Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series that Reframed the Civil Rights Movement
Author: Jon Else
View: 5941Henry Hampton's 1987 landmark multipart television series oEyes On The Prize,o an eloquent, plainspoken chronicle of the civil rights movement, is now the classic narrative of that history. Before Hampton, the movement's history been written or filmed by whites and weighted heavily toward Dr. King's telegenic leadership. oEyeso told the story from the point of view of ordinary people inside the civil rights movement--the ofan ladieso and oordinary world parishioners,o mostly African American. Hampton shifted the focus from victimization to strength, from white saviors to black courage. He recovered and permanently fixed the images we now all remember (but had been lost at the time)-Selma and Montgomery, pickets and firehoses, ballot boxes and mass meetings. Jon Else was Hampton's series producer, and his moving book focuses on the tumultuous 18 months in 1985 and 1986 when oEyeso was finally created, a point where many wires cross- the new telling of African American history, the complex mechanics of documentary making, the rise of social justice film, the politics of television (The Boston Globeand The New York Timespublished articles about Hampton's bitter funding problems, in which they named major foundations and corporations that had declined to support his telling the civil rights story.) And because Else, like Hampton and many of the key staffers, was himself a veteran of the movement, his book braids together battle tales from their own experiences as civil rights workers in the South in the 1960s. oEyeso re-introduced Emmett Till to a world that had forgotten him and showed us the guts it took to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, or walk up the school steps in Little Rock, Arkansas. It chronicled that great expansion of American democracy through legal victories, direct action, voter registration, and legislation. Hampton was not afraid to show the movement's raw realities- conflicts between secular and religious leaders, the shift toward black power and armed black resistance in the face of savage white violence. It is all on the screen, and the fight to get it all into the films was at times as ferocious as the history being depicted. Henry Hampton utterly changed the way social history is told, taught, and remembered today.