On April 19, 2017, Washington University Libraries, Cinema St. Louis, and the Missouri History Museum hosted filmmaker Jon Else as part of the Henry Hampton Film Series.
Else was a cinematographer and series producer on the 1980s documentary series Eyes on the Prize. He has written about the making of the series in his new book True South: Henry Hampton and “Eyes on the Prize,” the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement.
Else has produced and directed many award-winning documentaries, including The Day After Trinity and Cadillac Desert. He has been nominated for two Academy Awards, has won four Emmys and is the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship. He is Professor and North Gate Chair in Journalism at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
The event featured a screening of Episode 5 of Eyes on the Prize, titled “Mississippi: Is This America?” The episode chronicles the volatile climate in Mississippi from 1962 to 1964, and the murders of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner.
After the screening of the episode, Brian Woodman, curator of the WU Libraries’ Film & Media Archive, led a Q&A with Else. The two discussed Else’s work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s and the making of Eyes on the Prize in the 1980s with Henry Hampton, a WU graduate and creator and executive producer of the series. Hampton grew up in segregated St. Louis in the ’40s and ’50s and became committed to capturing the history of the civil rights movement. Hampton died in 1998.
“Henry dedicated his life to chronicling the struggles of ordinary people,” Else said. “He was determined to bring the ordinary people, the tens of thousands of African Americans in the American South who drove the civil rights movement, he really wanted to bring them out into the foreground of their own story.”
The event also included clips of Medgar Evers’ son, Darrell, and activist Stokely Carmichael, which were not included the final cut of Eyes on the Prize.
“Jon told me that he had not seen many of the clips shown at the screening since they were editing the film over 30 years ago,” Woodman said.
During his trip to Washington University, Else also helped with the Henry Hampton Collection, which is housed at WU’s Film & Media Archive. The 35,000-plus items in the collection include film and videotape, photographs, scripts, and other materials.
“Jon graciously gave his time to sit down with library staff in order to solve standing mysteries in the Hampton Collection,” Woodman said. “As someone who was on the ground during production, he often can answer a question off the top of his head that would take us weeks to research.”
Else also met with students and faculty in American Culture Studies and in Professor Vernon C. Mitchell Jr.’s course, “Don’t Believe the Hype: Race, Media, and Social Movements in America.”
“It was truly a pleasure and honor to have Jon Else in class,” Mitchell said. “My students watched Eyes On the Prize in the first half of the course and read sections of True South. This allowed them engage in serious and meaningful dialogue with one of the persons intimately involved with the creation of the groundbreaking documentary series. The students really appreciated hearing Jon’s perspective on the project—and he seemed to enjoy the discussion as well.”
To see a full list of the interviewees from Eyes on the Prize with links to interviews and biographies, visit http://digital.wustl.edu/eyesontheprize/browse.html.
Listen to Jon Else’s interview on St. Louis on the Air here.