Tag Archives: blackside

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?”













Behind the Scenes at Blackside

19 Jul

Henry Hampton established his Boston-based company Blackside, Inc in 1968, and for thirty years he, and a talented group of producers, directors, cinematographers, writers, and researchers made award-winning documentary films. In the early years of Blackside, Hampton produced numerous films, including public service announcements, government and educational films for a wide variety of organizations.

During the 1970s Blackside made hour-long documentaries including Kinfolks, the story of ten black families living in New Haven, Connecticut, and Code Bluea portrait of African Americans entering the medical field as doctors, in addition to the educational films. Then in 1979 Hampton began making the first incarnation of Eyes on the Prize, which Hampton originally titled, America, They Loved You Madly

The Henry Hampton Collection at the Film & Media Archive also contains photographs and many of them are of Blackside staff and producers during meetings or from interview shoots. Shown here are are a few examples from the early days of Blackside.

Interview with Gordon Parks by Blackside, 1979.

Interview with Gordon Parks by Blackside, 1979.

Blackside interviewed Gordon Parks during the first production period of Eyes on the Prize. 

Henry Hampton with Blackside production crew, circa 1970s.

Henry Hampton with Blackside production crew. (1970s)

Henry Hampton and Andrew Young during his interview for "Eyes on the Prize," 1985.

Henry Hampton and Andrew Young during his interview for Eyes on the Prize. (1985)

Henry Hampton, Orlando Bagwell, and Blackside crew member, 1979.

Henry Hampton, Orlando Bagwell (cameraman), and Blackside crew member during an early shoot for Eyes on the Prize. (1979)

Henry Hampton in Selma

7 Mar

March 7, 2013 marks the 5oth anniversary of  Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. This past week there was a celebration and march with Vice President Joe Biden, and Rep. John Lewis, who was one of the organizers of the original marches. Lewis spoke at the event which occurred a few days after the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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.

On March 7, 1965 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. This confrontation had been brewing for some time as members of various civil rights groups attempted to register African Americans to vote in Dallas County, Alabama. Local organizers including Amelia Boynton Robinson worked with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to help people to register to vote.

Resistance to African Americans registering to vote throughout the South has existed for decades and in 1961 out of 15,000 eligible African American only 130 were registered to vote in Dallas County, Alabama. In Amelia Boynton Robinson’s interview for Eyes on the Prize, she talks about the arduous process people were forced to go through to register,

At that time, they had two pages to fill out. And these two pages were questions that were pretty hard for the average person to fill out. And it was terribly hard for those who were illiterate. We had more illiteracy in this county than they had in most counties throughout the state, or in any other state, but we would teach them how to fill these blanks out. We could not do it by coming in the open and doing it, so we started with the people with whom we worked who were the rural people…and we would show them how to fill out these blanks, how to present themselves when they went down to the registration office. At that time, my husband was a registered voter and a voucher. Each person that came down to register had to have a voucher with him.

Interview with Amelia Boynton Robinson, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 6, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965).

In the fall of 1964 and early part of 1965 as more African Americans attempted to register to vote in Dallas County they were met with resistance and violence culminating in an incident on February 18, 1965 when Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot in a cafe after a protest by Corporal James Bonard Fowler. Jackson died eight days later and was the inspiration for the original march from Selma to Montgomery. The marchers, with John Lewis and Hosea Williams at the front of the line, set out on March 7. They were met by a line of state troopers and numerous men who had been hastily deputized by Sheriff Jim Clark. Commanding officer John Cloud spoke briefly to Lewis and Williams and then the troopers attacked the marchers.

Alabama state troopers attack protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge,  Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.

Alabama state troopers attack protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. (John Lewis can be seen on the right wearing a back pack.)

Amelia Boynton Robinson was also in this march and described her experience in her interview for Eyes on the Prize,

And the men came from the right side, from the left side from in front of us. They came upon us and started beating us with their nightsticks. They started cattle prodding us. They started gassing us with gas. The helicopters were ahead of us, and I said to the lady who was with me, “What in the world do these people mean?” And I remember having seen a horse, a white horse, and then I saw several other horses. One of the officers came to me, state trooper, and he hit me across the back of my neck. And I made a slight turn and he hit me again, and I remember having fallen to the ground. From that, I don’t remember anything else, except the pictures that I saw and what was told to me. And that was this, that every person, every black person they saw, they started beating on them. They tried to run the horses over some of them, and the horses would not step on them. But they took their nightsticks and they gassed them, and I was gassed. And I saw the picture where I was lying on the ground and this gas was being pumped over me, possibly thinking that, this is the leader, if we get them we will destroy the movement. I understand that someone said, “Get out of the road.” The officers came out and said, “Get out.” And realizing that I could not move somebody said, “She’s dead.” “Well,” he said, “if she’s dead just pull her on the side and let the buzzards eat her.” Some of the people on the other side of the bridge, said to Clark, “Jim Clark, send an ambulance over there. Somebody is dead and some people are hurt badly.” And he said, “I’m not going to send any ambulance over there. Let them do the best they can.” Someone else said to him, “If you don’t send an ambulance over there you’re going to [have] chaos on your hands because these people are going to be angry enough to tear this town up.” Then he permitted the ambulance to come.

Interview with Amelia Boynton Robinson, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 6, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965).

