We did not choose particularly popular subjects. But we have to do it because without understanding the nature of history we are weakened in our approach in dealing with any current reality.” — Henry E. Hampton Jr.
Henry Hampton (1940-1998) was a St. Louis native and a 1961 graduate of Washington University. In 1968, he established his Boston-based company Blackside, Inc., which quickly became the largest African-American-owned film production company of its time. Hampton work in documentary film chronicled the 20th century’s great political and social movements focusing on the lives of the poor and disenfranchised.
Hampton originally aspired to be a fiction writer but the circumstances of his life and upbringing in the in the segregated city of St. Louis during the ‘50s and ‘60s led him to his great subject: the civil rights movement. Hampton’s involvement in the 1965 protests in Selma, Alabama created the idea for a film in his mind, but it would take twenty years to bring that story to the twenty million viewers who saw Eyes on the Prize. The series chronicled the epic struggle of unknown heroes, as well as the leaders of the movement. Hampton interviewed key people who had previously been unknown to historians, and he used innovative documentary film techniques to present the story. Decades after its release, Eyes on the Prize is still considered the definitive work on the civil rights movement. The Boston Globe praised the series as “one of the most distinguished documentary series in the history of broadcasting.”
Hampton’s other documentaries include The Great Depression (1993), Malcolm X: Make It Plain (1994), America’s War on Poverty (1995), Breakthrough: The Changing Face of Science in America (1997), I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African-American Arts (1998); Hopes on the Horizon (1999) and This Far by Faith (2003). Hampton and his production company, Blackside, garnered many awards over the years including a Peabody Award in Excellence in broadcast journalism, and episodes of Eyes on the Prize were nominated for an Academy Award and received two Emmy Awards. Beyond the civil rights movement, Hampton’s documentaries cover social justice issues, Africa, poverty, religion, and African-Americans in the arts and science.
The 35,000-plus items in the Henry Hampton Collection include unique filmed interviews with key figures in the civil rights movement. As is true for most film productions, the outtakes often comprise the bulk of the material, and these interviews represent a vast resource. The digital projects, Eyes on the Prize: The Complete Interviews and The Great Depression Interviews, make the content of these interviews available to scholars, researchers and historians. Other material includes rare stock footage, photographs, scripts, storyboards, producers’ notes, correspondence, film production elements, study guides, books and other materials. There are many treasures in the Hampton Collection and the materials are a rich resource for anyone interested in the process of filmmaking and the wide subject matter Hampton delved into in this work.
Washington University Libraries will preserve and promote the Henry Hampton Collection for educational and scholarly use by students, faculty, and filmmakers as well as by institutions and individuals in the surrounding community and beyond.