On the very first page of his book Voices of Freedom, Hampton addresses the reader “We are privileged in this life, if we are given the opportunity to do important work…work that touches our fellow human beings in a positive and uplifting way.” Writing about the recently completed Eyes on the Prize series, Hampton acknowledges the significance of his project, which chronicles the history of the civil rights movement from 1954 to the mid-1980’s, and the stories of those individuals who led, organized, and were caught up in the extraordinary events of those times. Hampton and his team at Blackside were cognizant of the importance of their work and the powerful lessons of this history was not lost on them, as evidenced by the meticulous detail in which they gathered their stories and documented their processes.
As Hampton felt privileged, we at the Film & Media Archive similarly feel privileged to have the opportunity to do the important work of preserving his collection. It is amazing to run down the exhaustive list of awards, doctorate degrees, and recognition bestowed upon Hampton in his lifetime. However, to spend a day of organizing, processing, or conducting research in his collection can overwhelm you, yet it is only then can his achievements truly be appreciated. Few people who spend any significant time in the archive are not affected and inspired by the power of the materials he has gathered and created. Hampton put excellence and innovation at the forefront of his work and he challenges us, by himself taking on the challenge of “doing difficult history” to take action to make a difference.
The thoroughness and thoughtfulness that went into a Hampton/Blackside production is evident in the materials that make up his archive. Like Voices of Freedom, which came about because only a fraction of the materials that Hampton gathered could be used in the finished televised program, his collection demands continual assessment and generation of resources that inform, inspire, and move people.
It is in this vein in which this page will be used. While first conceived to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Hampton’s untimely death, it will continue in the future to celebrate his life and work. Each month the page will spotlight audio, video, or photos which exhibit some aspect of Hampton’s work and genius.
A video produced by Washington University’s Film and Media Archive introducing the Henry Hampton Collection, and its contents including film, video, manuscript and research materials.
For more information about this speech, please contact Special Collections.
Presented by Bob Hohler
University Libraries National Council Meeting
Washington University in St. Louis
September 20, 2002
One spring afternoon in 1963, Royal Cloyd and I were sitting in his fifth floor office at 25 Beacon Street, the home of the Unitarian Universalist Association atop historic Beacon Hill. As head of the denomination’s Adult Programs division, Royal had been my first boss at the UUA and he was a wonderful colleague, mentor and friend. He had just arrived back from a trip to New York where he’d been interviewing candidates for an expanded information department. He’d asked me to help him.
“Well. I think I’ve got someone I’d like you to interview tomorrow.”
“Wow, that was fast.”
“Yeah, well, actually I met him in a cab on the way here from the airport.”
“Oh, this wasn’t somebody you interviewed in New York then?”
“No. But we did grab a cup of coffee and talked for a while. About poetry mostly. He shut off the meter.”
“You interviewed the cab driver?”
Royal smiled, his wide toothy smile. “Uh-huh. Very interesting guy. I think he said something about studying for his MA in English at BU. I thought he’d be a good editor. See what you think.”
The cab driver, of course, was Henry Hampton. Recently graduated from Wash U, Pre-Med and English Lit, he’d taken a stab at Medical School, McGill in Montreal, but found he’d little appetite for medicine’s strict routine. Instead, he thought he wanted to be a writer, so ended up in Boston and BU, but at the point when we met him, that is on hold. Because he isn’t sure what he wants to do – at 23 few do -young, energetic, very bright and as far as work goes, still mightily undisciplined. Henry is a newcomer to the city, likes what he sees and decides to get more familiar with it. So, he does the logical thing. He starts driving a cab, and lo and behold, in hardly the blink of an eye, he gets Royal Cloyd as a fare. They begin a discussion that day that lasts off and on for 35 years.
In a matter of days Henry’s career as a cab driver is at an end (I think he’d been emulating the hero of The Razor’s Edge) and he started work as the editor of the Annual Year Book of the UUA. In a matter of months, serendipity at work in a big time kind of way, the recently hired director of public information is fired and Henry takes his place. At 24 Henry becomes the youngest African American professional to hold a major post in a major Protestant denomination.
And Henry’s religious background? Catholic. I don’t believe anyone bothered to ask or thought it was important. Henry fit right in. This was, after all, a place centered on the search for truth and understanding. A continuing, never-ending quest. There is the old joke: Those on the road to the Pearly Gates will come across two signs: One reads “This way to heaven.” The other reads “This way to a discussion about heaven.” There is no ques-tion which road Henry and those who worked around him would pick.
Henry was the product of a Jesuit high school education, trained in rhetoric and reasoning and the rigorous experience sharpened an already tough analytical intelligence. A graduate of Wash U, he got a broad exposure to science and liberal arts with a deep grounding in poetry and literature. So he had substantial intellectual assets to go with this well-honed capacity to argue any side of any issue. This he could do and did his entire life.
There is an intriguing symmetry to all of this, a design almost, which, if you were of a mystical bent, which I am not, would suggest that the happy accident which connected Henry to the UUA was no accident at all. I just happen to think we, those of us who knew and loved Henry, who worked with him, who benefited from his work, indeed, a country which benefited from his work, all of us were terribly lucky. Just think: he could have picked up someone from Polaroid or Houghton Mifflin or, heaven help us, Harvard, and ended up at one of these estimable institutions.
But then he wouldn’t have served his apprenticeship in a place where he joined a small band of friends and brothers, answering a desperate appeal from Dr. King and boarding a plane for Selma Alabama on a cold, gray day in March of 1965.
He wouldn’t have marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge arm in arm with the women and men who lived and worked in Selma and heard their stories and seen their courage.
He wouldn’t have felt the fear and rage of facing the batons and guns of an armed posse dedicated to keeping him and others of his race in his place.
He wouldn’t have had the gut wrenching memory of how he’d failed to persuade our friend and colleague, Jim Reeb, and others to climb on a bus out of Selma that day – and to learn only hours later that Jim had been set upon and fatally beaten.
Nor would he have had the opportunity to learn how to turn anger and sorrow into finely honed, disciplined action – action that directly helped to pass the Voting Rights Act later that year, an act that changed the face of the south and the face of America.
Henry was changed that year. We all were. He and we were put on a steep learning curve, finding ways to understand, to listen, to put discipline and power and make difference in people’s lives. In a fateful march to a fateful year – 1967 – he developed the ability to navigate though the force fields that raced across the nation and the world. Vietnam and the complex myriad of movements to find a decent end to a calamitous war; the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the attempt to find meaning and direction from their work and sacrifice; the drive toward the empowerment of African Americans, women, youth, gays, and the search for consonance out of the massive collision of aspiration and values. This was a time and he was in an arena where all of these forces were converged and circling one another. As a communications officer and as an activist, as a writer and editor, filmmaker and poet, interpreter and analyst, facilitator and conciliator Henry was in the middle of it all. Later, people would say to me that one of the striking things about Henry was his capacity to listen, to hear even in the silences. This is where he learned it. I think of this five-year period as the equivalent of Henry’s doctoral program.
