PBS releases 1987 civil rights series
By Bruce Dancis
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Heroes come in many shapes, sizes and colors, and their heroism usually involves some type of valor, gallantry, leadership or self-sacrifice. Their actions made many heroes famous as well, and some became wealthy as a result of their heroism.
As someone who entered his teenage years in the early 1960s, my heroes were more anonymous than famous and none gained wealth as a result of their actions. They were the civil rights workers and organizers of the 1950s and '60s who continually risked their lives to obtain rights and freedoms that should have been available to all Americans all along. They were Robert Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and thousands of African Americans and their white allies, including young people no older than me, who challenged segregation and a way of life that had been the law of the South for many decades.
Their story was told in a remarkable and moving documentary, "Eyes on the Prize," that was first broadcast on PBS in 1987. But for a variety of reasons, including problems in obtaining the rights to its archival news footage, photographs and music, and the death in 1998 of Henry Hampton, its creator and executive producer, "Eyes on the Prize" was never released on DVD, other than in a limited edition only available to educators — until this week.
PBS and Blackside, the production company founded by Hampton, are now releasing the documentary's first six episodes, subtitled "America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965" (three discs, $69.99, not rated).
PBS is also airing these episodes on Sunday evenings through April 18. ("Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads," which carried the story through 1985 and was broadcast on PBS in 1990, is not yet available on DVD.)
"America's Civil Rights Years" is narrated by Julian Bond, a former organizer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and later a Georgia state legislator and the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
It sheds light on the different strategies and perspectives of those within the movement, from the NAACP's legal assault on segregation to SNCC's grassroots organizing to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Council's emphasis on peaceful demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience.