Tag Archives: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

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.

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Ella Baker and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

15 Feb
Ella Baker

Ella Baker

Ella Baker was a civil rights activist who helped found and organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Her name is not as well-known as many of the other leaders of the civil rights movement but she played a pivotal role in many organizations and campaigns from the 1940s onward. Born in 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia. Ella Baker had a long history of working as an organizer and activist before founding SNCC in 1960. She worked for the NAACP in the 1940s and then with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) founded in part by Martin Luther King, Jr. beginning in 1957. Then in the spring of 1960 a wave of student protests began, starting with a group of students who refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960. Similar protests began occurring in Nashville, Tennessee led by students from local university’s including Fisk University.

Ain’t Scared of Your Jails (1960-1961) was the third episode of  Eyes on the Prize and had a segment on these student protests. Many of the interviewees were organizers and members of SNCC including Diane Nash, Robert Moses and John Lewis. In her interview for Eyes on the Prize, Diane Nash talked specifically about Ella Baker, Baker’s importance for SNCC, and how she empowered the students to take the lead with the protests,

Ella Baker was very important to giving direction to the student movement at that particular point. And not giving direction in a way of her making decisions, as to what the students ought to do, but in terms of really seeing how important it was to recognize the fact that the students should set the, the goals and directions, and maintain control of the student movement. So, she was there in terms of offering rich experience of her own, and advice, and helping patch things up when they needed to be patched up. She was very important to me, personally, for several reasons. Number one, I was just beginning to learn, during that period of time, how everyone, particularly people who were older than we were, had other motives for their participation. Motives other than simply achieving freedom. There were people involved who worked with civil rights organizations who were very concerned about their organization’s image, and perpetuating their organization, who were concerned about fund-raising, and who would make decisions and take positions, based on those concerns, even at the expense, sometime, of actually gaining desegregation, such as the students were trying to do. And that was a very energy-draining thing for me, sometimes. And I didn’t—I remember a couple of times when things had happened that really bothered me, that I didn’t totally understand. I never had to worry about where Ella Baker was coming from. She was a very honest person, and she was—she would speak her mind honestly. She was a person that I turned to frequently who could emotionally pick me back up and dust me off. And she would say things, like, “Well, so-and-so is concerned about his fund-raising, maybe that’s why he took,”—and it would make things click, and fall into place, and she was just tremendously helpful, to me personally, and also to SNCC. I think she was constantly aware of the fact that the differences that the students had were probably not as important as the similarities that we had, in terms of what we were trying to do. So, very often, she was the person who was able to make us see, and work together. I think her participation as a person some years older than we, could really serve as a model of how older people can give energy and help to younger people, at the same time, not take over and tell them what to do, really strengthen them as individuals and also strengthen—she strengthened our organization.

Interview with Diane Nash, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 12, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

Baker has been quoted as saying, “strong people don’t need strong leaders,” and SNCC’s philosophy was to empower both the students and the most oppressed members of the communities to decide what action they were going to take themselves, rather than rely on directives or orders from the leaders of the movement. Ella Baker was undoubtedly a leader and mentor to many people but her way of leading was to empower others to take action and direct their own campaigns and actions.

The complete collection of full length transcripts from Eyes on the Prize are available online.

More resources for Ella Baker can be found at the Ella Baker Center, and an oral history interview with Ella Baker, conducted by  former SNCC members Casey Hayden and Sue Thrasher, is available online in audio and transcript form at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s project, Documenting the American South.

John Lewis and “Life Lessons”

4 Jan
John Lewis in "Eyes on the Prize"
John Lewis in “Eyes on the Prize”

Representative John Lewis published a book last year, Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for ChangeThe book is a memoir which also offers advice to current activists including members of the Occupy Movement. Lewis became involved with the civil rights movement as a teenager after hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak on the radio at the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He went on to be one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and participated in many marches and protests.

Lewis was interviewed for both Eyes on the Prize I and II. In these extensive interviews he speaks about his upbringing in rural Alabama, how he became involved in the civil rights movement, his participation in the Nashville sit-ins and the Freedom Rides, and his meetings with Malcolm X.

In this quote from his interview in Eyes on the Prize I, Lewis spoke of his desire to become a minister as a young boy,

 We had a lot of chickens. And I grew up with this idea, somehow, I don’t know where it came from, I wanted to be a minister, and somehow I transferred my desire to be a minister and my responsibility of raising the chickens…and I literally started preaching to the chickens. They became members of this sort of invisible church…Later I tested some ideas on my younger brothers or sisters and first cousins and I remember my first act of maybe a nonviolent protest was when my parents would kill the chicken, that I would refuse to eat the chicken. And it went for two or three days–refusing to speak to my mother, father–because they killed a chicken, that I thought was so wrong.

Interview with John Lewis from Eyes on the Prize I

As a young man, Lewis was involved with almost every major moment in the movement, including the first sit-ins in Nashville, the Selma to Montgomery March where he was attacked by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, to speaking at the March on Washington, and participating in the Freedom Rides. Throughout it all and in the face of physical violence and intimidation, he maintained his philosophy of nonviolence. Speaking about his time as a student in Nashville, Lewis described how the first sit-ins occurred,

 So every Tuesday night for an entire semester in 1959 we had what we call, nonviolent workshop, direct action workshop, where we discussed and debated the theory, the philosophy of Gandhi, the teaching of Gandhi, the whole question of civil disobedience, the whole history of the struggle in India, and the attempt on the part of Gandhi to bring about some resolution of the problems in South Africa.

