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

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"[TRUE SOUTH] does several things at once. On one level, it's a biography . . . On another, it's a lucid recap of many of the signal events of the civil rights movement . . . A warm and intelligent book."--The New York Times "No one is better suited to write this moving account of perhaps the greatest American documentary series ever made. . . . [Else] tells the story with "[TRUE SOUTH] does several things at once. On one level, it's a biography . . . On another, it's a lucid recap of many of the signal events of the civil rights movement . . . A warm and intelligent book."--The New York Times "No one is better suited to write this moving account of perhaps the greatest American documentary series ever made. . . . [Else] tells the story with the compassion and eloquence it deserves."--Adam Hochschild, author of KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST, BURY THE CHAINS, and TO END ALL WARS The inside story of Eyes on the Prize, one of the most important and influential TV shows in history. Published on the 30th anniversary of the initial broadcast, which reached 100 million viewers. Henry Hampton's 1987 landmark multipart television series, Eyes on the Prize, an eloquent, plainspoken chronicle of the civil rights movement, is now the classic narrative of that history. Before Hampton, the movement's history had been written or filmed by whites and weighted heavily toward Dr. King's telegenic leadership. Eyes on the Prize told the story from the point of view of ordinary people inside the civil rights movement. Hampton shifted the focus from victimization to strength, from white saviors to black courage. He recovered and permanently fixed the images we now all remember (but had been lost at the time)--Selma and Montgomery, pickets and fire hoses, ballot boxes and mass meetings. Jon Else was Hampton's series producer and his moving book focuses on the tumultuous eighteen months in 1985 and 1986 when Eyes on the Prize was finally created. It's a point where many wires cross: the new telling of African American history, the complex mechanics of documentary making, the rise of social justice film, and the politics of television. And because Else, like Hampton and many of the key staffers, was himself a veteran of the movement, his book braids together battle tales from their own experiences as civil rights workers in the south in the 1960s. Hampton was not afraid to show the movement's raw realities: conflicts between secular and religious leaders, the shift toward black power and armed black resistance in the face of savage white violence. It is all on the screen, and the fight to get it all into the films was at times as ferocious as the history being depicted. Henry Hampton utterly changed the way social history is told, taught, and remembered today.


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"[TRUE SOUTH] does several things at once. On one level, it's a biography . . . On another, it's a lucid recap of many of the signal events of the civil rights movement . . . A warm and intelligent book."--The New York Times "No one is better suited to write this moving account of perhaps the greatest American documentary series ever made. . . . [Else] tells the story with "[TRUE SOUTH] does several things at once. On one level, it's a biography . . . On another, it's a lucid recap of many of the signal events of the civil rights movement . . . A warm and intelligent book."--The New York Times "No one is better suited to write this moving account of perhaps the greatest American documentary series ever made. . . . [Else] tells the story with the compassion and eloquence it deserves."--Adam Hochschild, author of KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST, BURY THE CHAINS, and TO END ALL WARS The inside story of Eyes on the Prize, one of the most important and influential TV shows in history. Published on the 30th anniversary of the initial broadcast, which reached 100 million viewers. Henry Hampton's 1987 landmark multipart television series, Eyes on the Prize, an eloquent, plainspoken chronicle of the civil rights movement, is now the classic narrative of that history. Before Hampton, the movement's history had been written or filmed by whites and weighted heavily toward Dr. King's telegenic leadership. Eyes on the Prize told the story from the point of view of ordinary people inside the civil rights movement. Hampton shifted the focus from victimization to strength, from white saviors to black courage. He recovered and permanently fixed the images we now all remember (but had been lost at the time)--Selma and Montgomery, pickets and fire hoses, ballot boxes and mass meetings. Jon Else was Hampton's series producer and his moving book focuses on the tumultuous eighteen months in 1985 and 1986 when Eyes on the Prize was finally created. It's a point where many wires cross: the new telling of African American history, the complex mechanics of documentary making, the rise of social justice film, and the politics of television. And because Else, like Hampton and many of the key staffers, was himself a veteran of the movement, his book braids together battle tales from their own experiences as civil rights workers in the south in the 1960s. Hampton was not afraid to show the movement's raw realities: conflicts between secular and religious leaders, the shift toward black power and armed black resistance in the face of savage white violence. It is all on the screen, and the fight to get it all into the films was at times as ferocious as the history being depicted. Henry Hampton utterly changed the way social history is told, taught, and remembered today.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Vannessa Anderson

    True South was an interesting read about how civil rights made a breakthrough in small towns in southern America. We travel to those locations and learn about the bravery of Americans who are Descendants of Freed Slaves who fought for their freedom and the freedom of their descendants.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

