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NAACP Chairman Recalls Work on Civil Rights Documentary

Following a reprise of the documentary "Eyes on the Prize" that chronicled the civil rights movement in America, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who was part of the movement and the narrator of the series, discusses the series' significance after 20 years.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, a reprise of “Eyes on the Prize,” and to Gwen Ifill.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Nearly 20 years ago, PBS first aired “Eyes on the Prize II,” a follow-up to the landmark series that chronicled the modern history of the civil rights movement in America.

    The eight one-hour episodes have rarely been seen since, the results of a decades-long dispute over rights to the material. The series has finally returned, airing on PBS stations throughout Black History Month.

    “Eyes on the Prize” captures much of the turbulence of the times in historical footage and interviews. In this portion, we see the very different approaches preacher Martin Luther King, Jr., and activist Stokely Carmichael brought to a 1965 Mississippi protest march.

  • NARRATOR:

    It had been almost a year since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, but white resistance remained strong. In Mississippi alone, more than 300,000 blacks were not registered to vote.

    James Meredith, the first black person to enroll at the University of Mississippi, was determined to change all that. On June 5, 1966, Meredith left Memphis, Tenn., prepared to walk 220 miles to Jackson, Miss. He called it a March Against Fear.

  • JAMES MEREDITH, first African-American enrollee at University of Mississippi:

    To point out and challenge, if necessary, this all-pervasive and overriding fear that’s so much a part of the day-to-day life of the negro in this country, and especially in Mississippi.

  • NARRATOR:

    On the second day of his march, James Meredith was shot from ambush.

  • REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., civil rights leader:

    We, as you know, have been greatly concerned about the shooting of James Meredith. We have expressed that.

  • NARRATOR:

    Leaders of major civil rights organizations rushed to Memphis, Tenn., where James Meredith was hospitalized. They vowed to continue the march for him.

  • REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING:

    And something needs to be done to make it clear that we’re not going to be stopped, we’re not going to be intimidated.

  • NARRATOR:

    From the start, there was conflict.

  • REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING:

    If we’re going to be free, we will have to suffer for that freedom. We will have to sacrifice for it.

  • STOKELY CARMICHAEL, civil rights activist:

    But I’m not going to beg the white man for anything that I deserve. I’m going to take it. We need power. We need power. That’s what we need. We need power, just like everybody else.

  • FLOYD MCKISSICK, first black student, UNC Law School:

    I think it was more of a youth movement in all of the organizations asserting themselves far more than it was competition among leaders themselves. It was a clash of ideas, no question about a clash of ideas.

  • NARRATOR:

    The leaders began marching at the point where Meredith had been shot. Mississippi State troopers forcefully prevented them from marching on the road surface. Carmichael, angered by this rough handling, stepped forward to retaliate, but Dr. King restrained him.

  • STOKELY CARMICHAEL:

    We’ve got to realize the white folk in the state of Mississippi ain’t nothing but a bunch of racists. And the only people who can stop them are the black folk in Mississippi.

    Now, we’ve got to make this march our march. This has got to be the march for the black people in Mississippi. And the only way we can make that our march is that we’ve got to go into every little place and get every black man and black woman, black boy and black girl out, who’s not afraid. And let’s march, and let’s make this our Mississippi.

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