Nearly 30 years after it first aired on PBS and at a time when race relations once again dominate the national conversation, the landmark series “Eyes on the Prize" is returning to television.
The 14-part documentary, which chronicled three decades of the civil rights movement, will air starting Sunday night on public television’s World Channel. It will be preceded by an all-new half-hour special, “Eyes on the Prize: Then and Now,” tying the series to the present-day movements such as Black Lives Matter.
The first six episodes covered the decade that began with the murder of Emmett Till and culminated with the triumphant passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965. Broadcast on PBS in 1987, the series earned widespread acclaim, including six Emmy Awards and an Academy Award nomination.
Released in 1990, Part 2 of the series chronicled the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr., the rise of the Black Power movement, conflicts over school desegration in Boston, and the election of Harold Washington as the first African American mayor of Chicago in 1983.
Filmed at a time when many key figures of the era were still alive, the series includes appearances by activists such as Coretta Scott King and Kwame Touré (Stokely Carmichael), as well as segretationists like George Wallace, lending it an immediacy that remains striking even 30 years after it was made.
“Any filmmaker who wants to tell a historical story and a social justice story has to look at ‘Eyes on the Prize’ to see how to do it right,” said Chris Hastings, executive producer of World Channel.
For a time, the series became the focus of a mini-movement of its own, with copyright reformers organizing screenings and illegally sharing downloads of “Eyes on the Prize” online.
Part I finally came out on DVD in 2010, but Part 2 is still not commercially available, making its broadcast all the more noteworthy.
“It’s been a gift to re-air it and have the stories available, because stories are what motivate people,” said Judi Hampton, sister of Henry Hampton, who died in 1998. "I think Henry’s smiling somewhere.”
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