Tag Archives: tennessee

Collaboration with the National Civil Rights Museum

4 Apr

The Film & Media Archive has collaborated with the National Civil Rights Museum to add film and audio from the Henry Hampton Collection to the museum’s permanent collection.

The newly renovated National Civil Rights Museum will re-open on April 5, one day after the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. To mark the re-opening the museum will hold a forum hosted by Tavis Smiley that will feature panelists including Marian Wright Edelman, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Attorney Barry Goldstein, among others. The re-design of the museum sought to feature more multi-media and interactive exhibits to help visitors experience and understand more of the history of the civil rights movement.

As Executive director Beverly Robertson said in a story from NPR,

It was time to take a fresh look at the civil rights movement through the eyes of the people who gave it life…We had to blend history, technology, information boards, artifacts, audio, video to create what we believe is an engaging museum.”

Visitors can sit at a segregated lunch counter or on a segregated bus while they listen to audio of the speech Martin Luther King gave at the Holt Street Baptist Church at the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

This focus on multi-media exhibits and displays featuring audio and video of primary source material made the Film & Media Archive a great partner for the  National Civil Rights Museum. Henry Hampton, creator of Eyes on the Prize, shared similar goals for his series and wanted to highlight the accomplishments, actions, and leadership of people who were not famous but who made up the movement and made its success possible.

Sections and excerpts of the interviews from the Henry Hampton Collection now on permanent exhibition at the museum include ones with people who had never been publicly interviewed before Eyes on the Prize, such as Jo Ann Robinson, one of the leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Josephine Mayes, a voting rights activist, and William O’Neal, an FBI informant from Chicago.

Other video and audio footage of interviewees will be on permanent display including sections from the following interviews: Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine; E.D. Nixon, civil rights leader from Montgomery; Diane Nash, student leader in the Nashville movement; James Farmer (audio only), national civil rights leader and one of the organizers of the 1961 Freedom Rides; Victoria Gray Adams (audio only), a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic PartyJohn Hulett, voting rights activist in Lowndes County, Alabama; and Huey Newton, Black Panther activist.

The full text of all of these interviews are available on the Eyes on the Prize Interviews digital project site which also contains complete transcripts for all the interviews from Eyes on the Prize.




Will Campbell, civil rights activist and minister, dies at 88

6 Jun

Image from Interview with Reverend Will Campbell, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 3, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965)

Reverend Will D. Campbell, an unconventional minister at odds with his native segregated South, has died at age 88. Campbell, the son of a farmer, was born in Mississippi and became an ordained minister when he was 17.  He served in the Army during World War II, and went on to attend various universities including Tulane University and Yale Divinity School.

His pastoral career was derailed by his opposition of segregation and his dedication to civil rights. A position as University Chaplain at the University of Mississippi ended with death threats towards Campbell because of his views. According to John Lewis, Campbell was fired because he played ping-pong with an African American janitor.

After leaving the University of Mississippi, Campbell moved to Nashville. From then on, he was involved in almost every major campaign in the civil rights movement, beginning with the student sit-ins in Nashville, the Little Rock school integration crisis in 1957, the Freedom Rides, the March from Selma to Montgomery, and many others. Campbell was also invited by Martin Luther King, Jr. to attend the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Campbell was interviewed for the Blackside’s landmark series on the  civil right movement, Eyes on the Prize. In his interview he talked about the events surrounding the sit-ins in Nashville,

Mr. Z. Alexander Looby, who was a great man, a black attorney, conservative politically, a Lincoln Republican of many years–no  one could accuse him of being a, a wild eyed radical politically–and when his house was bombed or dynamited, I think it, it solidified especially the black community, and it enraged a segment of the white community in a fashion that nothing else had.There was the mass march to City Hall and there was a white Mayor who came out there and who with considerable prodding from that brilliant and beautiful leader named Diane Nash, who kept pushing him, “But, Mr. Mayor, you are our Mayor. Sir, do you think that segregation is morally defendable?” And he eventually had to say, I do not. Now that, in my judgment, was the turning point. That encounter was a turning point.

