Symposium to commemorate civil rights struggle

The University will present a symposium called “Documenting Change” April 5-6 that will commemorate the Civil Rights Movement by focusing on the contributions of the historic documentary Eyes on the Prize, a work by WUSTL graduate Henry Hampton.

Leslie Brown
Leslie Brown

Events will include screenings of Eyes on the Prize episodes and a panel discussion about the significance of the series; a keynote address by civil rights activist Robert Moses (view story); and an exhibition in Olin Library.

Moses once remarked that Mississippi in 1964 was like “a little apartheid” right here in America. Viewing the vote and the empowerment of people as necessary to the democratic process, thousands of young people of all ethnicities traveled to Mississippi that summer to change America.

The next year, civil rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate for voting rights in Alabama. Turned back at the Edmund Pettis Bridge by the brutality of Alabama state troopers, the marchers would return to the site of “Bloody Sunday” as an even greater contingent of people from across America came to repeat the demonstration.

Crossing the bridge, Hampton thought, “This would make a great movie.”

Two decades later, Hampton made that “great movie” with the seminal film series Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years and its sequel, Eyes on the Prize: America at the Racial Crossroads, a critically acclaimed and widely popular 14-part series chronicling the American Civil Rights Movement.

The series garnered more than 23 awards, including two Emmys, an Oscar nomination, a Peabody and the Edward R. Murrow Brotherhood Award for Best National Documentary.

“Documenting Change” symposium schedule

April 5

• 7 p.m., Louderman Hall, Room 458: Two 50-minute episodes from the Eyes on the Prize documentary will be shown: “Mississippi: Is This America?” beginning at 7 p.m.; and “The Promised Land” starting at 8 p.m.

Both screenings will feature an introduction by Leslie Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and of African and Afro-American Studies, both in Arts & Sciences.

April 6

• 11 a.m., Graham Chapel: Civil rights activist Robert Moses will lecture.

• 4:30-6:30 p.m., Ginkgo Reading Room, Olin Library: The opening reception and program for the exhibition titled …And Henceforth Shall Be Free will be held. The exhibit includes historical prints from the collection of James Schiele that depict abolition, the Civil War and Reconstruction.

An opening reception will be held at 4:30 p.m. followed by a program at 5:30 p.m. featuring remarks by Schiele; Wayne Fields, Ph.D., the Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor in English and director of American Culture Studies, both in Arts & Sciences; and former U.S. Sen. Tom Eagleton.

• 7:30 p.m., Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical En-gineering Auditorium: A panel discussion featuring Eyes on the Prize producers Judy Richardson, Orlando Bagwell and Louis Massiah; and David Rowntree, special media collection archivist for University Libraries, will be held.

In addition to its positive reception from television critics and professionals, Eyes on the Prize was lauded by historians and educators. Using archival footage and contemporary interviews with participants in the struggle for and against civil rights, the series presented the movement as multifaceted.

“The series is an example of how media can render American history as a means to transform a nation,” said Leslie Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and of African and Afro-American Studies, both in Arts & Sciences, who developed the concept for a symposium focusing on the struggle for civil rights in America.

“Forty years ago, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, ending the long disenfranchisement of African-Americans and their exclusion from the democratic process. These events commemorate the struggles and celebrate the progress.”

Watched by more than 20 million viewers with each airing, Eyes on the Prize served as an important educational tool, reaching a generation of millions of Americans who have no direct experience with the historic events chronicled. Though the series included such landmark events as the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955-56, the 1963 march on Washington and the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it also documented the workings of the movement on a grass-roots level, presenting events and individuals often overlooked.

Both series were broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service: the first six programs were aired in 1987; the eight-part sequel was broadcast in 1990.

They were produced over the course of 12 years by Hampton’s Blackside Inc., film company, one of the oldest minority-owned film and television production companies in the country. The Henry Hampton Collection consists of materials that were collected in connection with the various documentary films made by Hampton and his production company.

A native St. Louisan, Hampton earned a bachelor of arts degree from WUSTL in 1961. He died in 1998, but his contribution lives on in his collection, which was obtained by University Libraries in 2001.

The symposium sponsors are University Libraries, the Association of Black Students, the Assembly Series, and Arts & Sciences’ African and Afro-American Studies, American Culture Studies, Film and Media Studies, and the departments of History and Political Science.

“Documenting Change” will include two film screenings — one episode each from the two series of Eyes on the Prize — a lecture by civil rights hero Robert Moses; an exhibition of historic prints depicting abolition, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; and a panel discussion featuring Eyes on the Prize filmmakers Judy Richardson, Orlando Bagwell, and Louis Massiah, all of whom were producers of the original series. They will be joined by David Rowntree, special media collection archivist for the Libraries.

The symposium is free and open to the public. For more information on the symposium, call 935-5285.