Film and Media Archive.

 

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.

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.

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.