Tag Archives: civil rights movement

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?”













Bridge to Freedom in Selma, Alabama

9 Jan

Selma, a new film about the civil rights campaign, directed by Ava DuVernay is opening this weekend. The pivotal voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama also inspired Bridge to Freedom, the sixth episode in Henry Hampton’s Eyes on the Prize. Hampton chose this campaign to end the first part of Eyes on the Prize because it was a culmination of the movement but also a turning point. Hampton’s original goal with the series was to tell the story through the words and stories of the people who made up the movement, as opposed to focusing on the leaders. Bob Hohler, Hampton’s friend and colleague, described Hampton’s approach in this way,

Henry and his staff discussed possibilities and he proposed a series on the civil rights movement. He told them of his Selma experience, of walking across that bridge and thinking what a great, dramatic film it would make. Telling the story through the eyes of the people who lived it. In fact, telling the entire story of the civil rights movement from their point of view.

–Bob Hohler (University Libraries National Council Meeting, Washington University in St. Louis, September 20, 2002)

Hampton interviewed numerous people who had participated in the Selma campaign, those who had orchestrated the violent response, and journalists who witnessed it and then publicized the extraordinary events through the national media. 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.

One of the on-the-ground organizers in Selma was Amelia Boynton Robinson who, along with her husband, had led the drive to register African-Americans to vote in Dallas County. She was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery. She describe the scene in vivid detail for her interview in Eyes on the Prize,

Our objective was to see the governor and let the governor know that we were demanding that we become registered voters being American citizens. We did not know that he was in cahoots with the state troopers who lined the both sides of the road while we were en route to see him…When we got to the first light across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, there was a wall of officers right across the street that we were going to march on. And we were told to stop. Don’t go any farther. Jose Williams [sic aka Hosea Williams], who was at the head said, “May I have something to say?” And through the bullhorn that was, “No, you cannot have anything to say. Charge on them, men.” 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?”  —Interview with Amelia Boynton Robinson

Blackside also interviewed several of the law enforcement officers and public officials who were in charge and directed the actions against the protestors including Gov. George Wallace, Sheriff Jim Clark, and Mayor Joseph Smitherman. Smitherman, who was considered more moderate than Clark, described they dynamics of Selma and the campaign, as he saw them,

Joseph  Smitherman in "Eyes on the Prize"

Joseph Smitherman in “Eyes on the Prize”

They picked Selma just like a movie producer would pick a set. You had the right ingredients, I mean you would have to have seen Clark in his day, he had a helmet liner like General Patton, he had the clothes, the Eisenhower jacket and swagger stick and then Baker [Wilson Baker, Director of Public Safety] was very impressive, and I guess I was the least of all, I was 145 pounds and a crew cut and big ears. So you had a young mayor with no background or experience..and you had Sheriff Clark, that was a military figure, and you know that’s quite a scene. And you had the old South, an example of the old South. —Interview with Joseph Smitherman


Two of the youngest participants in the Selma campaign where Rachel West Nelson and Sheyann Webb (pictured above). Webb described being present on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the attack by state troopers on Bloody Sunday,

And I remember as we approached the bridge, I was getting frightened more and more, and as we got to the top of the bridge I could see hundreds of policemen, state troopers, billy clubs, dogs and horses and I began to just cry. And I remember the ministers who were at the front of the line saying, “Kneel down to pray.” And I knelt down and I said to myself, “Lord, help me.” And once we had gotten up, all I could remember was outbursts of tear gas, and I saw people being beaten and I began to just try to run home as fast as I could. And as I began to run home, I saw horses behind me, and I will never forget a Freedom Fighter picked me up, Hosea Williams, and I told him to put me down he wasn’t running fast enough. And I ran, and I ran and I ran. It was like I was running for my life. — Interview with Sheyann Webb

Andrew Young in "Eyes on the Prize"

Andrew Young in “Eyes on the Prize”

Rev. Andrew Young, a key aide to Dr. King was also interviewed and explained Selma’s importance in the civil rights movement,

