Featured Documentary

PBS | Eyes on the Prize | Season 1 Episode 1 | America's Civil Right Years 1954-1965 | Awakenings 1954-1956 1987 - 54 min.

Director: Judith Vecchione

The first in this series of documentaries that examines the African-American civil rights movement. This episode examines the circumstances that gave birth to a concentrated struggle for civil rights, focusing on two pivotal events that occurred in Mississippi and Alabama between 1954 and 1956. Included are interviews and archival footage, accompanied by narration. First is a discussion of segregation in the U.S. and the participation of African-Americans in World War II, which inspired them to fight for change at home. The Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education is also cited as a significant factor in proving the unconstitutionality of segregation and encouraging African-Americans to dismantle the system. Next, a profile of the lynching of Emmett Till includes interviews with Till's cousin, Curtis Jones; Amsterdam News executive editor James Hicks; and reporter William Bradford Huie; as well as footage of family members Mamie Till Bradley and Mose Wright, who describe the circumstances of Till's murder. The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth explains that Till's murder, the latest in a long history of lynchings, made the black community even more determined to fight an oppressive social system. Next, Joe Azbell, city editor of The Montgomery Advertiser, describes the white Southern confederate traditions which shaped Montgomery in the 1950s. Rosa Parks then recalls her protest of bus segregation, and community leader E.D. Nixon speaks about the desire for social change. Next is a discussion of the black community's successful one-day bus boycott in Montgomery, which grew into a year-long boycott and gained national recognition, eventually reaching the Supreme Court. The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rufus Lewis of the Montgomery Improvement Association, and JoAnn Robinson of the Women's Political Council describe the dedicated, cooperative work that fueled the boycott, and Coretta Scott King recalls Martin Luther King, Jr.'s involvement in the movement. Montgomery residents Georgia Gilmore and Donie Jones give firsthand accounts of the church mass meetings, led by Abernathy and King, and comment on practical aspects of the boycott. Also included are quotes from speeches by King, Abernathy, and pro-segregation politicians, and footage of boycotters and Ku Klux Klan protest rallies. The episode concludes with information about the results of the boycott and of similar struggles in the South.