Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
More than 250 new voices will help some Columbia, South Carolina, students learn about the Civil Rights Movement this fall.
They belong to the men and women, both famous and ordinary, who shaped civil rights history in the South from 1940 to 1970. Framed by narrative and period music, they speak through an award-winning audio documentary that will soon be heard in four Columbia schools.
Educators from all over the state, including four from Columbia, will pilot a new curriculum that complements the Southern Regional Council's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" civil rights documentary. A June workshop at the South Carolina Archives and History Center taught educators how to use the 13-hour series in the classroom.
Gussie Tucker, a member of the WA Perry Middle School Task Force, said first-person narratives make the series outstanding.
"The emotions when they're talking are something you can't see in a movie because other people are playing the part," Tucker said. "This is a primary source. You can hear and actually know what they were feeling, being part of the Civil Rights Movement"
Teachers from A.C. Flora High School, Keenan High School, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, and Joseph Keels Elementary School will pilot the program in Columbia, and Tucker hopes to sell WA Perry teachers on it as well.
The documentary has won several honors, including the prestigious Peabody Award in 1998.
The full title of the series is 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken? An audio history of the Civil Rights Movement in five Southern communities and the music of those times."
The communities are Montgomery, Alabama; little Rock, Arkansas; Jackson, Mississippi; Atlanta. Georgia; and Columbia, South Carolina. Four of the series' twenty-six half-hour segments focus on the Midlands region of South Carolina.
The series includes the work of the Richland County United Citizens' Committee in integrating Columbia's schools; the Clarendon County segregation case, Briggs v. Elliot and the "Orangeburg Massacre," the 1968 incident in which state troopers fired op protesters at South Carolina State University, killing three.
This local connection is important, said Lalitha Shastri, a social studies teacher at Heathwood Hall.
"That's away of saying to the kids that it happened on your doorstep," she said. "You're walking the streets where this happened, you're living in the area where this happened, you're living the legacy of this."
Co-sponsors of the program with the Southern Regional Council are the South Carolina Humanities Council and the state Department of Education.
Diane Raschke wrote this article for The State newspaper based in Columbia, South Carolina.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Southern Regional Council
Established in 1944, the Southern Regional Council (SRC) grew out of a series of meetings between black and white members of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC) who were searching for an alternative approach to remedying the ills of southern society. The CIC was founded in 1919 by “southerners of good will” who wanted to end racial violence and create racial harmony in the South in light of post-World War I racial tensions. Waning in popularity and support among white liberals and black moderates, the CIC was on the verge of collapse by the early 1940s until its executive director, Jessie Daniel Ames, set forth a plan to reconcile the different agendas and demands of southern blacks and whites in order to revitalize the organization. The result was the creation of the SRC, an interracial council devoted to “regional” research and development. Taking over the CIC’s financial assets and its headquarters in Atlanta, the SRC was headed by a president and four vice presidents as well as two governing bodies, a board of directors, and an executive committee. In contrast to the CIC, the SRC attempted to divide equally the membership of the board of directors and the executive committee between blacks and whites in order to demonstrate its commitment to interracial activism. SRC also continued the tradition of being financed by northern foundations and the contributions of its members.
Under the leadership of Executive Director Guy B.Johnson and President Howard Odum, white sociologists at the University of North Carolina; Executive Committee Chairman Charles S.Johnson, a black sociologist and president of Fisk University; and Associate Director Ira De A.Reid, a black sociology professor at Atlanta University, the SRC worked to solve “southern” problems without casting them in terms of race. As Odum noted, the SRC’s aim was to administer programs that would benefit the disadvantaged classes of the South rather than just African Americans, in the hopes of building consensus for racial reform in the process. Taking this regional approach, the SRC incorporated most of the CIC’s programs including the support of state and local interracial committees, the cooperation and assistance of church and women’s groups, the continuation of publications such as The Southern Frontier., and the adoption of educational programs for improving race relations. But more significantly, the SRC also adopted the CIC’s position on segregation. Believing that social equality was a long-term goal, the leaders of the organization recognized that the New Deal and World War II had strengthened white southerner’s commitment to the separation of the races and that the immediate goal of the SRC should focus attention on what it could do immediately to improve the lives of all the region’s people.