We went into the local stores, for the most part, the Five-and-Ten, Woolworth, Kreske’s, McClellan…we took our seats in a very orderly, peaceful fashion. The students were dressed like they were on the way to, to church or going to a big social affair. But they had their books, and we stayed there at the lunch counter studying and preparing our homework because we were denied service. The manager ordered that the lunch counters be closed, that the restaurants be closed, and we’d just sit there, and we continued to sit all day long. The first day nothing in term of violence or any disorder, nothing happened. This continued for a few more days and it continued day in and day out. And finally, on one Saturday when we had about 100 students prepare to go down, it was a very beautiful day in Nashville, very beautiful day, we got a call from a local white minister who had been a real supporter of the movement. He said that if we go down on this particular day he understand [sic] that the police would stand to the side and let a group of white hoodlums and thugs come in and beat people up, and then we would be arrested. And we should make a decision of whether we wanted to go or not and some people tried to discourage us from going on that particular Saturday. We made a decision to go, and we all went to the same store. It was Woolworth in downtown Nashville, in the heart of the downtown area, and occupied every seat at the lunch counter, every seat in the restaurant, and it did happen. A group of young white men came in and they start pulling and beating, primarily the young women, putting lighted cigarettes down their backs, in their hair and really beating people, and in a short time police officials came in and placed all of us under arrest, and not a single member of the white group–the people that were opposing our sit-in down at the lunch counter–were arrested. We all left out of that store singing “We Shall Overcome.” This was the first arrest in the Nashville sit-in. It was the first mass arrest, I think, anyplace in the South.

Interview with John Lewis from Eyes on the Prize I

Lewis’ interview from Eyes on the Prize II is also available online, along with the complete interviews from Eyes on the Prize I and II.

Lawrence Guyot and “Eyes on the Prize”

30 Nov

guyot_lawerenceLawrence Guyot, civil rights activist and interviewee for Eyes on the Prize, died this week at age 73. Guyot was involved in several civil rights groups beginning in the 1960s in his native state of Mississippi. He began working in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1962, and was heavily involved in the activities of Freedom Summer in 1964, and was the founding chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a group which included fellow activist, Fannie Lou Hamer. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s goal was to have African American delegates included in the Democratic Party. The challenge was rejected but the Fannie Lou Hamer spoke on national television and brought attention to the plight of African Americans in Mississippi.

Along the way, Guyot endured beatings, threats, and violence. Mississippi was notorious for the amount of violence against civil rights activists and Guyot was arrested while trying to bail Fannie Lou Hamer out of jail after she and a group had entered a “whites only” section of a bus station in Winona, Mississippi. When Guyot arrived to bail out Hamer, he was arrested and beaten severely for many hours. He was only released after Medgar Evers, a fellow activist from Mississippi, was murdered in the same time period.

Guyot was interviewed for Henry Hampton’s series, Eyes on the Prize in 1979. Guyot spoke about his work with Amzie Moore, Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the incident in the Winona jail, and how he became politically active through his father’s efforts to register people to vote. In this quote from his interview he described the strategy of Mississippian civil rights activists during the campaign to register African Americans,

We had recruited new people and had brought them into the fold. We were organizing in Greenwood. We were catching hell in every form. People being arrested. People were being threatened. People were bring kicked off farms. People were being beaten. People were being fired if they even associated with us. But despite all of that we were able to get people to go down and attempt to register to vote in the Delta where there’d been a whole history of violence and deprivation and peonage really. It wasn’t slavery but it certainly was peonage…we conducted the freedom election and one of the lessons we learned from the freedom election in 1963 was that the FBI was very, very concerned about providing protection and public cover to all of the volunteers who were white, who were northern and who were well, relatively well-educated. We learned pragmatically that the way to bring protection to our people was to bring whites in. We wanted to bring the national attention to what we were doing, to protect people who we could not protect—we never lied to anyone—we never said come register to vote with us you won’t get shot, you won’t get fired from your job, your social security won’t be cut off. It—despite the fact that social security is a federal payment, a federal fund, I saw a notice in the social security check sent out from Jackson, Mississippi, that a warning to everyone—if you register to vote, your check can be cut off. The pervasiveness of that state in preventing political activity even of that nature was so complete it is very hard to recapture for people who wasn’t [sic] involved in it.

This interview and many others are available at the Film & Media Archive and are part of the ongoing Mellon Project which will preserve the original film interviews from Eyes on the Prize I.

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.

 

2011 William Miles Prize Winner – Howard Rudnick

27 May

William Miles

 

The Film and Media Archive is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2011 Miles Prize is the essay “A Coincidental Cup of Kenyan Coffee: SNCC and Malcolm X Recast the Struggle in Nairobi” by Howard Rudnick. The essay investigates the influence of various African freedom struggles on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a major organization in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Howard is a Washington University Graduate who majored in history and economics. His research was directed by Dr. Jean Allman. We offer our congratulations to him on an insightful and well-researched essay.

Sponsored by the Program in African and African-American Studies and by the Film and Media Archive, the Miles Prize honors the life and work of African-American filmmaker William Miles. Essays submitted for the contest must make significant use of materials held by the Film and Media Archive.