That same night ABC broke into its scheduled film Judgment at Nuremberg to broadcast images of violence from Selma. 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 was a witness to the tumultuous days that followed, including the murder of the Unitarian minister James Reeb, and his funeral. The marchers were only able to begin the march from Selma to Montgomery on March 21 as 8,000 people set out to cover the fifty-four miles to Montgomery to deliver a petition to Governor Wallace.  At the end of the march 25,000 people joined in to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his speech Our God is Marching On on the steps of the Capitol building. It would take Hampton more than twenty years to fulfill his dream of a televised history of the civil rights movement. Eyes on the Prize debuted on PBS in 1987 attracting millions of viewers, and the series has become the definitive documentary program on the subject of civil rights.

Gore Vidal and “The Great Depression”

3 Aug

Photo of Gore Vidal by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Gore Vidal, celebrated writer and political critic, died on July 31, 2012. Vidal was an essayist, novelist, and screenwriter. In addition to his 26 novels and short story collections, Vidal frequently wrote for major publications such as Vanity Fair, The Nation, The New Yorker, and Esquire.

Gore Vidal appeared in the Blackside series The Great Depression. The series first aired on PBS in 1993 and was a comprehensive history of that turbulent economic and political time. Vidal was interviewed in 1992 and the topics of the discussion included his memories of living in Washington, D.C. during that time, and the impressions he had as a child of his grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore, and his father, Eugene Gore’s role in the Roosevelt administration as director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Air Commerce. Excerpts from the interview are quoted below. The Film & Media Archive is currently in the process of digitizing the interviews from The Great Depression series, and will make these available to the public in the model of the Eyes on the Prize transcript project.

From Interview with Gore Vidal conducted by Blackside for the series, The Great Depression on April 21, 1992:

And my first memory was in the summer of ’32. I went with my grandfather from his house in Rock Creek Park—he had a big, long, black Packard car and a driver called Davis—and I sat in the back of the car. As we drove down Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides were the Bonus Army. Now I thought at six or seven that they were skeletons, like those skeletons you see at Halloween. And I realized that they were not from charnel houses, but they were from poor houses. As we approached the Senate side of the Capitol they recognized Senator Gore, a highly recognizable man as the stock footage will presently show you, and they began to stone the car. And from that moment on, I knew that it could happen here and that one day we might indeed have a revolution, and it would be rich against poor.

Then people like Harry Hopkins, who was a charming man—I remember my father became forty years old as Director of Air Commerce, and they gave a little party for him. It had cabinet rank at that time. It didn’t exist when my father left in ’36. But I remember Harry Hopkins’ gift for my father’s fortieth birthday was a box of dirt, which rather summed their view of politics, since neither one was really a very serious politician…I used to, my role in all of this, I would not say that I made any great contribution to the New Deal. I did fly an airplane at the age of ten for the Pathe Newsreels, and my father as Director of Air Commerce was promoting a flivver plane for every American citizen. We had the cheap automobile that Henry Ford had given us, so my father was working out prototypes of very cheap planes that anybody could afford. So he found one called the Hannon Flivver Plane that any child could fly. So I took it off, flew it around, landed it. Hit all the newsreels. My mother nearly moved out of the family when she found out I’d been flying this. My father was in great trouble over that. That was, my role was in mostly aviation.

Medal of Freedom awarded to John Doar and Toni Morrison

1 Jun
John Doar in "Eyes on the Prize"

John Doar in “Eyes on the Prize”

The Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be given to civilians, was awarded to John Doar, former Assistant U.S. Attorney General, and Toni Morrison, acclaimed author of Beloved and many other works, by President Obama on May 29, 2012. The two were honored along with several other recipients including musician Bob Dylan and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The Film & Media Archive at Washington University holds original interviews from John Doar and Toni Morrison. Doar was interviewed for the Blackside series about the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, and Morrison was interviewed for I’ll Make Me a World, a series about African Americans in the arts.

The entire interview with John Doar can be read online. In his interview he talked of the many cases and incidents he was involved with during the 1960s, including the desegregation of the University of Mississippi with the enrollment of James Meredith, and voter registration efforts in Mississippi. Doar worked to increase voter registration of African Americans in Mississippi with civil rights activists Medgar Evers and Bob Moses. In his interview for Eyes on the Prize, Doar described the hierarchical system which existed throughout the southern states during the 1960s:

…describing the system is not so much talking about the weapons or the obstacles. It’s the situation, and black citizens were second-class from cradle til grave. They went to segregated schools. They used segregated bathrooms. They sat in the back of segregated buses. They were buried—they had different color birth certificates–they were buried in different cemeteries. Everything was second-class. They couldn’t vote; they couldn’t have the same freedom that white people did, and it’s a terrible system, a caste system, and it was a monumental disgrace for the country. And the weapons that, that the southern white people used were to keep the blacks from voting. And once the Justice department and the Civil Rights organizations began an effort to force the white officials, state officials, to permit blacks to voting, then is when the intimidation occurred, or when it started to build up. And our objective was to try to keep the intimidation at a minimum, and to stop it if we could while we built up the registration and voting of blacks.

–John Doar from Interview with John Doar (Eyes on the Prize)

For more information on the Interview with John Doar, or any of the other interviews conducted for Eyes on the Prize, please visit the site created by Digital Library Services and the Film & Media Archive, Eyes on the Prize: The Complete Series.

Toni Morrison’s interview for I’ll Make Me a World is not available online at this time, but it is available to view in the Film & Media Archive. Please contact us for more information.

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 wufilmarchives@wumail.wustl.edu 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.