Discuss the message of the documentary Eyes on the Prize.

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Eyes on the Prize was a multi-episode documentary that aired on PBS. Its subject was the American Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to the early 1980s (though by far the most famous episodes deal with the period from 1954 to 1965). Viewers could take away many messages from this series....

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Eyes on the Prize was a multi-episode documentary that aired on PBS. Its subject was the American Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to the early 1980s (though by far the most famous episodes deal with the period from 1954 to 1965). Viewers could take away many messages from this series. One of the most important would be the fact that the Civil Rights Movement did not end with the enactment of the Voting Rights Act and the end of legal segregation. The movement, in short, continues. Another message that viewers could witness throughout the series is that gains made by African Americans in the movement were tenuous and only achieved through constant struggle. They were not inevitable. I would argue, however, that the most important message from this series is that, while figures such as Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King were undoubtedly central to the movement for equality, the heart of the struggle for civil rights consisted of the thousands of ordinary people whose names are not typically included in grand narratives of the movement. One of the great strengths of this series is its reliance on eyewitness accounts of the events portrayed. Many of these eyewitnesses are not famous (except for whatever fame they may have gained by being in this series). The idea that ordinary people can make significant change through action is central to this documentary series.

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The message of this documentary is that it took many years for the Civil Rights movement to bear fruit but that the dedication of the activists in the movement made change possible. The documentary begins with the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and builds through the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the march in Selma, and later events, such as the Boston busing crisis of 1970s. At each step of the way, activists risked their lives to end segregation and to win political, economic, and social equality for African Americans.

The documentary, which features gripping footage, shows that each step along this long journey was difficult. For example, the section on the Little Rock Nine shows the abuse and humiliation African American students endured to segregate a high school in Little Rock, Alabama, in 1957. They, like other activists along the way, pushed through immense discomfort to make change possible. In the end, change was possible, through the efforts and sacrifices of leaders and the everyday people in the movement.

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The documentary that is based on Williams' work is predicated upon the idea that there is a story to be told in being Black in America during the Civil Rights Years.  The focus on the documentary is to seek to bring out the many elements in what it means to be Black in America during the Civil Rights Era.  At the same time, there is a great deal fo focus on how this time period was both influenced as a reaction against the time period that preceded it and helped to formulate identity to the time period that was to follow.  Much of the modern conception of being a person of color in America can be seen in this documentary.  It does an excellent job in talking about how there is a challenge in seeking to advocate for one's rights and seeking to be part of an assimilationist society.  In this process, the work seeks to broaden the understanding of those brave social pioneers during the Civil Rights Era.  In doing so, Williams' work and the documentary brings out much in way of historical interest and sociological reality in bringing out the condition of people of color, specifically African- Americans in modern American History.

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