Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement

Article excerpt

True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement. By Jon Else. (New York: Viking, 2017. Pp. xii, 404. Paper, $18.00, ISBN 978-1-101-98094-1; cloth, $30.00, ISBN 978-1-101-98093-4.)

Jon Else's True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement offers three intertwined histories. A producer and cinematographer on Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 (1987-1990), a documentary series that charts the history of the black freedom struggle, Else illuminates the ambitions, limitations, processes, and personalities involved in creating the first six episodes of the series. Else, a close friend of and collaborator with Henry Hampton, founder of Blackside, Incorporated and creator of Eyes on the Prize, offers a portrait of Hampton as a fighter for racial justice in his own right. Hampton produced the signature documentary series on the civil rights movement, and his company, Blackside, was committed to employing African Americans in significant positions behind and in front of the camera. Having been a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Else also provides a firsthand account of the everyday lives of activists working for racial justice in the first half of the 1960s.

True South is a loosely chronological narrative that begins with Hampton's childhood in St. Louis, Missouri, and ends with his tragic death from complications related to lung cancer in 1998. While Else reminds his readers that the final decisions on Eyes on the Prize were ultimately Hampton's, the book importantly details the work of producers and crew members who conducted the interviews, tracked down archival footage, battled over how to organize material, and painstakingly edited and re-edited individual episodes.

Throughout his narrative, Else draws comparisons between the filmmakers and the activists whose struggles the films would chart. In so doing, he underscores not only the material and psychological costs to Hampton's crew--compensation was erratic and work schedules were punishing--but also how the political work of the films was comparable to that of the civil rights movement. …

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