There’s not the particle of a doubt in my mind that if Henry had not connected with Royal Cloyd that day, he still would have found his own unique and powerful way to contribute to and enrich our world – a photographer, poet, playwright, teacher or scores of other callings. He would have excelled. But Henry found himself while swimming in this mid-sixties Petrie dish; he discovered the power of film and decided that as a filmmaker he could combine all of his interests and concerns.
So, he left the association to form a film production company he named Blackside on June 28, 1968. Henry would never again work for anyone else. In effect, other than a few part-time jobs – as a young man he once drove a Mr. Frostee Truck – his stint at the association was the only time someone else wrote his paycheck.
From the age of 28 until he died at 58, he followed the independent and often daunting path of independent filmmaking. For the first ten years Blackside concentrated on producing industrial training and government sponsored films – his company became a tremendously fertile training ground for young filmmakers, black and white. Perhaps the best work out of this period was a film created to attract minority youths into medicine called CODE BLUE. It was a close and gritty look at work and routines in the ER and was years ahead of its time.CODE BLUE circulated to communities, schools and colleges for more than twenty years and won many awards.
In 1978 Capital City Communications, a media conglomerate on the way to buying ABC, was polishing its public service image. It invited production proposals from minority owned production companies. Henry and his staff discussed possibilities and he proposed a series on the civil rights movement. He told them of his Selma experience, of walking across that bridge and thinking what a great, dramatic film it would make. Telling the story through the eyes of the people who lived it. In fact, telling the entire story of the civil rights movement from their point of view.
They proposed the project to Cap Cities and called it America -We Loved You Madly. Blackside won the contract. The project was conceptualized as 26 half-hour commercial TV programs. Henry and his producers and writers set about gathering material, criss crossing the south, interviewing and researching. It became very clear, though, that Cap Cities and Blackside were about two very different kinds of television. This was the era of Watergate and the height of investigatory journalism. Cap Cities wanted riveting, exposé material.
Steve Fayer, Henry’s longtime scriptwriter and executive producer, recalls, “They had wanted us to make news – to reveal the story behind the story. But we had faith in the history. The history was the story. We tried to tell them no one had ever tried to see it through the eyes of ordinary citizens, for the first time we could hear their stories, and that we were being given a unique privilege.” But Cap Cities was more interested in “gotcha” journalism and the two companies were never able to resolve their differing ap-proaches. The project was shut down in 1979, the early interviews and documentary footage stored away.
The Cap Cities meltdown wasn’t the only reversal for Blackside. The US government had been the country’s largest sponsor of independent films, but with the election in 1980 of Ronald Reagan; new policies drastically reduced US participation in the film production business. This was a body blow to Blackside, but one from which it could have recovered, since the business also had a sizable commercial side and could have expanded its ad agency and corporate productions. But Henry saw this as a dead end. He wanted more independence, not less. He didn’t want to produce work for somebody else; he wanted to create his own work. He wanted to develop his own voice, follow his own vision, so over the next few years he intentionally shrank the company and began exploring new directions.
By the end of 1982 it looked as if he may have gone too far. Blackside was little more than a shell, a company in debt with one employee, Henry Hampton. Bankruptcy was surely lurking around the corner. Would he keep the company going or go on to other things?
Have I said that Henry was tenacious? He had never let go of the civil rights idea. And maybe the idea wouldn’t let him go. Who knows? His problem was finding a way to do it.
In addition to his tenacity, Henry had another entrepreneurial quality. He was persuasive. Listen to Steve Fayer again. “Henry called me in the summer of 1983, long after I’d left Blackside. He told me he wanted to resurrect the civil rights series. I told him to save his money. We’d failed once, it was clear nobody gave a damn about that struggle. Especially our conception of it. Somehow, I don’t know how, he talked me into working on it again.”
Henry and Steve spent a sweltering summer in the basement of a South End tenement. The team also included Judy Richardson, a budding film-maker and SNCC veteran of the 60s and Davis Lacy, another young talent. They put together several film treatments and created a demonstration reel – an 8-minute sampler – from the stored footage. Judy gave Henry a list of 25 or 30 Freedom Song titles and he chose Eyes on the Prize for the series.
Henry also drew on the advice of Michael Ambrosino, a close friend and the original producer of the successful documentary science series, NOVA. Michael guided Henry into and through the world of public television sponsorship. Henry widened his circle to include Ruth Batson, the founder of METCO, one of the most successful inner city to suburb school integration programs in the country. Ruth helped Henry find local supporters and boosters for the project. Henry called her the midwife for the series. Another key networker was Peter Karoff, a successful businessman who later founded The Philanthropic Initiative, a firm that gives philanthropic advice to people of wealth. A good friend to have.
Then finally, into this mix Henry stirred a group of friends, that included Jack Mendelsohn, a writer and prominent Unitarian minister, Joe Breiteneicher of The Beacon Companies, Digital Corporation V.P. Erline Belton, myself and Ruth. We formed a non-profit entity called The Civil Rights Project, Inc. to serve as the fund raising arm and steward of any archival material that might be produced out of these productions. Soon added were the wise voices of historian Vincent Harding, urban sociologist Jim Jennings, Dean Rob Hollister of Tufts University and Dean Jim McLeod of Washington University in St. Louis.
By fall of 1986 a new Blackside has risen out of the ashes of the old. Grants and gifts to support its signature project began to flow into CRPI to sup-port the venture, fitfully at first, but then as more and more as funders like the Ford Foundation and business executives like Stanley Goldstein caught Henry’s vision there was enough, just enough to produce the series.
Eventually 35 men and women would come to Blackside to work on Eyes. Almost all were young and with the exception of Judith Vecchione, who had previously worked on the landmark the Vietnam Series for WGBH, their experience in creating a complex and sustained historical documentary series was next to nil. Remarkably, Henry and this team of young and inexperienced filmmakers, working from scratch, created a process that would become a kind of gold standard or best practice for a new kind of television.
The process included:
“The energetic use and involvement of advisers – historians and experts – who served as the faculty of schools in which writers and producers were expected to try out and defend their ideas, approaches and theories. Henry knew full well that excellence comes from the healthy abrasion of good minds.The creation of production teams that paired white and black producers and editors, so that the series point of view was not the white point of view or the black point of view, but the right point of view. The insistence on proof-basing every fact, not once, but at least twice, and often three times. “We weren’t going to fail because we took short cuts in our scholarship”, says Steve Fayer, who was the series principal writer. Henry’s insistence on making sure that the other side had its voice – there’s that Jesuit training again. Most importantly, telling the stories through the eyes of the people who were there and who experienced it first hand – ordinary people, who showed extraordinary courage, resilience and fortitude. The question, they asked was “Have we told their stories fair and square?” because that’s how you got to the truth of a thing. “These formulas,” Henry said a few months before he died, “are not magic, but they are powerful and important . . . They make all the difference in the way history is told.” The scores of film producers, writers, editors and technicians who developed these formulas with Henry went on to use them in creating their own works. They continue to do so today. As a society we are much the richer because of their contributions to our understanding of who and what we are. This is a living part of Henry’s legacy.
