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The Civil Rights Movement: SNCC, and the Making of Eyes on the Prize
Content Session Material

Theme: Social Changes and Social Reform
Topic: The Civil Rights Movement, SNCC, and the Making of
Eyes on the Prize
Date: April 26, 2004
Scholar: Judy Richardson, Senior Producer, Northern Light Productions; Former SNCC member

Overview | Required Reading/Viewing | Reading Questions

Material selected and syllabus created by Judy Richardson, Northern Lights Productions; Former SNCC member


The Civil Rights movement represents one of the most widespread movements for social change in the 20th century. In a period of unparalleled wealth and opportunity in the United States, African Americans (especially in the South) found themselves struggling in much the same way as they had been since the end of Reconstruction. They were disenfranchised, subjected to unprovoked violence at the hands of whites, unable to take advantage of the basic human rights guaranteed to all Americans in the Bill of Rights, and ignored by the U.S. government. Rather than wait for change to come in its own time, African Americans (and some whites) young and old, well-known and not, from the North and the South, began to organize. Those who became part of the Civil Rights movement drew upon the resources of their communities and built upon the efforts of those who had been working for racial equality for years, even as they employed a host of new techniques such as sit-ins and mass marches. The goal was not only to empower African American communities, but to make racial injustice known to other Americans, and to bring about social and legislative change. However, like other movements for social change, this one was neither static nor one-dimensional, and over time--in response to both dramatic successes and continued evidence of racism and segregation-- its leaders, goals, and politics shifted. In this session, scholar, activist, teacher trainer and film producer, Judy Richardson (who was a member of SNCC and who helped produce the 14-hour PBS series "Eyes on the Prize" for Blackside, Inc.) will help us solidify our understanding of the shape of and shifts within the Civil Rights movement over nearly twenty years. She will use sections of "Eyes" to demonstrate various points during our discussion. Judy will also share with us her own experiences with SNCC, speak about the making of "Eyes," and offer ideas about using that film as a teaching tool.

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Required Reading/Viewing


Miller, Laura. Review of A Fragile Freedom: African American Historic Sites, executive producer Judy Richardson. The Public Historian. 25, no.3 (Summer 2003):140-142.

Moses, Robert and Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001. (Chapter 2 "Learning From Ella")

Richardson, Judy. "Reflections and Memories: An Interview with Diane Nash." Footsteps. 2, no.3 (May/June 2000): 24-28.

Richardson, Judy. Review of The Rosa Parks Story and Freedom Song. The Public
25, no. 3 (Summer 2003):142-147.

Richardson, Judy. "Teaching Eyes on the Prize: Teaching Democracy." Social Education 56(6) (October 1992): 341-345.


Note: The three required segments are drawn from both "Eyes on the Prize" and "Eyes on the Prize II," the two parts of the critically-acclaimed 14-part series "Eyes on the Prize." "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965)" is comprised of 6 one-hour segments beginning with the 1954 Supreme Court school desegregation decision and continuing through the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. These segments were produced in the mid 1980s and originally aired in 1987. "Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads (1965-1985)," an 8-part sequel beginning in 1964 with Malcolm X and ending in 1985 with the Chicago election of Mayor Harold Washington. These segments were produced in the late 1980s and originally aired in 1990.

From "Eyes on the Prize"

1. "Awakenings" (1954-1956) - This is the first episode of the series. It discusses the history of segregation in the U.S., focusing on the South, and the impact of the 1954 Supreme Court decision against segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. This episode highlights the Emmett Till murder case and Rosa Parks and the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott.

2. Optional: "Mississippi: Is This America?" (1962-1964)- Focuses on the continuing struggle for civil rights in Mississippi, especially as related to the attempt to bring African Americans into the political process. Details the voter registration drives in 1964 and the anti-civil rights actions that led to the deaths of some of those working for change during "Freedom Summer". Focuses too, on the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and its representatives' attempt to sit in at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

3. Optional: "Fighting Back (1957-1962)" - Focuses on segregation in education in the southern United States. Highlights two specific tests of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1954 against segregation - the case of the Little Rock Nine in 1957 (The integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas), and James Meredith's enrollment as the first black at the University of Mississippi in 1962

From "Eyes on the Prize II"

1. "The Time Has Come" (1964-1966) - The first episode in the Eyes on the Prize II series, this segment explores the urgency and frustration that existed among African Americans in the north and the way in which it was articulated by Malcolm X. The segment traces the trajectory of Malcolm X's influence, both within the movement and outside. The impact of Malcolm X's philosophy on SNCC (as they organized the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama and as they began to call for "Black Power") is brought to the fore.

2. "A Nation of Law?" (1968-1971) - By the late 1960s, the anger in poorer urban areas over charges of police brutality was smoldering. In Chicago, Fred Hampton formed a Black Panther Party Chapter. During this same period, inmates at New York's Attica prison took over the prison in an effort to publicize intolerable conditions.

3. Optional: "The Promised Land (1967-1968)" - Focuses on the final year of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and highlights the fact that in that year the movement turned its attention to the economic issues confronting the nation and the issues of the war in Vietnam. Moved by the increasing level of poverty in America (esp. among minority groups), King and his followers organized the Poor People's Campaign, a march of the poor to Washington, D.C. where they would build Resurrection City. After King's assassination in Memphis in 1968, his followers struggled to maintain the campaign.

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Reading/Viewing Questions

1. What history (or histories) of race relations and what legacy (or legacies) of reform did the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s grow out of and build upon?

2. How did the Montgomery, AL movement differ from previous strategies or movements for civil rights?

3. Was it reasonable for SNCC and the Lowndes County Black community to set up an all-black political party rather than an integrated party?

4. Given the climate of fear in Chicago, was the action taken against the Chicago Panther office a rational act on behalf of Chicago authorities?

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