Bloody Sunday was… one of the incidents that made the Civil Rights Movement. It was also one of the things that not only did we not plan the way it happened. We were trying to call it off right up to the last minute. Dr. King had decided that we would move the movement from Selma to Montgomery and that we would march to Selma, from Selma to Montgomery, but we really didn’t set a particular date. And Albert Turner, who was our field secretary in Marion, Alabama, figured the best day to do it was a Sunday. It turned out that that was the Men’s Day in Dr. King’s church, and he had to be in Atlanta, because he pastored his church and he went back to preach just about every Sunday, wherever he was, and so we were all back in Atlanta when people began showing up in Selma to march from Selma to Montgomery. So they called me about 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and I jumped on a plane and went to Selma. And when I got to Selma, I saw, driving in from Montgomery, I saw all of the State Troopers on horseback, and I saw them with their teargas masks, but they were all standing around. There must have been a couple of hundred of them, and they were all standing around, you know, in a very relaxed sort of manner, not looking menacing at all. And so when I went across the bridge going to the church, they didn’t bother me and I didn’t stop and bother them. But we called Dr. King, and we—he had asked us to call off the march. And we persuaded him that since there were about three hundred people there, maybe they could go ahead and march, that they weren’t going to get far anyway. That we had seen the State Troopers and they were going to probably stop them and turn them around, or maybe they would—people would get arrested. So he said, “Well, OK, go ahead and march,” he said, “but don’t you all go to jail.” And we thought that what was going to happen was that we would march over there and everybody would be arrested. So, John Lewis and Hosea Williams and I, and James Bevel decided that only two should go. Well, John said, “Well, I represent SNCC, so I’ll go, and one of you all decide which one will go.” So we played odd man, and we flipped a coin and the odd man got to march, and the odd man was Hosea Williams. And…but nobody anticipated the kind of savagery and brutality that occurred. When the…when we heard the shots, the shots of the teargas canisters, I mean, you almost can’t tell from a distance, they sound like gunshots, and it sounded like somebody had opened fire on people, and then we saw people coming back screaming. We were about two blocks away from the bridge, and we went back to try to help people back, but the police were riding along on horseback beating people, and the teargas was so thick you couldn’t get to where people were in need of help, and people, I mean really three hundred people being tear gassed unexpectedly panicked. Teargas not only burns your eyes, it upsets your stomach,  and it was a kind of a combination of teargas and the same sort of nausea gases that they were using in Vietnam, and people were just wrenching and totally panicked. And so we really had to turn the church into a hospital just to get people back to their senses. And it was a horrible two or three hours. Fortunately, I don’t think there were any bones broken and not too many permanent injuries, but there was a tremendous amount of shock. And it panicked the demonstrators, but it also panicked the nation. That happened to occur right in the afternoon, right after the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg” on the Nuremberg trials, and people saw what happened in Nazi Germany side-by-side with what was happening in America in Selma, and they made the connection, and it was shortly after that that Lyndon Johnson made his famous “We shall overcome” speech. —Interview with Andrew Young












John Doar, Civil Rights Attorney, Dies at 92

12 Nov

Interview with John Doar – “Eyes on the Prize”

John Doar, a lawyer who worked as an attorney and as Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department during the height of the civil rights movement, has died at age 92. Doar, who was interviewed for Henry Hampton’s series, Eyes on the Prize, played a major role in several key episodes of the movement. During Doar’s time at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division from 1960-1967 he was on the ground  investigating civil rights abuses in the South, often in the middle of volatile and potentially violent situations, and bringing suits against people who violated the 1957 Civil Rights Act. In 2012, President Obama awarded Doar with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Doar first filed suits over voter intimidation in Tennessee.  In early 1961, he and fellow Department of Justice attorney Bob Owen began investigating voter discrimination in southwest Mississippi with Bob Moses’ help.  While Doar primarily investigated voter intimidation cases, he also accompanied James Meredith as he enrolled in Ole’ Miss in September of 1962.  After arranging for Meredith to be registered despite a confrontation with the governor and riots on the school grounds, Doar stayed with Meredith in his dorm room for several weeks, accompanying him to his classes with federal marshals.

In 1964, Doar was involved in the investigation of the murder of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman during Freedom Summer.  He authorized the F.B.I. to investigate the case, and he was the lead attorney in the federal trial that led to the conviction of several people for violating the civil rights of the three civil rights workers.  Doar also investigated and successfully prosecuted the murder of Viola Luizzo, who was killed while bringing marchers back to Selma from Montgomery.  Doar had been present during the entirety of that march.