The series was done in two stages, Eyes I, six programs, released in 1987 had a tremendous impact and won the prestigious DuPont-Columbia Gold Baton; Eyes II released two and a half years later in eight parts, did nearly as well and won the Silver Baton. Collectively the series garnered a clutch of Peabody awards and Emmys and even an Academy Award nomination. Perhaps even more important, Eyes became an active part of the history or social sciences curriculum of over 35% of the colleges and universities in America. Thousands of high school and grammar school classes have used it and continue to use it. It was translated and reformatted for the European markets. A two-hour version was circulated in Asia.
As Norman Boucher wrote in 1988, “The film footage the production staff collected, sometimes as it was about to be thrown away, comprises an archive that no serious historian of the civil rights movement can now ignore.” I can’t imagine what he’d say today, 14 years later as we survey a body of work that spans not only the civil rights era, but also the Great Depression and America’s War on Poverty. Include in this the historical overviews of the black artist in the twentieth century, the life of Malcolm X and soon, the black religious experience in America. What a treasure. There simply isn’t enough time to do this justice. So let’s say two things in conclusion.
First, Henry’s life and work illustrate brilliantly the James Baldwin insight I came across a few days ago: “History”, Baldwin said, “does not refer merely, or even principally to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us and are unconsciously controlled by it.” What distinguishes Henry is that, like Baldwin, he harnessed that force to help us search for deeper understanding and truth.
Second, there is a wonderful symmetry to housing this great body of work at Washington University. Henry loved his alma mater and took a deep and justifiable pride in his roots. His work has come home to a place where people really understand its value and are prepared to use it in ways that will resonate through the ages.
Finally, the next time you take a cab be sure to have a conversation with the driver. You never know who may be behind the wheel and where that con-versation may take you.
– Bob Hohler 9/20/02
Later this evening, following a dinner celebrating Henry Hampton’s life and work, Bob Hohler made the following toast:
When Henry died, our dear comrade and brother, the great historian and teacher, Vincent Harding asked:
“Who is left to change the world?”
“We are left to tell the old story.
We are left to keep creating the new one.
We are left to keep our eyes on the prize.”
We are left, Henry. You can count on us, just as we could always count on you . . .
Amen, Selah, Salaam Aliakem. Right on.”
Carry on the legacy.
The Henry Hampton Celebration
Julian Bond delivered the keynote address for the opening fo the Film and Media Archive. Bond talked about his work with Hampton on Eyes on the Prize, and the continuing significance of Hampton’s work. The opening remarks were delivered by Shirley K. Baker, Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Dean of University Libraries, and Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and Professor of English and African and African-American Studies introduced Mr. Bond.
This event was sponsored by Washington University Libraries to celebrate the acquisition of the Henry Hampton Collection.
Transcript of Keynote Address by Julian Bond
Graham Chapel, Washington University in St. Louis
6 p.m., September 20, 2002
Shirley K. Baker, Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Dean of University Libraries, Washington University
Good afternoon. I am Shirley Baker, and I’m delighted to welcome you all here to Washington University. We are here to celebrate the life and work of Henry Hampton, Washington University alumnus and acclaimed documentary filmmaker. We’re also here to celebrate the arrival of the collection that Henry amassed during his career as a filmmaker, the arrival of that collection here at Washington University. The timing of this celebration is propitious for several reasons, including that this is the Campus Week of Dialogue on Race Relations, and you will have met some of the students from that effort who were passing out programs at the door.
Let me talk a little about Henry Hampton. Henry’s connections with the University and with St. Louis were very strong, and many here in the community valued his visits. I met him myself probably 10 or 11 years ago when Jim McLeod brought him by to make sure I would meet this important person. Through his film production company, Blackside, Incorporated, Henry Hampton documented the twentieth century’s great political and social movements, focusing on the lives of the poor and the disenfranchised. The films, scripts, photographs, storyboards, interviews, equipment, music, and other materials in his collection will be the basis of scholarly and popular study of these movements for centuries.
In recognizing Henry Hampton’s documentary work, I am reminded of an equally influential man from more than two centuries ago – printer and patriot Isaiah Thomas. Now, one of my sports-minded friends told me that I must tell you upfront that I am not talking about Indiana basketball player Isaiah Thomas, but the Isaiah Thomas who was the publisher of The Massachusetts Spy in the Revolutionary War period. Thomas was deeply involved with the Sons of Liberty. His network of post riders, who distributed his newspapers throughout Massachusetts, helped distribute news and sound the alarm about the Revolution. Once the Revolution began, Thomas moved his printing press from Boston to Wooster, Massachusetts, 40 or 50 miles away and beyond the reach of the British who were occupying Boston.
Thomas knew everyone. He knew John Hancock, Sam and John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, everyone. Thomas also realized the importance of the founding of the new nation, and he set out to document it. He created, through his efforts – collecting newspapers, manuscripts, anything he could get his hands on the Antiquarian Society – the finest library of the period, still extant and the source for much of the research on the founding of our nation. We all know that one of the failings of the founders was their inability to deal with issues of race. This would come back to haunt us.
Henry Hampton was a witness to and a participant in the civil rights movement, the momentous effort to address the unfinished work of our founders. The films that Henry created will stand as the central documents of this period, and the collection he amassed on the civil rights movement and other social justice issues is the raw material for the study of these movements, in the media of the period. Like Isaiah Thomas, Henry Hampton was the documenter of world-shaping events and his collection will be a primary source for the study of this period for all time.
That this collection would come to Washington University is a great honor. We in the University and the Libraries and our faculty dedicate ourselves to proving worthy of that honor. We librarians are used to accepting our role as preserver of the record of civilization, but much of the time that role consists of amassing the important but non-unique books and journals on our shelves. Seldom does a library have the opportunity to identify and to preserve and support access to a one-of-a-kind collection documenting events that define the century. This inspired us, with overwhelming University and faculty support, to pull out all the stops to bring this collection here. Having made our case successfully to the Civil Rights Project and having beaten out the Library of Congress, among others desirous of having this collection, we built a film archive in our West Campus Library and hired a talented staff to manage the archive. Now we are unpacking the three trailer truckloads of material. It’s like Christmas everyday seeing what’s in there. And we’re getting that material ready for use and trying to both hold off the faculty and students and serve them at the same time.
