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Civil Rights Documentary “Eyes on the Prize” Unable to Renew Licenses

The Emmy-award winning civil rights documentary series “Eyes on the Prize,” used often over the past 18 years in classrooms and to commemorate Black History Month, is no longer available on video or DVD, and cannot be shown on television due to expired rights to footage used in the series. The company that produced the 14-part series, understood to be the most vital and comprehensive depiction of the civil rights era as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership in the movement, is unable to afford the renewal of expired licenses to archival footage, including newsreel clips, photographs, and popular songs used in the film, the Washington Post reports.

“Eyes on the Prize” is considered “the principal film account of the most important American social justice movement of the 20th century,” Clayborne Carson, Stanford University history professor, told Wired News. “A hundred civil rights stories had been told,” Henry Hampton, executive producer of the series, said in a 1993 interview, “but it was always black people being saved by whites. In ‘Eyes,’ we brought our people up in history.”

In response to the increasing unavailability of the series, a group called Downhill Battle has decided to digitize “Eyes on the Prize” and make it available through peer-to-peer file sharing, Wired News reports. Downhill Battle is encouraging those who download it to make a donation to Blackside, Inc., the company that produced the series. While the legality of this action remains in question, many find the risk is justified.

Lawrence Guyot, formerly of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, told Wired News, “If people had stuck to the law, black people wouldn’t have the right to use restaurants and hotels. If people had stuck to the law, women wouldn’t have the right to vote. If people had stuck to the law, women wouldn’t have the right to own property. Our country has a history of laws that we are very proud we have moved away from.”

Sources:

Washington Post 1/17/05; Wired News 1/27/05; PBS Video Database