    I went to Kepler's to hear my basketball friend, Dr. Clay Carson, interview Jon Else when this book came out. I knew nothing about the book at the time, but decided I wanted to read this first-person account of the making of Eyes on the Prize. This is a meaty book - well worth delving into. I enjoyed it both because of my interest in racism/social justice and my experience with students making videos for NGOs. In that regard, it was fascinating to hear how the planning, shooting, and interviewin I went to Kepler's to hear my basketball friend, Dr. Clay Carson, interview Jon Else when this book came out. I knew nothing about the book at the time, but decided I wanted to read this first-person account of the making of Eyes on the Prize. This is a meaty book - well worth delving into. I enjoyed it both because of my interest in racism/social justice and my experience with students making videos for NGOs. In that regard, it was fascinating to hear how the planning, shooting, and interviewing went for Eyes - and so many other details, including fundraising. It was also fascinating to hear about Else's experiences in the South as a white SNCC worker and later as a producer. I've admired Clay Carson from afar and have recently begun to become acquainted as our seats are nearby at Maples. It was interesting to me to learn about the role he played in Eyes. Now I have more reading to do as I read the books by Carson cited by Else. My wonderful student, Abene, has been admitted to the M.A. program at Cal where Else teaches. I hope she can get to know and work with him there. Great book. I recommend it!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    I watched "Eyes on the Prize" in 1987 - a doctoral student in history at the University of Mississippi. A number of the grad students in history were moved and thrilled while watching. We taped and showed our students the episode "Mississippi: Is This America?" opening eyes to the history so many didn't realize had occurred all around them. The series was electrifying, moving, and in some of us, life altering. To read Jon Else's book and the story of the creation of "Eyes" is gripping. I would re I watched "Eyes on the Prize" in 1987 - a doctoral student in history at the University of Mississippi. A number of the grad students in history were moved and thrilled while watching. We taped and showed our students the episode "Mississippi: Is This America?" opening eyes to the history so many didn't realize had occurred all around them. The series was electrifying, moving, and in some of us, life altering. To read Jon Else's book and the story of the creation of "Eyes" is gripping. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know about how history can be shared so effectively. And because I am a stickler for small details, Else's reference to "Interstate 80" in Selma - which is incorrect- it's US Highway 80 - only annoyed me a little!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    At first I wasn't sure of this, the focus on a documentary film maker whom I didn't know anything about seemed kind of specialized, but as Else gets further into his recounting of the making of Eyes on the Prize, the story gets better and better. Henry Hampton is an interesting focus. He's talented but a bit erratic, creating both fierce loyalty and heavy frustration among the many people he coordinates. He was brilliant at raising funds, but even better at spending, and because of this, he was At first I wasn't sure of this, the focus on a documentary film maker whom I didn't know anything about seemed kind of specialized, but as Else gets further into his recounting of the making of Eyes on the Prize, the story gets better and better. Henry Hampton is an interesting focus. He's talented but a bit erratic, creating both fierce loyalty and heavy frustration among the many people he coordinates. He was brilliant at raising funds, but even better at spending, and because of this, he was always struggling to pay employees and vendors. He insisted that the production team for each episode of Prize had a mix of white and black, male and female leadership at the top to try to ensure that viewpoints were represented, but this working method also led to a certain amount of discord as political beliefs, working styles, and creative methods clashed. While Hampton is interesting, two elements really stood out for me here: first, is the behind the scenes look at how documentaries, particularly the interviews that go into them, are made. Second, Else is very good at telling just enough of the civil rights story to frame the filming, and so readers get just enough of Emmett Till, of Martin Luther King, of Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, and so on. The behind the scenes accounts of what it took to get key participants to come forward and get interesting interviews is enlightening, and it's poignant in the sense that Hampton and his crews were in some cases racing time to get these stories in a time when many of the civil rights pioneers (and the white Southerners that tried to restrain them) were reaching the ends of their lives. It makes you realize how fragile the documentation of history can be. My only slight hesitation here is that which I always have when reading history or biography: the question of perspective. I think Else does a pretty fine job of showing the good and the bad in the complicated personality of Henry Hampton and some of the others. Still, he is hardly a bystander: he was a direct participant in important Civil Rights events and was one of the episode directors for Eyes on the Prize. Nothing in his account made me feel there was any bias at work, but because the people around Hampton always appeared to be under heavy stress, and because he's documenting an enterprise that had dozens of great creative people going in many different directions, I'm sure different accounts would reveal even more. But I digress, there's plenty of story here, and it's told well. If you are interested in Civil Rights history or documentary film-making, you should definitely read this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Arnold

    Good book, but watch the series . This was a good look at putting this important series together as well as the people involved. I liked it as I read it but then started watching the series too and it added a lot to the book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    ND

    review forthcoming in the SF Chronicle

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Taylor

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kathie

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jocelyn Condenzio-Hall

  11. 4 out of 5

    Titi

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shwavid

  14. 4 out of 5

    Donna Price

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Julianne

  17. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  20. 4 out of 5

    Billy

  21. 5 out of 5

    PJ Lutz

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    #NPR

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ronnie Jackson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Bleau

  27. 5 out of 5

    W.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Timothy McCluskey

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alison

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kaijer Lee

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