New curricula, student papers, dissertations, books, new views of an important period will emerge from the Henry Hampton Collection as students and scholars explore this heavy resource. We celebrate today the beginning of that flow of ideas.
Please join me as we watch this short film on Henry Hampton, and then we’ll have the pleasure of hearing from Julian Bond, a man of many accomplishments and a familiar voice as narrator of the award-winning Blackside production Eyes on the Prize. Thank you. (applause)
Showing of a six-minute excerpt from a videotaped interview with Henry Hampton, in which he talks about his career as a documentary film maker.
Introduction of Julian Bond
Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and Professor of English and African and African-American Studies, Washington University
Good evening. I was in one of Henry Hampton’s documentaries; it was I’ll Make Me a World. I’ve been in several documentaries – Ken Burns, I was in a couple of his – but I don’t think I enjoyed being interviewed as much as I was when I was interviewed for the Henry Hampton piece. He talked to me for about two hours. I really enjoyed it, because he asked me such penetrating questions, and questions I really enjoyed answering. So I feel especially pleased to be here this evening.
For many young people who were deeply involved in the civil rights movement at its most dramatic, from 1955 to 1970, this era was the high point of their life. All of American history since those days seems a form of declension, even a kind of decadence, and for some perhaps a betrayal. It is inevitable that those young activists of the 1950s and 60s should feel this way. It was not simply that they were cursed to live in an interesting time, but that they actually changed history through their passionate sense of idealism and the extraordinary scope of their commitment. If we cannot say that this generation of young people was the greatest generation, we can certainly say that they were a special generation, perhaps the most privileged generation of young people in history, many of whom took seriously Jesus’s observation that to whom much is given much is expected. It was the generation that was weaned on television and atomic bomb tests, space exploration and rock and roll, Bergman films and Sidney Poitier, the Cold War and the slow decline of the Western as an art form.
The number of young, black people who shaped our national consciousness in those days, black people under the age of 35, was remarkable: Mohammed Ali, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, a young Alice Walker, Herbie Hancock, among many others, including a young man who came out of Atlanta by the name of Julian Bond. The son of the renowned educator and scholar Dr. Horace Mann Bond, Julian Bond was born in Nashville, grew up in Pennsylvania, and attended Morehouse College, a school that has given us an array of black men from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Spike Lee.
It was while a student at Morehouse that Bond helped to found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – SNCC – in 1960, becoming the organization’s communication director. He was soon involved in voter registration drives in rural Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi. His story reminds us of the vital role that HBCU’s – historically black colleges and universities – played in the civil rights movement, how much their students provided the leadership, the manpower, the vision, the idealism of the era of Freedom Now. Historian John Hill Franklin called HBCU’s “islands of civility in an often-savage South.” They were certainly, during these days, places of hope and courage.
Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965 in a special election, but was denied his seat because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was elected again in 1966 and denied again for the same reason. He was elected yet again in 1966. This time he won his seat through a court challenge and finally was able to participate in the Georgia House. He was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1974, leaving office in 1987. During his tenure in the Georgia Assembly, he sponsored over 60 pieces of legislation. He managed to combine in his career as a politician and in his career as a grassroots organizer with SNCC both the ability to work inside and outside the system and in many ways was as important a black politician during that time as Carl Stokes, Kenneth Gibson, Gary Hatcher, and Coleman Young.
Bond became president of Morris Dees’ the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971. He has been awarded honorary degrees and has held a number of teaching positions at several of our major institutions of higher learning. He has been an essayist and a poet. He hosted America’s Black Forum, the oldest black-owned show in television syndication, from 1980 to 1997. And he was the narrator for the acclaimed PBS series Henry Hampton’s Eyes on the Prize. He is currently chairman of the board of the NAACP.
My oldest sister, who started the Black Student Union at Temple University in 1964 was a member of SNCC and has for many years taught English in Philadelphia’s public schools. She always asked people when she speaks of those days in the 1960s, “Were you there?” And it reminds me of that great Negro spiritual that I heard so much in those days, the great song of witness. My sister is my ultimate hero, wiser and braver than I’ll ever be. And Julian Bond was one of my heroes, for when I saw his lean, intelligent, compassionate face on television, I thought there was so much in the world worth fighting for, so much to believe in.
When I remember those days of my boyhood, just like the words of that spiritual, it makes me want to tremble. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Julian Bond.
Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, narrator of Eyes on the Prize
Thank you a great deal, Professor Early for that kind, kind introduction. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your warm welcome. It is a great, great pleasure to be here. And a great pleasure to be introduced by a renowned scholar and insightful commentator on the past and the present, and a pleasure to be in his company once again.
We’re here, as you all know, to celebrate the acquisition of the Henry Hampton Collection by the Washington University Libraries. There could be no more fitting place for it than inside the walls where his early life was shaped and formed. Someone once said that Henry Hampton’s life and work reminds us that Gil Scott-Heron was wrong in saying, “The revolution will not be televised.” Henry brought the revolution into American homes, indeed to homes and schools around the world. He was mentor, guide, and teacher for a generation of film makers and film editors. He gave many their start, and he set high standards for them in a business where that is not always the case. He was a friend and counselor and inspiration to many. He did much, much more than bring Eyes on the Prize to life – 40 projects in all – but it is Eyes I want to talk about now.
A friend of mine who’s just received a Fulbright to study and teach in Montenegro is taking the Eyes on the Prize series with him, and now Montenegrans will be thrilled, horrified, excited, dismayed and most of all uplifted by the stories Henry Hampton brought to the small screen.
He began Eyes, as you know, as a commercial project for ABC Cap Cities, and I was to be the on-screen narrator, describing movement scenes for a viewing audience as archival film and interviews with participants carried the story forward. And so we went to Montgomery, Alabama, and Henry poised me in the balcony of the Holt Street Baptist Church, where on December 5, 1955, at the first meeting of the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King made his first-ever civil rights speech. And we traveled to Selma, and in the early morning mist, I stood at the apex of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and intoned, in my best and deepest television voice, the words Henry had given me. And then we went to Money, Mississippi, and I stood on the Tallahatchie River banks at the spot where Emmett Till’s body had been discovered, and I did a stand-up in front of the store where young Till had sealed his fate by saying “Bye, baby” to the wife of the storekeeper. And as I stood there, my back to the road, pickup trucks with shotguns in their windows rolled slowly by and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood up. But I remember thinking, “This is going to be great. And I’m going to be the person that introduces viewers to all this drama. I’m going to be the person who serves as master of ceremonies on the great stage where twentieth century America’s greatest and most exciting dramas will unfold. Everybody’s going to see me.” Well, that project didn’t succeed.
