New Eyes on the Prize Exhibit Explores the Making of the Historic Civil Rights Series

The online exhibit from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting includes an interactive timeline, map and essays that tap into an extensive collection of unedited interviews

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) has released a new online exhibit – Freedom Song: Interviews from Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965– that explores the history behind and making of the groundbreaking civil rights series Eyes on the Prize. Using unedited interviews recorded for the series, as well as an interactive map of locations central to the civil rights movement and a timeline of critical events, the Freedom Songexhibit breathes new life and context into the epic series produced by filmmaker Henry Hampton’s Blackside Inc., which premiered on PBS in 1987. The exhibit was curated by Michelle Kelley, Ph.D., a cinema studies scholar who worked with students on the Eyes on the Prize interviews as a postdoctoral teaching fellow at Washington University in St. Louis.

“We’re fortunate to have at our fingertips the voices and testimony of the people who made the Civil Rights Movement a reality, as well as the history of the Eyes on the Prize filmmakers who helped shape their stories to preserve for future generations,” said Kelley. “I’m proud to be able to contribute to the Eyes on the Prize legacy through in-depth study of these interviews with students at WashU and with this special exhibit for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.”

Hundreds of hours of interviews were recorded for Eyes on the Prize, yet only a fraction of that footage was included in the final PBS broadcast. The full, unedited interviews, restored from the original film and contributed to the AAPB by the Washington University Libraries, provide a greater understanding of the lived experiences of civil rights leaders and activists, as well as journalists, politicians, clergy, and even opposition segregationists, who were interviewed for the series. The 127 raw interviews preserved from Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954 -1965, as well as from America, They Loved You Madly, the never-broadcast precursor to Eyes on the Prize, are available in the AAPB’s Eyes on the Prize Interviews Special Collection.

“We see powerful echoes of the Civil Rights Movement in our present drive for social justice and the fight against systemic racism,” said Alan Gevinson, Ph.D., AAPB project director at the Library of Congress. “Because of Henry Hampton’s singular mission to preserve and elevate the grassroots stories of history’s changemakers, in addition to those of the movement’s leaders, we have a rare opportunity to learn from this dynamic archive of material and from Dr. Kelley’s expertise on elements that came together to make Eyes on the Prize a reality.”

The Freedom Song exhibit provides several ways to explore the Eyes on the Prize interviews: by episode, by historical event, by place and by interviewees’ roles during the southern civil rights era. An interactive timeline allows viewers to discover which interviewees discuss specific events in civil rights history. The interactive map displays places of importance referenced in the interviews with links back to the source material. Among the interviews are notable figures such as John LewisCoretta Scott KingRosa Parks and Bayard Rustin. A 20-minute clip compilation of key interview highlights, curated by Dr. Kelley, was produced and edited by Kenneth Campbell, Howard University graduate student and documentary film artist, as part of the Library of Congress Archives, History, and Heritage Advanced Internship (AHHA) program.

“The preservation of the Eyes on the Prize interviews is a critical step toward making these pivotal moments in civil rights history accessible to all. Dr. Kelley’s Freedom Song exhibit in the AAPB is a thoughtful guide to this vast archive of primary sources,” said Washington University Libraries associate university librarian for Special Collections Services Nadia Ghasedi. “The context and history behind the making of Eyes on the Prize is a much-needed resource for scholars, students and the public.”

The AAPB will make available the full collection of unedited interviews from Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads, 1965 – 1985 in the spring of 2021. The Washington University Libraries have preserved and digitized these interviews with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In conjunction with the AAPB Freedom Song exhibit, WORLD Channel, a national public media broadcast, online and social media platform, is teaming up with PBS to bring Eyes on the Prize back to television. The 14-part series will begin airing Sunday, April 4, 2021 at 8 p.m. ET, on WORLD Channel, and will be available on PBS stations nationwide as a special service beginning April 10, 2021 (check local listings).

The AAPB is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and Boston public media producer GBH to preserve and make accessible historically significant at-risk public media. The materials used to create Hampton’s films were donated by Civil Rights Project Inc., Blackside’s nonprofit affiliate, in 2001 to Washington University’s Film & Media Archive.

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