However, just as in the CIC, the issue of segregation proved divisive for the SRC. Within a month after its founding, the SRC was bombarded with dissenting voices concerning its ideology and approach to the racial situation in the South. Among those who spoke out against SRC were novelist Lillian Smith and English Professor J. Saunders Redding, arguing that the organization's attempts to conciliate the white power structure made its actions suspect and that the SRC needed to set an example by publicly denouncing segregation. At the same time that the SRC was criticized for not being liberal enough to eliminate segregation, the organization was under attack by white conservatives like David Clark, editor of The Textile Bulletin, who believed that the SRC was fomenting subversive activity by promoting racial cooperation. Heeding these outside pressures, the SRC chose to reexamine its policies as early as 1947. However, it was not until 1951 that the board of directors adopted a resolution that clearly outlined the organization's intention to work for an American society free of racial discrimination. Accordingly, segregation was no longer an acceptable practice and every individual deserved the opportunity to "enjoy a full share of dignity and self-respect."
One of the SRC’s main purposes was the gathering and dissemination of information as part of its goal to educate private citizens and public officials on a wide range of issues including civil rights, segregation and desegregation, police brutality, violence, unemployment, housing, suffrage, and racism. The SRC’s Information and Research Departments collected materials such as newspaper articles and literature about the South, conducted surveys of southern communities, and drafted reports on their findings. Closely tied to the Information and Research Departments was the Publication Department through which the SRC disseminated the information and data it collected. The SRC’s main publication was The Southern Frontier, first published by the CIC, which experienced several name changes throughout the 1960s and 1970s but remained the primary source of information on the organizations activities and programs. In addition to its serial publications, the SRC published a wide range of pamphlets, leaflets, brochures, and special reports to publicize the findings of the Information and Research Departments. Another significant publication was the SRC’s series of Leadership Reports, produced and distributed between 1959 and 1964. These reports dealt almost entirely with school desegregation and overall problems of race relations in the South during that period.
Though serving as a clearinghouse of information remained vital to the SRC’s goals, the organization also continued to support the work of the state and local interracial committees first established by the CIC. Under the leadership of the SRC, these state and local groups changed their names to Councils on Human Relations, a transformation that helped to emphasize the SRC’s commitment to regional development of all peoples of the South. Maintaining their original purpose, these councils encouraged individuals to join interracial activities and create specific programs to alleviate problems in their communities. The work of the state and local Councils on Human Relations proved vital to the success of the SRC in carrying out its goals and programs on the local level.
The Veterans Services Project, which operated between 1944 and 1951, was the first large-scale program initiated by the SRC. Recognizing that postwar racial tensions could destroy any hope of racial conciliation in the South, the SRC launched this project to gather statistics and other information pertinent to the reintegration of returning World War II veterans, especially African American veterans. Through this project, the SRC investigated possibilities for employment, job training, resumption of high school and college education, housing, and financing of small businesses for ex-military personnel. Furthermore, by documenting the number of black and white veterans who were taking advantage of these opportunities, the SRC could assist federal, state, and private agencies in redirecting their programs to include more eligible veterans.
One of the most important lessons learned from the Veterans Services Project was the extent of labor problems in the South. Addressing the issues of workmen’s and unemployment compensation, protective legislation, job discrimination, job training, and unions through various means, the SRC decided that it was essential to initiate a program that specifically focused on labor issues. Therefore in 1965, in cooperation with the National Institute for Labor Education and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the SRC established the Labor Education Program. Working until 1973, the Labor Education Program volunteers struggled to expand southern labor unions to make them more inclusive of minorities and women and promoted the economic development of the South, best exemplified in the creation of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in 1968.
In the field of civil rights, the SRC took great strides after 1951 to redress racial inequalities in southern society. Apprehensive of direct action, the SRC decided to focus on eliminating the barriers to African American suffrage and investigating the impact of segregation on African American education. Under the auspices of its Councils on Human Relations, the SRC embarked on a campaign to survey the extent of desegregation of southern schools after the Supreme Courts 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Reporting their findings to local, state, and federal agencies, the SRC was able to assist in the evaluation of the progress of desegregation efforts in southern communities. Given the violent reaction among southern extremists to the Brown decision and the slow course of desegregation, many local and state Councils on Human Relations launched petitions to endorse immediate or gradual adoption of federal school desegregation policy. Because so many public school systems opted to close schools rather than desegregate them, the SRC supported the 1958 Help Our Public Education (HOPE) program, initiated by the parents of black Atlanta school children who sought to keep Georgia’s public schools open. In 1959, the SRC expanded its support of local desegregation efforts and conceived the Save Our Schools campaign for other southern states to be carried out by local and state Councils on Human Relations.