When Henry was able to raise some of the funds he needed to begin again, he asked me once again if I would be the narrator. And I say some of the funds, because he didn’t have the money when he began and he didn’t have the money when he was halfway through and, had he not mortgaged his home, he wouldn’t have had the money to finish. But find the money he did, and he asked me again if I’d be the narrator. But he told me the on-screen narration did not work. The on-screen narrator would intrude between the viewer and the images and the sounds. It would be the narrator’s story, and not the story of the women and men who made the movie. And he knew exactly how to get me to agree. He told me that I often appeared in some of the archival film that they’d rescued from the basements and wastebaskets of television stations, but as the narrator I couldn’t appear both on-screen and off-screen. Instead, I’d have to be an off-screen presence and my image would never appear. And Henry told me I had a choice. I could have my image appear for fleeting seconds in one or two of the hours of the series or I could have my voice appear in all. Well, it was easy to agree. And of course he was right. No one could have appeared on-screen in this series without serving as a major distraction from the story, because for Henry the story was paramount.
When the series was nearly finished, he sent me what they call a “slop copy,” a rough unfinished version that showed all the pictures with the electronic time codes running across the bottom, like titles on a foreign picture, with narration by Judy Richardson. I’d never done any narrations of this sort before. I thought I’d sit in a studio and watch the film, let’s say a scene of Martin Luther King walking up a hill, and I’d say, “Martin Luther King walks up the hill.” Of course, it doesn’t work that way. But after we’d finished the first and at the end of the second installment, Henry gave me a great gift. There was a scene from Atlanta of Mayor Maynard Jackson fighting Muhammad Ali, and I was the referee. This was an exhibition fight, three rounds, and at the middle of the third round, I could hear Muhammad Ali say to Mayor Jackson, “Hit me, hit me!” And I looked at the Mayor, and I could tell he didn’t want to hit Muhammad Ali. And Muhammad Ali said, “Hit me, hit me!” And the Mayor wouldn’t hit him. And Muhammad Ali threw a punch at him, and the punch stopped fractions from the Mayor’s nose. I could see the Mayor’s eyes just widen until they were as big as saucers, and he must have said to himself, “I’ve got to hit him.” So he hit him, and Muhammad Ali fell backwards, and I counted him out. So I got to appear both on-screen and off-screen, and I’m forever thankful to Henry Hampton for immortalizing my appearance in the ring.
Now, the narrator appears when all of the work is done, when all of the interviews have been done, all of the archival film has been edited, all of the pieces have been put together. The narrator adds very, very little to the finished product. But I am forever proudly identified this project, and I take full credit for the whole thing.
So many others are also grateful to Henry Hampton. He memorialized the movement for civil rights as no one had before, and now as no one need do again. I’ve used it in my classes at every institution where I’ve taught, as do many teachers around the country and around the world. A judge even sentenced a hate crimes perpetrator to watch Eyes on the Prize and write an essay about it. Parents buy it for their children and sit with them as they see it. It’s a tireless reminder of what a committed people can do with few resources except their own determination can do under harsh circumstances. And it’s a reminder of what we can do now. Henry Hampton told America stories about itself, and I want to tell a story now.
We’re meeting here one week after the first anniversary of a terrible day in American life and history, the slaughter of nearly 3,000 innocents, the sudden loss of security which we all felt, and the beginning of a war against terrorism without any apparent end. Now we know America’s twin towers – freedom and justice – are still standing. It’s our job to keep upright what others would weaken and destroy. America is strongest when she is just and fiercest when her people are free. Now, those who died on September 11th were a diverse group – most Americans, but they died with people from over 50 countries, from Chile to Zimbabwe. That’s why they called it the World Trade Center. Among the Americans were blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, Christians, Muslims, Jews, as diverse in death as we are in life. One of those who escaped from the World Trade Center, said, “If you’d seen what it was like in that stairway, you would be proud. There was no gender, no race, no religion. It was everyone helping each other.” But away from that stairway and back in America’s streets, there is gender, there is race, there is religion. Since the attacks, people who look like Muslims or Arabs have been harassed, assaulted, and even killed. On the Saturday following that terrible Tuesday, in Mesa, Arizona, a gunman shot to death the Sikh owner of a gas station, fired on a Lebanese clerk at work and an Afghan family at home. When he was arrested, the suspect said, “I’m a patriot, I’m a damn American all the way.” What he really is is a damned fool.
Less than a week after the attacks, President George W. Bush went to the Washington Islamic Center. Standing in his stockinged feet, the President vowed to prevent hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in the wake of these attacks. And he renewed this vow on the first anniversary of the attacks. And so our nation’s two stated goals – retaliation against terrorists abroad and promotion of tolerance here at home – are reminiscent of the Double V campaign waged by blacks during the World War II. It symbolized victory against fascism abroad and racism here at home. With the events of September 11, we realize we have yet not achieved either victory, not yet against tyranny abroad and not yet against racism here at home. Just as the enemy called terrorism is more difficult to identify and punish, so is discrimination a more elusive target today. No more signs read “White” and “Colored.” The law now requires the voting booth and schoolhouse door to swing open for everyone. No longer are they closed to those whose skins are black. But despite impressive increases in the number of black people holding public office, despite our ability to seat, eat, ride, vote, go to school in places that used to bar black faces, in some important ways, non-white Americans face problems more difficult to attack now than in all the years that went before.
For many African-Americans, the 90s were more financial bust than boom. As the economic uncertainties and layoffs continue to mount, the last hired becomes the first fired, joining unemployment rolls already populated by twice the percentages of blacks than whites. Income inequality – already greater here than in any industrial democracy – has steadily widened. Last year civil rights forces were warning that great harm would come from the foolish, risky tax bill. Now it’s become clear that our warnings were absolutely right. The tax break didn’t stimulate economic growth. It didn’t provide tax relief for most Americans. In fact, it succeeded only in fulfilling the worst predictions of those who opposed it. It squandered a once-in-a-lifetime budget surplus on an unwise tax cut that primarily benefited the wealthy, and it continues to cut Medicare and the Social Security trust funds. Our present economic woes aren’t caused by increases in spending on homeland security or the added cost of the defense budget. They add up to only 10 percent of the surplus’s decline. The reason for the looming deficit and the vanishing surplus can be placed squarely on the tax giveaway to the rich. To make up for the tax cut, we’d have to cut spending by five billion dollars five days a week for over a year. That was the whole thing: to further enrich the already wealthy, to starve the government, making it unable to meet human needs.
