Placing Eyes on the Prize Educational Outreach in Context
These videos document two institutes for secondary school and college educators that Henry Hampton’s Blackside Inc. held on November 17, 1989 and July 8-12, 1990. These events were hosted by the production company’s non-profit subsidiary, the Civil Rights Project, Inc., the Museum of Afro-American History, and Tufts University. The conferences addressed how teachers could successfully incorporate Blackside’s groundbreaking documentary on the Civil Rights Movement, Eyes on the Prize (1987-1900), into their classrooms.
These two teachers’ institutes took place on either side of the initial broadcast of the second series of Eyes on the Prize, which PBS aired in early 1990. Subtitled America at the Racial Crossroads, 1965-1985, the eight-part series covers how the nation reacted after the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Blackside expected that audiences would find many of the topics and people covered in the second series, including the rise of the Black Panthers and the Attica Prison Uprising, more controversial than the non-violent movements addressed in the first series.
Blackside and its partnering organizations had two main approaches to helping educators teach Eyes on the Prize. The first was talks by Blackside producers and academic advisers that provided contextualization on the second series. For example, the 1989 Institute opened with Henry Hampton placing the second series in continuity with the larger Civil Rights Movement.
The second approach was through workshops and open discussions amongst the attendees. The hope was that the teachers would create a long-lasting network of educators to share resources with each other and inspire others to lecture on the topic. These workshops allowed teachers to share the challenges they faced in talking about the Civil Rights Movement, and hear about the curricula of teachers who had already used Eyes in the Prize in the classroom.
While Blackside is best known for its influential documentary television series, it placed equal importance on supporting teaching and public events that inspired social justice and activism. Blackside established the Civil Rights Project, Inc. to develop educational programming. It created teachers guides for its programs, and wrote and published books on related topics including Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer’s Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s Through the 1980s which was constructed out of the hundreds of interviews conducted for Eyes.
These videos are raw recordings of talks and workshops and are not polished documentaries. However, they offer valuable insights into how the producers of one of the most influential documentary television programs made Eyes on the Prize. The discussions amongst the educators are examples of frank, honest talk about the challenges they faced when teaching hard histories. They are a reminder that telling the truth about what happened during the Civil Rights Movement has been and will continue to be contested.
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The Film & Media Archive at Washington University in St. Louis is grateful to the National Endowment of the Humanities for providing generous funding which enabled these videos to be digitized and transcribed. These videocassettes were digitized as part of the Eyes on the Prize II: Digitization and Reassembly Grant which also made accessible all 183 interviews conducted for Eyes on the Prize II. For more information about the interviews, please click here.