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‘Eyes on the Prize’ covers past witness for civil rights, a call for today


Watching the Public Broadcasting 14-hour documentary series, “Eyes on the Prize” and several other Black History Month specials, has reminded me of much that happened during my formative years in the struggle for racial justice and human rights. It’s also a reminder of how much more we still have to do.

The series follows the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1985:  the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954, the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the efforts to desegregate schools, the rise of black power in hearts and streets.

The historical footage brings back memories of the suffering from discrimination and segregation, and of nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, of the fire hoses and dogs turned on those who protested nonviolently for freedom and equality. 

I remembered the mood of the nation turning.  I remember consciences being awakened and informed, stirring us to act and speak in our own settings.

The production and other programs also informed me of some things I had not known, because so much was happening.

One documentary reported on 17 students who sought to integrate their high school in Norfolk, Va.  The resulting shutdown of all public schools there for several years had impact on the education of these students.  Years later, they said it was worth it because students today are in integrated schools. 

Another told of being in tears at the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American President.  As tears flowed down her cheeks, she was amazed to see tears on the cheeks of white people beside her.  She had not realized how much white people cared and were also involved in working for racial equality, even putting their lives on the line to  help bring it about.

The civil rights movement and progress involved individual acts of courage, states-rights vs. federal authority clashes, the power of mass demonstrations, the involvement of northerners and students, the involvement of clergy and other people of faith.  It took many years and laws to desegregate schools, water fountains, busses, housing and all other aspects of life.

There’s still work to do to desegregate minds. Despite the backlash of white supremacy, many stretched their hearts and minds to advocate and be in solidarity. 

There is still need to challenge prejudice, bigotry and hatred.  In the midst of the overt white supremacist rhetoric of some political candidates, it’s clear the struggle continues. 

Racism is behind much of today’s political, economic and social polarity. 

“Eyes on the Prize” is a tool congregations could use in adult education classes to educate people about the struggle for civil rights and the ongoing call to people of faith to step out of their comfort zones and risk their lives.

• We need people to be informed about the past work for civil rights so people have the hope and courage they need to persist.

• We need to share in the ongoing efforts to overcome the new faces of segregation and inequality.

• We need to assure access to living-wage jobs and quality education for everyone.

• We need right now to end voter suppression and restore the Voting Rights Act. 

• We need to promote criminal justice reforms to address use of force, racial imbalance in prisons and much more. 

• We need to end poverty, assure decent, affordable housing and health care for all.

• We need to overcome the racial disparities of these and many more issues.

We must let our faith inspire us to continue to pursue racial equality and justice.

Mary Stamp - Editor

Copyright © March 2016 - The Fig Tree