Remembering Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond, The Voice Of ‘Eyes On The Prize’

August 17, 2015 at 10:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond takes part in the "Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement" panel during the Civil Rights Summit on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)

Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond takes part in the “Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement” panel during the Civil Rights Summit on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)

Commentary by Callie Crossley
Callie Crossley was a producer for the iconic documentary series “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,” which earned her an Oscar nomination, a National Emmy, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award.

We were gathered around a weather beaten table on one of the top floors of a nondescript red brick building in the pre-gentrified South End. This was the headquarters of what would turn out to be the most respected and honored documentary series about the civil rights movement, and the seminal experience of my career.

Our boss Henry Hampton opened that first production meeting making two things clear—the name of the series would be “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965.” (All worries about how that long title would fit into the tiny squares of the printed newspaper TV guides were summarily dismissed.) Second, Henry declared the narrator of the series would be Julian Bond. Julian Bond? We were confused. Bond was not a professional narrator; in fact he’d never narrated so much as a public service announcement.

Of course we knew Julian Bond’s civil rights credentials—as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC — he’d been a leader during some of the most dangerous protests during the ten years of history we were chronicling. He’d gone on to a distinguished career in politics marked by his two-year battle to be seated in the Georgia House of Representatives. A fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court when the court finally ruled that his opposition to the Vietnam War did not make him ineligible to be a State Representative. Julian was the first President of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization he co founded with Morris Dees. He was already in the history books when I met him, already embraced by an international community of activists. That’s why we saw him as an important witness whose story should be a part of the series. But Henry said no, one of the few times he made no room for consensus decision making. Julian Bond would be our narrator.

He was never so right. Henry saw then what we didn’t appreciate until much later — that Julian’s first-hand experience would bring a depth and gravitas to the storytelling that would trump even the most skilled professional narrator. And his voice was a wonder — Julian’s even, unhurried read was just the right note to accompany a story that was at turns horrifying, heartbreaking, and hopeful. He gave no hint of partisanship; instead he was deliberately unobtrusive as he wove the narrative of the young Freedom Riders signing their wills before they went off to ride the segregated buses; the funeral of the 4 little girls killed by a bomb blast while in Sunday School; and the triumph of voting rights demonstrators at Selma joining the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in the 50 mile walk to the capital of Montgomery.

In the years following Eyes I would cross paths with Julian at discussions about the meaning of the civil rights movement. I hadn’t seen him for a while when I bumped into him a couple of summers ago on Martha’s Vineyard. We were both at a discussion about race relations attended by more than a few notables. I reminded him who I was and was immediately treated to the humor he was famous for. “Oh no,” he said laughing, “If you weren’t here, I was going to tell everyone I did all the work on Eyes.”

Eyes brought Julian another kind of recognition. He went on to enjoy a second career as a narrator. But his first mission, his life-long work, was always social justice. He distinguished himself as an academic and as a global organizer traveling the world sharing protest strategies. And always, always mentoring the next generation of activists. He saw his charimanship of the NAACP as part of that work. And he lobbied hard for a young Benjamin Jealous to succeed him. Nobody knew better than he the power of youthful energy and passion.

I suppose it is inevitable that this is the season of loss for the now aged, once young people whose determination and sacrifice more than 50 years ago fundamentally changed this country. But it still hurts when a giant like Julian Bond slips away. I’m ever so grateful that I got to know him and that because of Eyes on the Prize his voice will never be stilled.

Ferguson… the birth of a civil rights movement, one year later.

August 4, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Ferguson_large

Guest commentary by Callie Crossley

It happened on an ordinary street on an ordinary Saturday afternoon in the waning days of summer. In just a few days the nation will mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown– an ordinary teenager whose death sparked an extraordinary protest. And a new chapter in American social justice.

We recall the key details—the small town of Ferguson Missouri– the scene where the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down after a disputed interaction with police officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s body was left for hours uncovered in the street. The shooting inspired peaceful marches calling for the officer’s arrest. Daily peaceful demonstrations provoked into episodic violence by some angry protestors. The grass roots Hands Up United was born in the streets of Ferguson, and it was here Black Lives Matter, founded during the 2012 Trayvon Martin protest, gained a national and international profile.

Ferguson has become shorthand, a way to reference the seeming epidemic of unarmed young black men, and some black women, killed in police encounters. Ferguson is also now a symbol of the civil rights movement of the 21st century.

What happened a year ago in Ferguson cemented the grass root efforts from moment to movement. In Cleveland, Ohio recently, evidence that the movement’s organizers are focused on long-term strategies. The National Convening of the Movement for Black Lives drew more than 1200 activists from communities across the country. Gathered– groups including Not One More, Say Her Name, Cleveland Action, and Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. Members of these mostly online campaigns met face to face for the first time. First order of business– a communal exhaling, as Get Equal’s Angela Peoples described– “ to do some of the grieving and the healing we’ve been unable to do.” Acknowledging the emotional toll of responding to one racially charged incident after another. Conference organizers had no way of knowing that their long planned meeting would coincide with the burial of Sandra Bland, the latest victim of a fraught black/ white police interaction.

Two things remain with me as I think about the legacy of Ferguson. One– Michael Brown seemed days away from beating the odds. He was enrolled in college with plans to become a heating and cooling engineer.
And second— months after Brown was killed the Justice Department confirmed the Ferguson Police Department committed horrific incidents of police brutality against African- American residents.

I’m also pondering a sad irony as the Ferguson one-year anniversary approaches. Black Lives Matter conference attendees were confronted by an all too common occurrence as they finished their meeting. Just outside the conference site, a Cleveland transit officer was arresting an apparently intoxicated 14-year-old black kid. In an attempt to disperse the gathering crowd, the officer randomly pepper-sprayed nearby witnesses. A passerby videotaped and posted the scene. An investigation is underway. And so it goes.

AUDIO:

Callie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, which airs on Sunday evenings from 6:00 to 7 p.m. on WGBH, 89.7 FM. Her weekly commentaries air Mondays during Morning Edition.

Callie CrossleyCrossley is also a public speaker and television and radio commentator for national and local programs, including CNN’s Reliable Sources, the PBS NewsHour and PRI’s The Takeaway. She also appears weekly on WGBH-TV’s Beat the Press, examining local and national media coverage, Basic Black, focusing on current events concerning communities of color, and Fox 25 Boston’s Morning Show. She has two Harvard Fellowships–from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Crossley was a producer for Blackside Inc.’s “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,”which earned her an Oscar® nomination, a National Emmy, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award (Gold Baton). For Boston Public Radio, Crossley has earned the AP, Edward R. Murrow and Clarion awards.

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