New book ‘True South’ looks back on civil-rights movement and ‘Eyes on the Prize’

Henry Hampton, present at the “Bloody Sunday” march, told the story of the civil-rights movement in a landmark TV miniseries.

“True South: Henry Hampton and ‘Eyes on the Prize,’ the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement”

by Jon Else

Viking, 404 pp., $30

Two days after the “Bloody Sunday” march in 1965, when African-American protesters in Selma, Ala., were battered by police on national television, Martin Luther King Jr. led another march across the same bridge.

Among those at that second march was Henry Hampton, a 24-year-old official with the Unitarian Universalist Church. Hampton was proud to be there — and then, like many in the march, was baffled when King and the march’s leaders halted, knelt in prayer and turned around.

The turnaround was part of a political deal to avoid further bloodshed. But at the time, Hampton thought: This is going to make a great story to tell on TV.

And it was.

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For all its import, the civil-rights movement lacked a chronicler before Hampton set out to make what would become the 1987 miniseries “Eyes on the Prize.”

In his book “True South,” Jon Else, a former civil-rights activist and series producer on “Eyes on the Prize,” tells Hampton’s story, and his own, in recounting the making of the landmark PBS series. In the process, he also relates the movement’s journey and the challenges in telling America’s central narrative.

As an industrial filmmaker in the late 1960s and 1970s, Hampton formed his own production company, Blackside, with the stated mission of “serving democracy, diversity, culture and civil society … by producing powerful, dramatic, engaging and accessible stories about American social progress.”

In the late 1970s, Blackside worked on a documentary on the civil-rights movement for ABC; that project imploded, but it formed the roots of “Eyes on the…

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