U.S. Documentary Series

Eyes on the Prize, a critically acclaimed 14-part series on the dealing with the American Civil Rights Movement, was broadcast nationally by the Public Broadcasting Service. The first six programs, Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965) was aired in January and February of 1987. The eight-part sequel, Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads (1965-1985) was broadcast in 1990.

Produced over the course of twelve years by Blackside, Inc., one of the oldest minority-owned film and television production companies in the country, the series received over 23 awards, including two Emmys (for Outstanding Documentary and Outstanding Achievement in Writing), the duPont Columbia Award, the Edward R. Murrow Brotherhood Award for Best National Documentary, the International Documentary Association's Distinguished documentary Award, Program of the Year and Outstanding News Information Program by the Television Critics Association, and the CINE Golden Eagle.

In addition to its positive receptions from television critics and professionals, Eyes on the Prize was also lauded by historians an educators. Using archival footage and contemporary interviews with participants in the struggle for and against Civil Rights, the series presented the movement as multi-faceted. Watched by over 20 million viewers with each airing, it served as an important educational tool, reaching a generation of millions of Americans who have no direct experience with the historic events chronicled. Though the series included such landmark events as the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott of 1955-56, the 1963 March on Washington, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, it also documented the workings of the movement on a grass-roots level, presenting events and individuals often overlooked.

Eyes on the Prize I, narrated by Julian Bond, was launched by the episode entitled "Awakenings." It documents two events that helped focus the nation's attention on the oppression of African American citizens: the lynching of 14 year-old Emmett Till in 1955 and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, motivated by the arrest of Rosa Parks, who refused to relinquish her seat on a public bus to a white person. Parts two through six covered such topics as the key court case, Brown v. the Board of Education, the nationwide expansion of the movement, James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi, the Freedom Rides, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Despite the critical and popular success of the first six episodes, executive producer Henry Hampton had a difficult time raising the six million dollars needed to fund the sequel. The reticence of both corporate and public granting organizations is attributed to the subject matter of Eyes II, issues which the United States has not yet resolved: the rise of the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, the Black Consciousness Movement, the Vietnam War, busing, and Affirmative Action.

-Frances K. Gateward


Barol, Bill. "A Struggle for the Prize: Documenting the Last 20 Years of Civil Rights." Newsweek (New York), 22 August 1988.

"Eyes on Henry Hampton." The New Yorker, 23 January 1995.

Lord, Lewis J. "A Journey to Another time and, to Many, Another World." U.S. News and World Report (Washington, D.C.), 9 March 1987.

Lyon, Danny. "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round: Use and Misuse of the Southern Civil Rights Movement." Aperture (New York), Summer 1989.


See also Documentary; Racism, Ethnicity, and Television