An inspiring story, EYES ON THE PRIZE: AMERICA’S CIVIL RIGHTS YEARS, 1954-1965, is about the issues, the tactics, and especially the people, great and small, who sacrificed, suffered, and even died in pursuit of the precious prize of freedom. Like the brilliant documentary films that inspired it, this volume reveals both the inherent viciousness of racism and the latent power of popular democracy in America. It is clearly the best single-volume narrative of that critical first decade of the Civil Rights movement.
Each of the eight chapters focuses on the people whose challenge to segregation moved through successive stages. First, there were Charles Hamilton Houston and the young lawyers who undermined the judicial doctrine of separate but equal. Then, the brutal slaying in 1955 of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, exposed the depth of white racism, enraged black Americans, and inspired at least in part the Montgomery bus boycott that focused attention upon the young Martin Luther King, Jr., as the leader of nonviolent protest.
It is all here--the violence and terror at Little Rock, the student sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, the arrests in Albany, Georgia, the beatings and police dogs in Birmingham, the march on Washington in 1963, Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964, and that bloody bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Politicians such as Orville Faubus, George Wallace, and Ross Barnett rallied white resistance, but as murder and mayhem against white and black Civil Rights workers repeatedly made the headlines, public opinion rallied behind President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Author Juan Williams takes care to introduce the various Civil Rights organizations as they emerged and explains the tensions that developed among them. The leaders are given their due, but the emphasis is upon lesser lights, such as Jo Ann Robinson, Diane Nash, and E.D. Nixon, without whom there would have been no movement to lead. Especially useful is the epilogue, which recounts what has happened to many of the participants on both sides of the controversy since 1965. There is also a helpful bibliography for further reading. EYES ON THE PRIZE is the place to begin for an understanding of the Civil Rights movement.