One of Doar’s most famous actions occurred after the death of Medgar Evers.  Mourners wanted to march up the main street in Jackson, MS, but they were stopped by police.  When marchers began throwing bottles and bricks and county police were brought in with shot-guns, Doar stepped between the two groups and convinced the marchers to disperse peacefully. He describes this moment vividly in his interview,

Well, I went to the funeral,  because I knew Medgar, and he was a friend, and his friends, people from all over the country came to the funeral… and they wanted to march up the main street in Jackson. And the police officials didn’t want them to do that, they said that they could walk across and then walk into a side street where the black restaurants and the black stores were.

And the police permitted the marchers–the memorial march–to cross the main street, but then finish up in the side street where the black shops were. And so they started back along toward the main street of Jackson and when they got to the corner of this side street that I’ve described, and the main street, the police put up a road block, put up a line of people and said you can’t march on the main street of Jackson, Mississippi. And, so you had a line of police and you had a line of kids, or 3 lines of kids, and they were 2 or 3 feet apart and the kids were singing and agitating, and yelling and shouting and complaining and then, who pushed who first, I can’t tell you but the police started to reach out and grab one, five, six of these kids and throw them in the paddy wagon…And when they got about a block up the street, the county Sheriff’s Office supplemented this line of police with County Deputies and they had guns, shot guns, and I didn’t think that they had the discipline that the City police officers did. And so half a block down the street, a black kid had come out of the crowd and throw [sic] a bottle and it had bounced in front of this line of police and the glass had skidded into them, or a rock had come out or a brick had come out and it had hit, hit the street in front of them and skidded into them and I was just afraid that if this kept on that somebody was really going to get hurt because I didn’t have any confidence in the discipline of those county officers. So I walked through the line of police and walked out and persuaded everybody to stop.

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

After his work in the Justice Department, Doar served as Special Counsel to the House of Representatives, and then worked as a senior partner in a private law firm in New York.

Yuri Kochiyama

6 Jun
Yuri Kochiyama

Yuri Kochiyama


Yuri Kochiyama, Japanese-American Activist and supporter of Malcolm X, has died at age 93. Kochiyama was interviewed for the Blackside/ROJA production, Malcolm X: Make It Plain. In the extensive interview done for this program, Kochiyama talked about her friendship with Malcolm, her allegiance with the civil rights movement, and being present in the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm was assassinated. In this interview with Democracy Now, Kochiyama talks about how her activism began after her family was placed in internment camps during World War II and friendship with Malcolm. A life-long activist, Kochiyama worked to get recognition of the civil rights violations that Japanese-Americans were subject to prior to and during WWII.

In addition to appearing in Malcolm X: Make It Plain, Kochiyama was the subject of the  documentaries Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice (1999) by Japanese American filmmaker Rea Tajiri and African American filmmaker Pat Saunders, and Mountains Take Wing (2010), a film about Kochiyama and Angela Davis. She appeared in several other programs and documentaries and her speeches have been published under the title, Discover Your Mission: Selected Speeches & Writings of Yuri Kochiyama (1998).


A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington

23 Aug

Next week, will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The success of this peaceful march, which attracted an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people on August 28, 1963, was the culmination of twenty years of planning and organizing by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

Many of the speakers that day electrified the crowd, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech was a highlight of the event, but many other people working behind-the-scenes and in supportive roles made the event possible. The march also represented a fascinating cross-section of political affiliations and relationships between African American leaders, religious leaders, unions, and politicians.

The name A. Philip Randolph is not as well-known as Martin Luther King, Jr. today, but Randolph was a tireless organizer and leader who worked for many years to have a mass march in Washington, D.C.  Randolph’s dream of a peaceful, mass march to protest segregation began in the 1940s when he was the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The plan for the 1941 march called for 100,000 black workers to march on Washington on July 1 to protest discrimination in the armed forces, demanded an end to segregation, and proposed anti-lynching legislation. As with the later march for “Jobs and Freedom,” the first march was planned with an emphasis economic issues and hiring practices of military contractors during the economic war boom.

