Filmmaker Henry Hampton grew up in segregated St. Louis, Richmond Heights to be specific, during the 1940s. He would go on to found a film production company called Blackside, Inc. in Boston. His company produced over 80 documentaries and other productions and most notably created “Eyes on the Prize.”
The 14-part documentary is considered one of the most influential and definitive documentaries about the 30 years encompassing what Americans call the civil rights movement era, from Emmett Till to the Black Panthers.
Hampton died in 1998, but his extensive film archive of footage from that era is still housed today at the Washington University Libraries. Over 100 interviews were conducted during the course of filming the documentary.
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, filmmaker and author Jon Else joined host Don Marsh to reflect on Hampton’s life, filmmaking and to discuss his new book “True South: Henry Hampton and 'Eyes on the Prize,' the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement." Else served as a series producer and cinematographer on “Eyes on the Prize.”
“If you speak to almost anyone who worked for Henry Hampton in those glory days at his company in Boston doing ‘Eyes on the Prize’ it was the highlight of our careers,” Else said. “It drove us crazy. It was an incredibly difficult place to work. It was tumultuous. The daily diet of social unrest we were chronicling, blood on the editing room floor. Very often when you’re in the middle of something, it is hard to tell if it matters, but we all understood that working with Henry, chronicling the civil rights movement, it mattered. It ended up being a 20-year struggle to make this documentary.”
Making the documentary was not without monetary struggle either, said Else. Hampton had to mortgage his house more than once to afford to continue making the documentary.
“Henry Hampton is a son of St. Louis, a native son; there should be a statue erected of him,” said Else. “…They lived in Richmond Heights, right on the borderline between what was officially a white neighborhood and a black neighborhood. He was schooled by Jesuits, went to St. Louis University High. He grew up as a St. Louis-reared, Jesuit-skeptic.”
Else also discussed what inspired Hampton to make the film, the diversity of the production staff and the future of the documentaries series. Listen to the full discussion here:
What: John Else Discussion
When: Wednesday, April 19 at 7 p.m.
Where: Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.