War and fear often cause hasty mistakes, costly both in economic and in human terms. As the drums of war beat louder and louder, we need to remember what we’re fighting for. In the summer of 1918, on the eve of America’s entry into World War I, one of the NAACP’s founders, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, urged black people “to forget our special grievances, close ranks shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens and the Allied nations that are fighting for democracy.” The criticism he faced then was immediate and loud. He realized then as we must now that calls for retreat from our rights are always wrong. He understood then as we must now that when wars are fought to save democracy, the first casualty is usually democracy itself. That’s why we must be vigilant against the steady erosion of American values and the basic rights we hold so dear. We ought to remember the words of Ohio Senator Robert Taft , who said two weeks after Pearl Harbor’s attack, “I believe there can be no criticism in a time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government.” But instead we’re seeing freedom shrink and fear expand. We have a president who owes his election more to a dynasty than democracy. We have an attorney general who’s a cross between J. Edgar Hoover and Jerry Falwell. And all too often, all too often, one political party is shameless and the other is spineless. Only one senator, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, voted against the first hastily prepared and ill-considered terrorism measure proposed after September 11. Senator Feingold explained his vote this way; he said, “If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason, if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations or intercept your email communications, if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people indefinitely in jail based on what they write or think or based on mere suspicion that they’re up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists, but that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. Nor do we want to live in a country that permits infiltration and surveillance of religious and political organizations, yet the new FBI guidelines announced by J. Edgar Ashcroft do just that. Just as we remember J. Edgar Hoover, we remember his counterintelligence program called CoIntelPro. And whose intelligence did they want to counter? In a program called Racial Matters, the FBI tried to disrupt the civil rights movement. They tried to smear Martin Luther King. They not only wanted him discredited, they wanted him dead. They threatened him with the release of damaging information if he did not commit suicide. Their excuse: the perceived threat of communism.
We thought we put a stop to Hoover’s programs of spies and lies in the 1970s after these abuses were exposed. Now, under the guise of counter-terrorism, the FBI is going back to spying on law-abiding citizens. The FBI and the CIA kept files on me in the 1960s; they may be keeping files on me today. But while they were watching and following and photographing and wire-tapping those of us working non-violently in the freedom movement, a wave of white terrorism was sweeping across the South without challenge. It has taken 40 years or more to bring a pitiful few of the terrorists of that period to justice. The FBI didn’t lack the way to do it, they simply lacked the will. There is nothing the FBI could not do before September 11th, that they want to do now, that could have prevented these attacks, and there is every reason to keep them from readopting the discredited policies of the past. (applause)
They already want to return to the more recently discredited practice of racial profiling. Its return was heralded by Senator Diane Feinstein who claimed, “The racial profiling debate has had a chilling impact on the FBI.” American-born white men commit most domestic homegrown terrorism. Does the name Timothy McVeigh ring a bell? But what about profiling white males like Enron’s Kenny-Boy Lay or the executives at WorldCom or Tyco? Their crimes? These white-collar crimes cost Americans twenty billion dollars a year. While the administration is busy asserting sweeping police powers over the American people, its sweeping voting rights violations from the 2000 election under the rug. The Justice Department whittled 11,000 election complaints down to five potential lawsuits, including a mere three in Florida. You remember what happened there, two years ago and again last week. In 2000, hundreds of thousands of votes, disproportion-ately from racial minorities, were nullified, and the voters disenfranchised; longtime voters turned away from the polls; honest citizens told they were felons and could not vote. And those who could have benefited most from a fair count refused to lift a hand in help. The margin of disenfranchchisement surpassed the margin of victory for candidate Bush. And the Congress has failed because of Republican objections to pass election reform. We know the United States Senate is only one vote away from surrender to elements in American life who won’t just turn back the clock, they’ll take us back to the sun dial. Just one vote and people in Missouri ought to be especially conscious that their vote can keep that one vote secure.
African-American voters turned out in record numbers in 2000. And in 2002, we’re going to do it again. But we’re not fattening frogs for snakes; we expect a return for our votes. The failure to uphold voting rights is but one example of promises made and promises broken. It’s part of the Attorney General’s failure to uphold his sworn duty to enforce the Civil Rights Act. Now, we know naked justice offends him. He sought to undo the work of career lawyers in the department’s civil rights division. Among those staffing the voting rights division in the Department of Justice is a lawyer who helped to run the purge of Florida’s voting roles. Another is a former senior counsel for the misnamed Center for Equal Opportunity. Organizations devoted to overturning the gains of the civil rights movement are now dictating public policy. The very names of these organizations – the Institute for Justice, the Campaign for a Color Blind America, the American Civil Rights Institue – the names are fraudulent and the aims are frightening. They’ve already stolen our vocabulary, and now they want to steal the just spoils of our righteous war. They’re sophisticated and well-funded. Over the past decade, they’ve won several victories in their plot to dismantle justice and fair play. Now that George Bush has ascended to the presidency, they’ve ascended to unprecedented positions of power within the federal government. The leading organization is the Federalist Society. John Ashcroft served on the board of the St. Louis chapter. The Solicitor General who litigated the Hopwood case ending affirmative action at the University of Texas was president of the Washington, D.C. chapter. The Deputy Attorney General served on the board of the Atlanta lawyers’ chapter. There is a vast right-wing conspiracy, and it’s operating out of United States Department of Justice, and the office of White House Counsel, and the United States Commission on Civil Rights. They and others have set their gun sights not only on affirmative action but also on Title 9, the 30-year-old law insuring gender equity in higher education. The head of the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education has the same agenda and the same background. There’s an even wider conspiracy than this, an interlocking network of funders, groups, and activists who coordinate their methods and their message. They are the money, the motivation, and the movement behind school vouchers: public tax money and welfare for private schools. They are behind the legal assaults on affirmative action, they are behind the attempts to reapportion minorities out of office, and they’re behind attacks on equity everywhere. And they’ve had a small but prominent collection of black hustlers and hucksters on their payrolls for more than 20 years. (applause)
Rather than mount serious campaigns for the affection and the loyalties of black voters, they prop up bogus black substitutes and label them a new generation, assigning to black people a generational conflict which doesn’t exist in the politics of any other group in America. They can’t deal with the leaders black people choose for ourselves, so they manufacture, promote, and hire new ones. Like ventriloquist’s dummies, they speak in their puppet master’s voice, but we can see his lips move and we can hear his money talk. They finance the conservative constellation of make-believe black-faced front organizations, all of them hollow shells with more names on the letterhead than there are on the membership rolls. They’re purchasing seats at the table of influence, and they’re buying black people at a few bucks a head. They want to make any government consideration of race illegal and thereby do away with our rights and much of the legacy of the civil rights movement, including affirmative action.
