Tag Archives: eyes_on_the_prize

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

2 Dec


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


Eyes on the Prize interviews: Jo Ann Robinson and Frederick Leonard

2 Jul

One of the things that made Eyes on the Prize unique was the fact that it included stories of unheralded activists. Many important contributions to the Civil Rights Movement came from people who were relatively unknown outside their local area or did not garner news coverage at the time.

Jo Ann Robinson

Jo Ann Robinson

One such figure was Jo Ann Robinson, a college professor in Montgomery, Alabama, who helped start the boycott against segregated buses in 1955. After Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person, Ms. Robinson and a few other activists made and distributed 35,000 circulars calling for a one-day boycott of the bus line on December 5. The result was amazing. Ms. Robinson described the scene in her interview.

It was a cold morning, cloudy, there was a threat of rain, and we were afraid that if it rained the people would get on the bus. But as the busses began to roll, and there were one or two on some of them, none on some of them, then we began to realize that the people were cooperating.

At a mass meeting, Montgomery’s black citizens decided to boycott the bus line until it was integrated.

I don’t know if there was one vote that said, no, don’t continue. The people wanted to continue that boycott. They had been touched by the persecution, the humiliation that many of them had endured on buses. And they voted for it unanimously, and that meant thousands of people.

Under the leadership of local ministers such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, the boycott made national news and, after a federal court order, integrated Montgomery’s buses in 1956.

Fred Leonard

Fred Leonard

Another activist included in Eyes on the Prize was Frederick Leonard. A college freshman in Nashville, Tennessee, he joined the 1961 Freedom Ride, which was designed to force southern states to comply with a federal court order integrating interstate bus lines. On a Freedom Ride, black activists sat in the front of the bus while white activists sat in the back. When the bus made its stops, black Freedom Riders would enter the whites-only terminal. The white activists would go into the “colored” terminal. In Montgomery, Alabama, the bus Leonard was riding was attacked by a mob. John Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, and James Zwerg, were beaten with particular savagery.

In his interview, Mr. Leonard described the beginning of the attack.

Jim Zwerg walked off the bus in front of us and they was so, it was like they were possessed, or they couldn’t believe that there was a white man who would help us, and they grabbed him and pulled him into the mob. I mean it was a mob.

Later, in Mississippi, the authorities protected the Freedom Riders from mob violence—but at a terrible price. Though the law was on the Riders’ side, the U.S. attorney general, Robert Kennedy, made a deal with Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, James Eastland. In return for providing police protection, Mississippi authorities were allowed to prosecute the Freedom Riders for violating state segregation laws. Mr. Leonard and other activists received 60-day jail sentences. He was sent to Parchman Prison, a notorious, maximum-security facility.

During his interview, Mr. Leonard told a story about how prison authorities confiscated the Freedom Riders’ mattresses to punish them for singing freedom songs. One time, he refused to give up his mattress.

They drug me out into the cell block; I still had my mattress. I wouldn’t turn it loose, and one of the inmates, they would use the black inmates to come and get our mattresses. I mean the inmates, you know? And there was this guy, Peewee they called him . . . they said, “Peewee, get him.” Peewee came down on my head, man–wamp, wamp. He was crying. Peewee was crying. And I still had my mattress. That’s when I—do you remember when your parents used to whup you and say, “It’s going to hurt me more than it hurt you”? It hurt Peewee more than it hurt me.

That clip appeared in the final program. Orlando Bagwell, a producer of that episode, titled “Ain’t Scared of Your Jails,” conducted the interview. At a 2005 panel discussion on Eyes on the Prize, he said that Mr. Leonard’s family was just off-camera listening along with him. Mr. Leonard told him that the interview was the first time he had recounted his experiences on the Freedom Ride, even to his family. Mr. Bagwell stated that that interview was his favorite one in the series.

Transcripts for these two interviews and the others filmed by Eyes on the Prize production teams are part of the archive’s Henry Hampton Collection, and can be found here on the Washington University web site:

Eyes on the Prize I Interview Transcripts.

Civil Rights Veterans Today

14 Apr

An article in Salon on Civil Rights Veterans has interviews and photographs with some people who were also interviewed for Eyes on the Prize I and II.

During the week of Obama’s inauguration ceremony, photographer Lauren Hermele met with several veterans of the U.S. civil rights movement and talked to them about the change of government

The article includes a slide show of black and white portraits of numerous Civil Rights workers including, Roger Wilkins, interviewed for Eyes on the Prize II, and Courtland Cox, Lawrence Guyot, and Bob Zellner (pre-interview only), all interviewed for Eyes on the Prize I. The filmed interviews for Eyes I can be read in their entirety at the Eyes on the Prize I Interview site, produced by Washington University’s Film and Media Archive and Digital Library Services (DLS).