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Featured Documentary

PBS | Eyes on the Prize | America's Civil Right Years 1954-1965 | Mississippi: Is This America? (1963-1964) | Season 1 Episode 5 (1987) 55 min.

Synopsis

One in this series of documentaries that examine the African-American civil rights movement. The program includes interviews and archival footage, accompanied by narration. This episode focuses on struggles that took place in Mississippi during the "Freedom Summer," as the conflicts between civil rights workers and the local government became the focus of national attention. The program begins by providing information about the Citizen's Council. Council member William J. Simmons speaks on behalf of white citizens determined to protect the "traditional" power structure, while Hodding Carter III, editor of the Delta Democrat-Times, explains how powerful the council was in state politics. Some council members used their clout in order to prevent African-Americans from voting, while others used violence and threats to maintain the status quo. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members Bob Moses and Unita Blackwell discuss the work involved in encouraging political activism and voter registration within the black community, and Lawrence Guyot describes the voting laws designed to keep African-Americans away from the polls. The government and police responded forcefully to registration efforts, boycotts, and demonstrations, leading to hundreds of arrests. Myrlie Evers, wife of Medgar Evers, the slain state field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) member Dave Dennis recall the incredible tension that mounted and then exploded with Evers's murder. Clips are included of Evers's funeral and a speech given by NAACP executive director Roy Wilkins. Information about "Freedom Summer" follows, with scenes of SNCC training sessions that prepared volunteers for potential violence in the South. However, SNCC leaders were unprepared for the murder of three of the organization's young volunteers -- James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. After an initial FBI investigation, which uncovered the three bodies, but no suspect, J. Edgar Hoover withdrew the FBI from Mississippi. Included in the program are comments made by the Goodman and Schwerner families regarding their continued support for the movement, and clips of Dave DennisÕs impassioned eulogy at Cheney's funeral. Civil rights activists renewed their efforts to gain political power through the newly-formed Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and a slew of educational, legal, and medical programs created during Freedom Summer. Next, the program notes that the MFDP struggled to gain acceptance at the National Democratic Convention. In spite of widespread support and the impressive speech Fannie Lou Hamer gave before a credentials committee, Minnesota attorney general Walter Mondale was pressured by President Lyndon B. Johnson to make a compromise at the expense of both the MFDP and southern Democrats.