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“The goal…was to capture the Civil Rights Movement in the voices of those who were there, and thereby give younger citizens who had not lived that struggle, or those who never understood, some idea of the raging torrents that had engulfed America … to collect the voices of the participants in this history and to have them tell us the stories they carried within them.”
— Henry Hampton, creator and executive producer of Eyes on the Prize
Surrounding the broadcast of the groundbreaking Civil Rights series Eyes on the Prize, UNC-TV is proud to present the Eyes on the Prize Oral History Project, allowing North Carolina’s citizens, young and old, to showcase oral histories capturing the local face of America’s Civil Rights movement.
As part of UNC-TV’s Eyes on the Prize Oral History Project, you are invited to record the memories of individuals who took part in, observed, or were influenced by the Civil Rights Movement in America, particularly the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, or other human rights or civil liberties efforts from the Post World War II Era to contemporary America. These individuals may include activists, elders, clergy (all faiths), community and civic leaders, elected officials, journalists, musicians, writers, teachers, and family members.
All of us today are part of contemporary history. By recording and reporting an oral history about an individual and his/her first-hand account of a life experience, you are helping to preserve that story for future generations.
Why would you want to do an oral history project? Perhaps the most compelling reason is that it will change your mind about what it means to study history, and how you might take a more active part in it:
Be empowered as a learner. Reading about history has its own satisfactions. Searching out, preparing for, interviewing, and reporting on the actions and thoughts of an individual puts you in charge of a vital learning experience – an oral history of someone you want to know more about. The task will challenge your knowledge as well as draw on your creativity. It can also involve you in detective work as you try to understand what happened as you hear an individual’s oral history unfold.
Learn more about American history and African American history. Discover why the Civil Rights Movement is important to African Americans and to all Americans – at the time it happened in the 1950s and 1960s and today. The richness of this history is not adequately covered in textbooks. Deeper exploration can lead you to oral histories and the actual words and deeds of those who were part of this time.
Gain an understanding about how individuals and groups can change history. Oral histories describe the actions as well as reveal the personal characteristics – bravery, intelligence, persistence, and leadership – of the individual men and women struggling to secure equal rights. Eyes on the Prize talks about the organizations formed (e.g., Southern Christian Leadership Conference) as well as group actions such as the March on Washington undertaken to build awareness and achieve results. You also learn about the toll on individual lives – harassment, loss of livelihood, and even imprisonment – and why it was courageous for them to take action. Personal stories humanize history and help us to understand the costs and benefits associated with social change.
Find out about your local community’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Through gathering oral histories of people in your town, you can learn how they were involved in or influenced by the Civil Rights Movement or other effort to secure civil liberties. How widespread was the impact – did it affect only a few families, an entire community, or the town as a whole?
Help you connect the past to the present. Knowledge of the past helps you to understand contemporary life and the rules that govern our society. Actions that led to successful social change in the past may provide models for changing laws and beliefs that stand in the way of a fully integrated, equitable, and just society today. The ideas you discover may lead to your increased civic participation.