Turning to the extension of voting rights for African Americans, the SRC joined with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Urban League (NUL), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in the creation of the Voter Education Project (VEP) in 1962. With the expressed purpose of educating poor and black southerners about their voting rights and assisting them in registering to vote, the VEP helped to increase voter rolls in the South by 11 percent by April 1963. The SRC served as a clearinghouse for information gathered during the project and provided strategy-planning and administration for the organizations involved. After the initial voter registration campaign of 1963, the VEP expanded its efforts to include citizenship training, educational conferences, support of black candidates, and the publication of voter registration materials. The VEP continued as part of the SRC until 1970, when federal law prohibited voter registration organizations from receiving more than 25 percent of its funding from a single source. After separating from the VEP, the SRC continued its commitment to voter equality through a number of campaigns including the Southern Legislative Research Council, which provided aid to black elected officials throughout the South; a 1979 redistricting project, which sought to improve voter participation in more than 2,000 jurisdictions in the South; and a 1982 voter education project, which led to the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In the late 1960s, the SRC came under fire again as critics condemned the council for challenging civil rights organizations that purged whites from their ranks and for rejecting the violent tactics of some black power activists. Many southern black leaders believed that the SRC had become little more than a sounding board for white progressivism and believed that its policies no longer reflected a true commitment to racial equality. These charges were symptomatic of the country’s changing racial climate and created tensions between the SRC’s black staff members and white administrators. The SRC’s response was to step away from the front lines of racial reform and refocus attention on its role as a clearinghouse of information in order to achieve its goal of promoting racial justice, protecting democratic rights, and broadening civic participation in the South.
The SRC expanded its range of concerns, collecting information and publishing a variety of reports on issues such as hunger, public health, migrant labor, and prison and urban conditions. In the 1970s, the SRC initiated a “governmental monitoring project” to study the social impact of federal laws and political agendas. In the 1980s, the SRC became an avid critic of the Reagan administration’s federal policies on welfare, voting rights, and affirmative action. Throughout the 1990s, the SRC sponsored a number of programs including Community Fellows for Public School Change and the Mississippi Delta Principals Institute, which promoted education reform, and Experts-in-Training, which sought to preserve minority voting rights. Moreover, the SRC provided leadership training and technical assistance to AmeriCorps, the volunteer organization established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton that incorporated Volunteers in Service to America and National Civilian Community Corps. In 1994, the SRC launched a landmark civil rights radio documentary project titled “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” as part of an educational program to assist the American public in understanding civil rights issues of the past and the future. Debuting in 1997 on Public Radio International, this award-winning radio documentary series traced the civil rights movement of five southern cities through first-person narratives.
From its inception, the SRC has remained true to its policy of regional development by helping southerners confront the fundamental social and economic problems that have plagued their region since the Second World War II. The SRC remains a viable organization, dedicated to correcting social injustices and creating opportunities for all people of the South.
Allred, William C., Jr. “The Southern Regional Council, 1943–1961.” M.A. thesis, Emory University, 1966.
Egerton, John. Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
McDonough, Julia Anne. “Men and Women of Good Will: A History of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation and the Southern Regional Council, 1919–1954.” Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1993.
Plowman, Edwin Lee. “Analysis of Selective Strategies Used by the Southern Regional Council in Effecting Social Change in the South.” Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 1976.
Southern Regional Council Papers, Special Collections, Robert W.Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Atlanta, Georgia.