As the date for the march came closer, a nervous President Roosevelt who feared a race riot would break out asked Eleanor Roosevelt to intervene and convince Randolph to call off the march. Randolph said he would not call off the march. Finally Randolph, President Roosevelt, and the head of the NAACP, Walter White, met to negotiate. The result of this meeting was Roosevelt signing Executive Order 8802 or the  Fair Employment Act on June 25 which prohibited discriminatory hiring practices of military contractors. After this Randolph called off the march, earning criticism from some quarters. It was truly a compromise since the armed forces would not be desegregated until 1948.

The dream of a mass march continued after 1941 as many of the same issues remained and intensified, but Randolph would have to wait more than twenty years to see his original plans come to fruition.

Bayard Rustin and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

16 Aug
Bayard Rustin in "Eyes on the Prize"

Bayard Rustin interviewed by Blackside, 1979

Bayard Rustin will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year. Rustin’s contributions to the civil rights movement, including his role as the main organizer and strategist of  the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, were often overlooked because leaders of the movement, and society in general, were not accepting of him as an openly gay man.

Rustin was not one to seek the limelight and worked behind the scenes on many of the civil rights movement campaigns including organizing the first Freedom Rides. He was also a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.

In a previous post, we mentioned the documentary Brother Outsider as a great place to learn more about Rustin. Segments of Rustin’s interview with Blackside appeared in Brother Outsider, and the entire interview can be read online as part of the digital project Eyes on the Prize: The Complete Series.

Rustin’s mentor was A. Philip Randolph. Rahdolph had originally wanted to have a march on Washington in 1941 to call attention to the plight both social and economic of African Americans. The march did not happen then, but in 1963 A. Philip Randolph called on Rustin to organize the march and he accepted. In his interview from Eyes on the Prize, he discusses how that happened,

 Mr. Randolph asked me if I would set up the logistics for the march, which I immediately began to do, and those logistics were to create a—two hundred thousand people, we really got a quarter of a million, and to get every agency in America, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, intellectuals, labor movement, everybody involved and to contain so it was intensely nonviolent. And so I set up the plans for the march and Mr. Randolph gave me the right, along with Roy [Wilkins] and the other civil rights leaders, to see that that march was carried out.

Interview with Bayard Rustin, conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965)

In the interview Rustin discussed his role in the movement and his work with leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and A. Philip Randolph. In speaking about the strategy he employed and philosophy of nonviolence which he shared with Dr. King he said,

Well, the strategy was essentially made by an eleven-man committee around Martin Luther King, on the one hand, and the NAACP on the other, who fitted the strategy into the core decisions they were getting. People often forget that at the lowest point of Montgomery, when Martin Luther King was sitting in court, in connection with the Montgomery protests, it was a young man who ran into the court room and told Martin Luther King, that the NAACP had just gotten a decision from the Supreme Court. So that the walking in the streets, on park, and Larry Wilkins, continuing to be in a court, dovetailed. But there was third, forgotten strategy. And that was that the brutality of the South did more to help our cause than anything else. It was when the great majority of Americans saw the cattle prod, and the bombing of the churches, and the blowing up of homes. So that corner also played a role in the strategy. And that is always the case, there is never one single thing going on. Also while it does not seem to many people clear, it seems to me that even a presence of Rap Brown and Stokely were in their own way creative, because one of the reasons that people would send so much money to Martin Luther King, because he was nonviolent, was that they were scared of Stokely and Rap. So that Stokely and Rap played a part of the strategy. So things do not happen because somebody sits at a desk and maps it. It happens because something starts and then all kinds of forces come to play upon it.

I think also that television played a very major role. Because now you were having brought into every living room in America the brutality of the situation. So, I think if we had television fifty years earlier, we would gotten rid of lynching fifty years earlier. Because it was made concrete as against reading the paper that a black had been killed. You saw the brutality. People saw Bull Connor, people saw the fire hoses. People saw the cattle prods. And this made a totally different response on the part of the general population… they could not deal with people who were not being violent. And there was a kind of moral Jiu-Jitsu going on, a moral wrestling and they didn’t know how to put hands on us, because it was so intensely nonviolent. That was its core, its essence. And that is what ultimately got King the Nobel Prize.