Now, affirmative action was created to fight what Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor called “the unhappy persistence of both the practice and the lingering effects of racial discrimination.” Affirmative action is now under attack not because it has failed but because it has succeeded. It created a sizable middle class that constitutes one-third of all black Americans. From the late 1960s, the wages of black women in the textile industry tripled. From 1970 to 1990, the number of black police officers, lawyers, and doctors more than doubled. Black electricians and college students tripled. Black bank tellers more than quadrupled. Affirmative action is the just spoils of a righteous war. The opponents keep telling us that it carries a “stigma’ that attaches to all blacks, as if none of us ever felt any stigma before affirmative action was ever born. Now, why don’t they ever make this argument about the millions of whites who got into Harvard or Yale because dad was an alumnus? Or who got a good job because dad was president of the company, or president of the United States? (applause) You never see these people walking around with their heads held low, moaning that everybody in the executive washroom is whispering about how they got their job. Most of our elite professions have long been the exclusive preserve of white men. I seriously doubt if a single one of these men is suffering low self esteem because he knows his race and gender helped him in his job.
Over this past year, we’ve been awash in patriotic sentiment and patriotic music. The poet Langston Hughes, whose centennial we celebrate this year, wrote that black American want “what so proudly we hail by the twilight’s last gleaming.” We want “my country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” We want everything we ever heard about in the Fourth of July speeches. Another poet Ray Charles speaks to us when he sings “America the Beautiful.” Now, Ray Charles has never seen the amber waves of grain. He’s never seen the purple mountain majesty. But he’s singing about an America he knows is out there. That’s the America we fought and died for. That’s our American dream.
Recently we all saw what almost no living American has ever seen: the death of an old century and the birth of a new one. The passage of a century – 100 years – that’s a grand old age for a woman or a man. It’s only a fraction in the lifetime for a nation. We’re such a young nation, so recently removed from slavery, that only my father’s generation stands between Julian Bond and human bondage. Like so many others, I am the grandson of a slave. My grandfather was born in 1863 in Kentucky. Freedom didn’t come for him until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865. He and his mother were property, like a horse or a chair. As a young girl, she’d been given away as a wedding present to a new bride. And when that bride became pregnant, her husband – that’s my great-grandmother’s owner and master – exercised his right to take his wife’s slave as his mistress, that union produced two children, one of them my grandfather. At age 15, barely able to read or write, he hitched his tuition, a steer, to a rope and walked 55 miles across Kentucky to Berea College, and Berea took him in. Sixteen years later, he graduated, and the college asked him to deliver the commencement address. He said then, “The pessimist from his corner looks out on the world of wickedness and sin and blinded by all that is good and hopeful in the condition and the progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things. In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm. In every flash of lighting an omen of evil. And in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe. But he forgets that the clouds also bring light and hope, that the lightning purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardships and diversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories.”
Greater efforts and grander victories. That was the promise made by the generation born in slavery more than a century and half ago. That was the promise made by the generation that won the great world war for democracy more than five decades ago. That was the promise made by those who brought democracy to America’s darkest corners four decades ago. And that is the promise we must seek to honor today.
The civil war that freed my grandfather was fought over whether blacks and whites shared a common humanity. Less than ten years after it ended, the nation chose sides with the losers and agreed to continue black repression for almost a hundred years. American slavery was a human horror of staggering dimensions, a crime against humanity. The profits it produced endowed great fortunes and enriched generations. As John Holt Franklin writes, “All whites benefited from American slavery. All blacks had no rights they could claim as their own. All whites – including the vast majority who owned no slaves – were not only encouraged but authorized to exercise dominion over all slaves, thereby adding to the system of control. Even poor whites, Dr. Franklin writes, benefited from the legal advantage they enjoyed over all blacks as well as the psychological advantage of having a group beneath them. Most living Americans, he says, do have a connection with slavery. They have inherited the preferential advantage if they are white and the loathsome disadvantage if they are black, and these positions are virtually as alive today as they were in the nineteenth century. Two hundred and forty-six years of slavery, followed by a hundred years of state-sanctioned discrimination, reinforced by public and private terror, including ritual human sacrifice, ending only after a major struggle in 1965. Thus it is has only been a short 37 years since all black Americans have exercised the full rights of citizens, only 37 years since legal segregation was ended nationwide, only 37 years since the right to register and vote was universally guaranteed, only 37 years since the protections of the law and constitution were officially extended to all. And now some are telling us those 37 years have been enough. To believe that is the victory of hope over experience. To believe that is the victory of self-delusion over common sense.
The modern movement is said to have its origins in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown versus the Board of Education in 1954. Brown effectively ended segregation’s legality, but it also gave the non-violent movement the license to challenge segregation’s morality as well. A year after Brown, an NAACP activist in Montgomery refused to give up her seat on a city bus so a white man could sit down. Five years after Montgomery, four young black men – college students in Greensboro – refused to give up their seats at a dimestore lunch counter reserved for whites. Those small acts of passive resistance to American apartheid and the cumulative acts of tens of thousands more created a people’s movement that ended legal segregation in less than a decade. Now there are those who declare that yesterday’s movement was excessive or went too far. They’ve either forgotten or never understood what yesterday was really like. When you understand, then you’ll know that the job done so far has been remarkable, no matter how great the task that remains undone, no matter how long the journey has been. Who among us could have believed that the nation’s opinion and behavior could change so quickly? The movement for expanded democracy pressed on, and by the middle 1960s it could claim a large measure of success. But despite the steady forward march of progress, the forces of reaction have remained ever strong, ever able to devise new ways to force freedom into retreat. Much of what we must do now is as old as the 93-year-old NAACP and as new as tomorrow morning.
One hundred years ago, Dr. DuBois outlined an agenda that still must be carried out today. He said then, “We must complain. Just plain blunt complaint, ceaseless agitation, unfailing exposure of dishonesty and wrong. This is the ancient unerring way toward liberty, and we must follow it.”
“Next,” he said, “we propose to work. These are the things that we must try to do. We must press the matter for stopping the curtailment of our political rights. We must urge negroes to vote honestly and effectively. We must push the matter of civil rights. We must organize business cooperation. We must bring negroes and labor unions into mutual understanding. We must study negro history. And we must attack crime among us, to do all in our power, by word and by deed, to increase the efficiency of our race, the enjoyment of our manhood rights, and the performance of our just duties.”
And that prescription still fits our times today.
The removal over the decade of the 1960s of the more blatant forms of American apartheid has made it too easy for too many to believe today that all forms of discrimination have disappeared. Opinion polls reveal that a majority of white Americans believe that racial discrimination is no longer a major impediment for people of color. In one study, 75 percent of whites said that blacks faced no discrimination in obtaining jobs or housing, even as housing discrimination has become more severe. In another poll, two-thirds of whites said they were personally satisfied with the way African-Americans are treated in society. Polls show that most Americans believe equal education opportunity exists right now, even as schools are becoming more, not less segregated across the country.
