True South

Henry Hampton and "Eyes on the Prize," the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement

Publisher: Viking
“[TRUE SOUTH] does several things at once. On one level, it’s a biography . . . On another, it’s a lucid recap of many of the signal events of the civil rights movement . . . A warm and intelligent book.”—The New York Times
 
“No one is better suited to write this moving account of perhaps the greatest American documentary series ever made. . . . [Else] tells the story with the compassion and eloquence it deserves.”Adam Hochschild, author of KING LEOPOLD’S GHOST, BURY THE CHAINS, and TO END ALL WARS
 
The inside story of Eyes on the Prize, one of the most important and influential TV shows in history. Published on the 30th anniversary of the initial broadcast, which reached 100 million viewers.
 
Henry Hampton’s 1987 landmark multipart television series, Eyes on the Prize, an eloquent, plainspoken chronicle of the civil rights movement, is now the classic narrative of that history. Before Hampton, the movement’s history had been written or filmed by whites and weighted heavily toward Dr. King’s telegenic leadership. Eyes on the Prize told the story from the point of view of ordinary people inside the civil rights movement. Hampton shifted the focus from victimization to strength, from white saviors to black courage. He recovered and permanently fixed the images we now all remember (but had been lost at the time)—Selma and Montgomery, pickets and fire hoses, ballot boxes and mass meetings.
 
Jon Else was Hampton’s series producer and his moving book focuses on the tumultuous eighteen months in 1985 and 1986 when Eyes on the Prize was finally created. It’s a point where many wires cross: the new telling of African American history, the complex mechanics of documentary making, the rise of social justice film, and the politics of television. And because Else, like Hampton and many of the key staffers, was himself a veteran of the movement, his book braids together battle tales from their own experiences as civil rights workers in the south in the 1960s.
 
Hampton was not afraid to show the movement’s raw realities: conflicts between secular and religious leaders, the shift toward black power and armed black resistance in the face of savage white violence. It is all on the screen, and the fight to get it all into the films was at times as ferocious as the history being depicted. Henry Hampton utterly changed the way social history is told, taught, and remembered today.

PRAISE FOR

“It’s hard to imagine a better person than Mr. Else to tell this story. . . . His book does several things at once. On one level, it’s a biography of Mr. Hampton . . . On another, it’s a lucid recap of many of the signal events of the civil rights movement. . . . True South is a series of braided stories that are each well told . . . [A] warm and intelligent book.”
Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Reading this book feels like reliving the great stories of a legendary party from days gone by, one that continues to inspire. Else, a producer par excellence, is also a talented writer. . . . His memories are rich with detail and surprisingly candid.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Distinguished documentarian and MacArthur fellow Else has written a hard-driving, avidly detailed, and dramatic history of the making of Eyes on the Prize, the pioneering 1987 television documentary series about the civil rights movement. . . . With its many hooks and avenues, compelling portraits, and thought-provoking revelations, this in-depth chronicle of the making of a defining civil rights documentary is an invaluable and timely work.”—Booklist, (starred review)

“No one is better suited to write this moving account of perhaps the greatest American documentary series ever made. Jon Else helped film it, and, two decades earlier, as a civil rights worker in the South, he lived through part of the history involved. He tells the story with the compassion and eloquence it deserves.”
Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains, and To End All Wars

“True South
is the powerful story of a singular black man, Henry Hampton, who combined film and social activism to create the first people’s history of the civil rights movement. Jon Else’s insight into Hampton’s struggle to record and show history to a world in denial calls attention to Eyes on the Prize as a true American epic. It is hard not to be moved by this account––by both its author’s and its subject’s contributions to our society. This is truly great and important book, a magisterial chronicle of how we tell the story of the civil rights movement.”
  —Errol Morris, Academy Award winning director of The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line
 
Eyes on the Prize chronicled the small towns and back roads of the Deep South where the civil rights movement took root and flourished. Jon Else takes readers behind the scenes in the decades-long journey of the late Henry Hampton, Eyes’ visionary creator, and the motley team of us who ended up making history by telling this history.  True South captures the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary Americans who fundamentally changed America, and the extraordinary spirit and heart of a man committed to making sure their sacrifice was remembered.”
Callie Crossley, Academy-award-nominated producer of the "Bridge to Freedom" episode of Eyes on the Prize

“Jon Else tells the amazing story of how independent filmmaker Henry Hampton overcame enormous obstacles to create the landmark documentary series, Eyes on the Prize. Written by a key member of Hampton's team, True South sheds light on the decade-long effort to transform American history during a crucial period of racial change into moving images that have shaped American historical understanding.”
Clayborne Carson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of history, Stanford University
 
"In detailing the financial struggle involved and the arduous process of finding interviewees and eliciting their stories, Else reveals the complexities of any such production. An illuminating look at racial strife and TV history."
Kirkus Reviews

“Else tells the remarkable story in vivid detail, with some detours into the actual movement history, his own activism in the South in the ‘60s, and the back-and-forth between his Eyes on the Prize work and his career in Hollywood. For anyone more likely to think of Ken Burns than Hampton (or Burns and no one else) when considering historical documentaries, True South sets a proper context."
Pop Matters

“In this fascinating book, Else, a producer and cinematographer who worked on the series, braids together Hampton’s story making the series and the dramatic national battle over racial equality that it describes. . . . Adding dimension to this marvelous account, Else . . . intersperses his own work for voting rights and against the Ku Klux Klan.”
—The National Book Review

"The emotional and factual combination that results from the documentary and the book is powerful and will endure."
—Richmond Times-Dispatch