SEE ALSO Alabama Council on Human Relations; Arkansas Council on Human Relations; Commission on Interracial Cooperation; Florida Council on Human Relations; Georgia Council on Human Relations; Louisiana Council on Human Relations; Mississippi Council on Human Relations; North Carolina Council on Human Relations; South Carolina Council on Human Relations; Tennessee Council on Human Relations; Virginia Council on Human Relations; Voter Education Project
Introduction by Barry E. Lee
From Southern Changes, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1998 pp. 26-28
"Without a doubt, this was the most impressive radio program I've ever heard," writes a listener from Fort Myers, Florida, about the Southern Regional Council's radio series Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Other listeners have commented on Will The Circle Be Unbroken? as a well-crafted and valuable oral history. Produced by George King, the series, which premiered in the spring of 1997 and was rebroadcast in 1998 on Public Radio International, highlights the contributions of ordinary people to the Civil Rights Movement in five Southern cities-Atlanta, Columbia, Jackson, Little Rock, and Montgomery-along with the music of the times. More than any other initiative sponsored by Council in the last twenty years, Will The Circle Be Unbroken? has generated an incredible flood of positive response and professional accolades in the field of radio broadcasting.
The tremendous effort that it took to produce the series and to get it broadcast on over 250 stations in thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia resulted in several prestigious awards. Among them are the 1997 Peabody Award, administered by the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters' Golden Reel Award, and the 1997 Nonprint Media Award for Outstanding use of oral history by The Oral History Association.
But perhaps as significant has been the more than one-thousand email responses from those who heard portions of the series. Reading through the responses makes the power of radio undeniably evident. For many listeners, the voices and the music bring back a flood of memories. For others the series makes them feel personally connected to an important historical era. Not surprisingly, numerous listeners felt motivated to take personal responsibility for the current state of race relations and to work toward multiracial understanding and cooperation. And still others see the series as the most powerful and effective teaching tool they have encountered.
Here are a few samples of the email responses received since first aired.
Congratulations on having produced a fantastic radio program series. We are fortunate to hear it and it has moved us to tears. How good it is that you have done this, and that people, particularly us white folks, are hearing these stories that we're sure are mostly unknown to mainstream America (and need to be known!). We are grateful for your work and proud of it.
If there is any way to purchase tapes of this, please let us know. Any kind of support we can offer, including membership in Southern Regional Council, please advise. We heard your program on Friday evenings, WQCS (88.9) out of Indian River Community College, Fort Pierce, Florida.
C. D. & S. G.
I've really enjoyed the programs in this series. As I listen to the various interviews, I can see these people, the places, and the events unfolding. I live in Little Rock, I lived in Columbia, SC and Baton Rouge, LA. I met Rev. T.J. Jemmison. I met Mrs. Daisy Bates, here, in Little Rock. I remember the slaying of Dr. King: I was living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. at the time. The racial tension and riots were intense in that city. I am so glad you did these interviews before more of these Civil Rights activists have passed on.
You really tell the story of this Human Rights struggle very well. I can see this program taken further with the addition of visuals (videos, snapshots, slides, etc). It would make a great TV documentary or perhaps a college tele-course.
After this series finishes on NPR/PRI, where will it go? I'd like to suggest that it become a part of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. It would add a great deal to what is already a fine display. Together, your audio and their audios, videos, displays, etc. could really explain well what happened during those times. It could become a very powerful, impressionable exhibit for all.
I consider myself a public radio junkie. I like to think that this gives me pretty high standards. I just want to tell you that your show is one of the finest and most inspiring things I have ever listened to. History books, interviews with famous people-all excellent sources of information-simply do not have the power that these average, everyday heros have as they tell their stories.
I would be very interested in getting copies of the series to share with others not so fortunate to have heard it 'live.'
Thank you for your work,
What a wonderful series! It is poignant beyond belief. I am 48 years old, and consider myself a strong liberal and civil rights advocate. However, I had no idea what really went on. There is not enough affirmative action in the world to make up for the indignities that most African Americans faced. Thank you for helping to further educate the public. White Americans just don't have a clue, and that is partially why the outcome of the OJ trial was such an eyeopener.
Thank you again.
A. R. Elk Grove Village, Illinois
To the folks at Unbroken Circle:
I would just like to thank you for the incredible program that you have created on the Civil Rights movement. I sit rapt, listening to the voices of the times, the music, and the soothing and articulate narration of Vertamae Grosvenor. This documentary series is the most moving and informative I have ever heard. You all have done a spectacular job. I look forward to purchasing the audio cassettes of the series when they become available. I'll keep checking the website for more info.
Thanks again for this important series, as we can all use a little reminder of our history to renew our dedication to the struggle for justice.