Interview with Bayard Rustin, conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965)

It is very fitting that Rustin will be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom so near the anniversary of the historic march he helped make a success.

Remembering Medgar Evers

14 Jun
Myrlie Evers-Williams in "Eyes on the Prize"

Myrlie Evers-Williams in “Eyes on the Prize”

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers. Evers, a civil rights activist and the first NAACP field secretary in Mississippi, organized voter registration drives and boycotts in Jackson, Mississippi to fight the segregated system existing at that time. He was gunned down in front of his home on June 12, 1963. The man responsible for his murder, Byron De La Beckwith, was finally convicted of the crime in 1994.

Blackside devoted a segment of “Eyes on the Prize” to Evers’ story, “Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964),” that includes original interview footage with Myrlie Evers-Williams, Medgar’s widow.

Their son, Darrell Evers was also interviewed and both of these interviews are available in full online as part of the Eyes on the Prize Interviews: The Complete Series digital collection resource.

In her interview Myrlie Evers-Williams talks about her background, growing up in segregated Mississippi, meeting Medgar at college, and their life together.

Medgar Evers was the first NAACP field secretary in Mississippi when Emmett Till was murdered and helped witnesses in that trial leave the state of Mississippi after testifying. Evers-Williams describes his role in that case,

Medgar played a very important role, I feel, in the Emmett Till case. As field secretary for the NAACP a part of his responsibility was to investigate murders. He and Amzie Moore and a few others dressed as sharecroppers, would change cars to trucks and what-not, go on the plantations, ask people, go into the communities and ask people information about the murderers or the accused murderers—what had happened—of certainly making contact with the local officials and getting the press out. And it was a very dangerous job at that particular time. Medgar was also responsible not only for finding witnesses but helping to get them out of town. And I remember one very distinct case where he used a casket, and put a person in a casket…in conjunction with a mortuary, and got the person out of town. Out of town, out of the state, across the border, to Tennessee, and then north.

Interview with Myrlie Evers , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 27, 1985 for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

Shortly after Medgar Evers’ death, Byron De La Beckwith, whose fingerprints were found on the high-powered rifle used to kill Evers and who was seen near the crime scene that night, was arrested and charged with the crime.  In 1964 there were two trials in the case but both ended in hung juries. At the time of the Eyes on the Prize interview, De La Beckwith was still a free man, and Evers-Williams talked about the first two trials,

Two trials were held for the accused assassin of Medgar; both ended in hung juries. And the whole case was very interesting insomuch as the way the accused killer was treated. He had a large cell that was open for him to come and go as he wanted to. He had television sets. He had typewriters. He had all, almost all, of the comforts of home. This man was also accorded a major parade along the route of the highway on his way home. People had banners that were waved, welcoming the hero. The accused killer also made a statement to the press that he was glad to have gotten rid of varmints. After the—oh, and I must say too, that the then-governor, Ross Barnett, actually made a visit to the accused during the trial, the first trial, and walked in the door when I was on the witness stand, stood, looked at me, turned and went over to the accused killer, sat down, shook his hand, said some remarks, and got up and went out. Also, the accused killer, after the second trial, ran for Lieutenant Governor of the state of Mississippi, and he stated that he was doing this to show his appreciation to the people of Mississippi for what they had given, the support that they had given him while he was incarcerated. Interestingly enough, the man who ran for, Governor was the prosecuting attorney.

It says a couple of things to me and I had mixed emotions about it all. One was that this was the first time in the state of Mississippi that a white man had ever been brought to trial for the murder of a black, and a black man. That was a step forward, a very small one, but a step forward. However, the fact that there were two trials, that this man was treated as a hero, and that everything was dropped, still said to me at that time—and I’m not sure whether it isn’t even at this day in time—that black is black. That perhaps the justice that is accorded other ethnic groups in the United States, and certainly Mississippi, is still not accorded that of blacks. We’re still fighting for first-class citizenship whether it be in life, or whether it be in death.

Interview with Myrlie Evers , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 27, 1985 for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

Myrlie Evers-Williams fought for many years to get the case re-opened, and when new evidence came to light about jury tampering and official misconduct in the first two trials, the case was reopened.  In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of the murder of Medgar Evers. De La Beckwith remained in jail until his death in 2001.