The successful strategies of the movement were litigation, organization, mobilization, and coalition, all aimed at creating a national constituency for civil rights. That movement marched and picketed and protested against state-sanctioned segregation, and brought that system crashing to its knees. Today’s times require no less and in fact insist on more. Despite the death of legal Jim Crow, race remains the central fact of life for every non-white American. It eclipses income, position, gender, education. Race trumps them all. And most recently the evidence is clear and plain. But if the evidence were not enough, most recently in film and memoir, a dangerous, nostalgic narrative have arisen glorifying the segregation of the past. In that fantasy yesteryear, a simple social order prevailed: Children obeyed parents, women obeyed men. In this fiction, everyone lived in a closely knit community where everyone cared for everyone else. The truth is that rigid class divisions then separated a tiny black elite from a large down-trodden mass and all faced a borderline genocidal regime. All black lives were cheap and subject to extinction at any white person’s whim. But this deceptive narrative serves to vindicate a return to a more natural order, before civil rights laws required fairness, when patriarchy reigned, when white supremacy ruled. This discrimination has measurable costs, or, put another way, its absence would have measurable benefits.
We find ourselves now fighting old battles we thought already won, and facing new problems we’ve barely begun to acknowledge. But we ought to take heart. If there’s more to be done, we have more to do it with, much more than those who came before us and who brought us along this far. We have all the traits on display during the events of September 11th and its aftermath: bravery, compassion, optimism, the best aspects of the American spirit. We have more than a century’s worth of aggressive self-help and volunteerism, in church and civic clubs and neighborhood associations, providing scholarships, helping the needy, financing the cause of social justice. But volunteerism by itself does little to change the status quo. Creating change requires a critical analysis of power in society and a commitment to both challenging and changing inequality. It’s never enough just to ignore evil. It’s never enough just to do good. It’s never enough just to feed the hungry and house the homeless, as commendable as these acts are.
It may be helpful to think about our common task in this way. Two men are sitting by a river and to their great surprise, they see a helpless baby come floating by. They jump in and save the child, and to their surprise, another baby comes down the stream. They save that child, and to their horror a third baby comes down the river. One man jumps in the river a third time, and the other man begins to run upstream. “Come back!” says the man in the water. “We’ve got to save this child.” “You save it,” says the running man, “I’m going to find out who’s throwing babies in the water and I’m gonna make him stop.”
I recently heard Professor Lani Guinier say that racial minorities are like the canaries that miners used to carry to warn them when the underground air was becoming too poisonous to breathe. Too many people today want to put gas masks on the canaries instead of taking the poison out of the air. Too many people want to put life preservers on the babies instead of stopping them from being thrown in a dangerous, treacherous flood. We have a long and honorable tradition of social justice in this country. It ought not to have faded from our collective conscious. It still sends forth a message that when we act together we can overcome.
I mentioned Dr. DuBois’ prescriptions written in 1905 for black Americans a few minutes ago. But it’s a serious mistake, both tactical and moral, to believe this is a fight that must or should be waged by black Americans alone. That has never been so in centuries past; it ought not be so in the century unfolding now. Black, yellow, red, white . . . all are needed in this fight, all implicated in the continuation of inequality. It requires our common effort to bring it to an end. An agenda for the new century must include continuing to litigate, to organize, to mobilize; forming coalitions of the caring and concerned; joining ranks against the comfortable, the callous, and the smug; fighting discrimination wherever it raises its ugly head, in the halls of government and corporate suites or in the streets; insuring every citizen registers to vote; and guaranteeing the irregularities, suppression, and outright theft of black votes that happened on election day, 2000 never, ever happens again. Let’s see racial profiling stopped. It means more than humiliation and inconvenience when a person is stopped only because they’re black. It’s responsible for packing prisons and jails with black bodies, for profiling black people into the electric chair. Nationally one in three black men between 20 and 29 is under some form of criminal justice supervision on any single day. It took more than 200 years for America to put more than a million people in prison at one time. We reached the second million in only ten years. This is the new segregation, the new Jim Crow.
In Chicago recently, prosecutors had a contest, to see which one could first accumulate death sentences for defendants whose weight totaled 4000 pounds. When these people were convicted, they’d take them aside and weigh them. They called it “niggers by the pound.” At the NAACP we oppose capital punishment in any and all circumstances. We know it’s not color blind; its application depends on the race of the accused and the race of the victim. Illinois Governor George Ryan has bravely ordered a moratorium on the death penalty in his state. We’ve asked the governors of all the death states to follow his courageous example. In the American justice system, we know it’s race – not gender, not class, but race that dictates arrest, conviction, and the severity of sentencing.
And we must insure that our children – in suburban, integrated schools or segregated schools in rural America or the inner city, receive the best education, an education that prepares them for the century just begun.
None of this is easy work, but we have never wished our way to freedom. Instead we have always worked our way. By the year 2050, blacks and Hispanics together will be 40 percent of the nation’s population. Wherever there are others who share our conditions and concerns, we must make common cause with them. In the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, we believe that colored people come in all colors; anyone who shares our values is more than welcome. The growth in immigration, the emergence of new and vibrant populations of people holds out great promise and great peril. The promise is that the coalition for justice will grow larger and stronger as new allies join the fight. The peril comes from real fears that our common foes will find ways to separate and divide us. It doesn’t make sense for blacks and Latinos to fight over which of us has the least amount of power. Together we can constitute a mighty force for change.
We live in a small, small world. If we could shrink the world’s population to a village of only 100 people, keeping all the ratios the same, the world would look like this: There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western hemisphere, both north and south, and 8 Africans. Fifty-two of the hundred would be female. Seventy would be non-white. Seventy would not be Christians. Six of the hundred people would own 59 percent of all the wealth in the world, and all six would be from the United States. Eighty of the 100 people would live in substandard housing. Seventy would be unable to read and write. Fifty would suffer from malnutrition. One would have a college education. One would own a computer.
When we look at the world in this way, we’re reminded of our mutual dependence. We know our lives and our world changed forever on September 11th, but we don’t yet know by how much. But we know we have a job to do at home as much as abroad. When I first started working four decades ago, there were five workers paying in the national retirement system for every retiree. Of course, there’s no way I can know who my five were, but there’s a good chance their names could be Carl, Ralph, Bob, Steve, and Bill. When I retire, there are going to be three workers paying into the retirement system for every retiree, and there’s a good chance their names will be Tawana, Maria, and Jose. And I’m here to tell you that you’d better make sure that Tawana, Maria, and Jose have the best schools, the best healthcare, the best jobs, and the strongest protections against discrimination they possibly can.
Shirley Baker: Thank you so much, Julian Bond, and thank you all for coming.
KETC’s Living St. Louis produced a segment on Henry Hampton which aired on November 28, 2007. The program covered Hampton’s life and work and the home of collection, Washington University’s Film and Media Archive.
Producer Patrick Murphy profiles the life and work of film-maker Henry Hampton, who made the PBS series Eyes on the Prize. This 14-hour documentary examines the African American struggle for civil rights. Washington University built an archive for Hampton’s footage which includes nearly 75,000 items.