Collection Summary

The Eyes on the Prize Interviews Collection consists of over 300 raw footage interviews conducted with participants in the American Civil Rights movement for the acclaimed documentary series Eyes on the Prize. Produced by documentarian Henry Hampton and his company, Blackside Inc., the series was released in two parts: Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, airing first on PBS in 1987; followed by Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965-1985, released in 1990. The series garnered several Emmy awards, a Peabody, and an Academy Award nomination, and is considered by many to be the definitive documentary on the Civil Rights Movement.

The interviews focus on the following topics: the murder of Emmett Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, school desegregation at Little Rock, Arkansas, and the University of Mississippi; the Nashville sit-ins; the Freedom Riders; the Albany Movement; the Birmingham campaign; the March on Washington; Mississippi Freedom Summer; voting rights in Selma; the Black Power Movement; Malcolm X; the Kerner Commission; Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and assassination; the Poor People’s Campaign; Muhammad Ali; the National Black Political Convention; Black mayors Unita Blackwell, Carl Stokes, Maynard Jackson, and Harold Washington; the Black Panther Party; the Attica Prison uprising; conflicts in the late 1960s and 1970s over the community control of schools and busing; affirmative action; the Vietnam War; and rioting in Miami in 1980. Interviewees include boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; activists Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks; Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine; singer and activist Harry Belafonte; Unita Blackwell, former project director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the first Black woman to be elected mayor in Mississippi; EEOC chair Eleanor Holmes Norton; Ruth Batson, who fought against segregation in the Boston public school system; Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, co-founders of the Black Panther Party; Rev. Jesse Jackson; and Frank “Big Black” Smith, a leader of the Attica Defense Committee.

The recordings include cuts, incidental conversation, production notes, and segments with sound but not film; some interviews are sound only. The questions asked of interviewees are usually audible, and interviews range in length from ten minutes to two hours. The interviews were reconstructed and digitized from the original film materials by the Film & Media Archive at Washington University.

Collection Background

Founded in 1968 by filmmaker Henry Hampton (1940-1998), Blackside, Inc. has produced more than sixty major film and media public television projects with a focus on social justice. In addition to Eyes on the Prize, other award-winning productions from Hampton and Blackside include The Great Depression, Malcolm X: Make It Plain, America’s War on Poverty, This Far by Faith, and I’ll Make Me a World. Over the course of his career, Hampton was the recipient of over ten honorary degrees and several lifetime achievement awards. His papers and film archive are held by the Washington University Film and Media Archive in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Eyes on the Prize Interviews were preserved during 2010-2016 thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The preserved films were then digitized thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The Eyes on the Prize interviews were contributed to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting starting in 2016.