Interview with Reverend Will Campbell, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 3, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

Campbell went on to be involved in the protests against the Vietnam War. He also was the author of several books, including a memoir, Brother to a Dragonfly (1977) which was a National Book Award Finalist.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

4 Apr

Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, 45 years ago, on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray was eventually tried and convicted for this crime. Dr. King was a master orator and electrified audiences when he spoke, and on this anniversary we’d like to celebrate him and revisit some of his speeches. Dr. King was in Memphis throughout the early months of 1968 in support of the Memphis Sanitation Strike. On February 1, 1968, two sanitation workers were killed on the job sparking outrage which led to a boycott and a strike in an attempt to gain better working conditions and respect for the workers. The clip above is from the documentary, I Am A Man: Dr. King & the Memphis Sanitation Strike, and gives some important background for the strike and Dr. King’s activism and efforts to help the workers.

The Film & Media Archive holds several interviews Blackside conducted with many of Martin Luther King’s associates, friends, and family members for the series Eyes on the Prize II,  including Coretta Scott KingRalph Abernathy, who was with King when he died and spoke about that in his interview, William Lucy, one of the strike organizers in Memphis, Jerred Blanchard, a city council member who sided with the strikers, Marian Logan, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) member and associate of Dr. King, Andrew Young, also an SCLC member, and many others. The episode, The Promised Land (1967-1968) covered the last year of Dr. King’s life and many of the interviews talk about his time in Memphis. Together these interviews and the stock footage Blackside gathered form a striking, multifaceted portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and activism.

In Andrew Young’s interview he describes the moments right before Dr. King was shot,

We got the injunction thrown out, and we got our permission to march, and I guess about 4:30 or 5:00, I came back to the Lorraine Motel and I found Martin and A.D., and Ralph, and everybody gathered there, and they’d been eating, and, and had lunch, and were talking and clowning, and when I came in, Martin just grabbed me and threw me down on the bed, and started beating me with a pillow. I mean, he was, he was like a big kid. He was fussing because I hadn’t reported to him, and I tried to tell him, “I was on the witness stand, I’m here in the Federal Court.” And he was just standing on the bed swinging the pillow at me. I’m trying to duck with him saying, “You have to let me know what’s going on.” You know, and finally I snatched the pillow and started swinging back and it, you know, and everybody, it was sort of like the, the, you know, touchdown, and everybody piles on everybody. It wa–it was just, I mean, people just started throwing pillows and piling on top of everybody, and laughing and, and going on and then, he stopped and, and said, “Let’s go.” You know we’d do a dinner at six, it was at that time about six o’clock. And he went on up to his room to, you know, to put on a shirt and tie. I went out in the court-yard, waiting for him and started shadow-boxing with James Orange who is about, you know, 6’5″ and 280 pounds, so it was mostly continuing the clowning around atmosphere. I mean James could slap me in the ground with his little finger, but I was, you know, clowning around with him. And Martin came out and asked “You think I need a coat?” and we said, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool, and you’ve had a cold, you better go back and get a coat.” And he said, “I don’t know whether or not I need coat,” and you know, the next thing we know, a shot. Well I thought it was a car backfiring, or a firecracker, and I looked up and didn’t see him.  And I frankly thought that it was a car that backfired and he was still clowning, because he was always given to clowning particularly in those kinds of–when we’d been very, very well down, and then all of a sudden, you know things look like they’re going to work out, he could get very giddy almost.

Interview with Andrew Young, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 27, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

This clip contains what has become known as the “Mountain Top” speech.

Martin Luther King gave this speech on April 3, 1968, the day before he died. In this extraordinary speech King speaks about why he is in Memphis but also ranges over many topics including a list of things he has seen during his campaign for civil rights near the end of the speech. He recounts the major campaigns and triumphs in Montgomery, Selma, and the “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington. The speech is also philosophical and  has both biblical and historical references intertwined throughout.

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

The speech ends with another biblical allusion although the figure of Moses is not named, King draws a parallel between himself and the prophet which proved heartbreaking and prophetic. Although a careful reader, or listener, of the speech will find references to violence and threats against King’s life dropped almost casually into the speech, from the attempt on his life when he was stabbed by a mentally ill woman to that morning’s flight to Memphis where the flight was delayed because the plane had to be checked for bombs and explosives. The fact is Dr. King lived under the threat of violence and had for some time by April 3, 1968 when he gave this speech. Knowing this does not lessen the shock or power of the last lines,

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

For further reading, the King Papers Project at Stanford University has a comprehensive list of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches with transcripts and audio (when available).

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.