I watched the first series (programmes 1-6) many years ago when it was broadcast on BBC television and then caught up with the rest of the others (programmes 7- 14) on DVD. It made me realise how little I knew about Civil Rights struggle in the USA. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were well known to this British school boy but this documentary series showed that the movement was wider, deeper and full of more pain and suffering.
Julian Bond narrates the series. I came to love and respect his voice as he calmly detailed the battles fought for dignity by African-Americans throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. I had no idea that he, himself, played a major part in the campaigns for equality.
The first series covered the period 1954- 1965. This was a period of great change but also great resistance by majority populations that felt threatened by any improvement to the living conditions of black people. The second series took the story on to 1985 and covered key issues and events such as Muhammad Ali’s fight for recognition, the Black Panther movement and the election of Harold Washington as the Mayor of Chicago.
Like all documentary series that make use of talking heads this has the poignancy of hearing from the people involved but what places this particular series in the highest echelons of the form is the use of ‘ordinary’ people who were involved.
Since November 8th, I have felt somewhat conflicted about the USA. As a British person I am aware that it isn’t my country but it is a country that has always fascinated me and its history in particular has inspired me. On November 9th I wanted to turn my back on it and all its works. Yet, ‘Eyes on the Prize’ reminds me that there are Americans who serve to inspire.