Just wanted to thank you all for this extraordinary documentary! The range of interviews, the music, the historical research, the footage, the editing, the moments captured, the ability of the interviewers to garner such open interviews-all outstanding.
Again, public radio producing something that commercial radio could never justify to its advertising mavens.
How do I get tapes of the series? I'm working with an elementary school in a very low-income neighborhood in Washington, DC, and would love to use this series in the classroom.
Thanks again for this masterpiece!
Clean Water Action
I want to congratulate you on such an excellent series. I have caught several segments in the last few weeks and they are outstandingly well done.
Most importantly, I want you to know that you have opened my eyes and my mind to a deeper understanding of the whole experience of Blacks in America. For all the racial rhetoric I've heard in my 31 years, nothing else has so directly confronted me with the historical facts and experiences of American Blacks. Ironically and unfortunately, most rhetoric from civil rights leaders today has been a hinderance rather than a help to my right understanding of the racial issues we confront. But the truth you present in simple, personal accounts is the most powerful tool to foster real racial understanding, especially for people like me, too young to have experienced it firsthand. Thank you.
Your series, Will The Circle Be Unbroken? is without a doubt the finest documentary I've ever heard. I have been riveted by every episode I've been able to catch, which unfortunately has not been all of them.
I was wondering if (i) you could provide me a list of the titles of each episode and (ii) indicate if the series is available on cassette or CD ROM.
Thank you for this program. You've raised the bar that all documentaries on the civil rights movement will have to measure up against.
I was a SNCC worker in southwest Georgia, 1963-5, and Atlanta, 1966. It was a life-changing experience for me, a rare opportunity to have an impact on history. Your series is superb. The mix of oral history, narrative by the incomparable Vertamae Grosvenor, and the civil rights songs and pop music of the time is very effective. While some productions on the civil rights movement are either just plain inaccurate or just don't convey the feel of it, your series makes me feel as I did while I was part of it.
I also appreciate the substantial focus on SNCC, which is often slighted in favor of the "hero" interpretation of history, which I hear your programs contradicting. The movement was indeed made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things with great faith and courage.You know, back in 1961-2-3, victory was not at all assured. We knew at the time that we could end up on the losing side, or it could have taken decades to do what we did in three or four years. If it had not been for the bravery and sacrifice of many people who never had their names in the news or the history books, we "outside agitators" would have been vulnerable to anything the Klan and White Citizens Council had to dish out.
Anyway, congratulations for an excellent job. As a member of the board of the Mt. Zion Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum (yes, it's a mouthful), I would like to obtain a set of the tapes for our collection. Do you have a special rate for organizations like ours (non-profit 501(C)3)? Our objective is not so much to commemorate a time in history but to inspire the kids of today to do extraordinary things in their own way. Thanks again.
I am 30 years old. I am white. I am a father of 4.5 children. I am a janitor. I find the galantry of the ordinary person who sacrificed and succeeded in the movements of civil rights awe inspiring. Listening to their stories I find their courage for overcoming inspiring. It is my hope that with them in my thoughts I may overcome and succeed. I applaud you for bringing their stories to all.
After listening to "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" on WAMU tonight, I resolved to do what I've intended to do since the first episode: to write to thank you for a stunning series, and to offer my congratulations for radio at its best.
We are, I think, doubly blessed to have this series: it's radio at its best *and* history at its best and most vibrant. How wonderful that folks in generations not yet born will be able to hear the voices of those who gave so much!
Again, deepest thanks.
I am just done listening to today's broadcast of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?. Your series is exceptionally informative, entertaining and emotionally charged. As a french national who arrived in the United States 5 years ago, it is important that I understand your racial history. My parents are originally from Martinique. Having been raised near the Swiss border, I have never experienced any form of racism while growing up. My American experience is slightly different. This is why your program is important to me. Have you, or are you thinking about publishing a book based on this program? What about the musical part? Could you tell me where I could buy some of the music you are using?
P.S.: The commentator is very good
S. M.L. B.
From the files of the Southern Regional Council, 1998
The civil rights radio documentary series "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?," produced for the Southern Regional Council by George King, is among the 34 recipients of the 57th annual George Foster Peabody Awards announced on Thursday, April 2, 1998 by the University of Georgia's Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication . The awards were presented at a May 11 ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
Considered the broadcast and cable industry's most prestigious prize, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" was one of only five radio productions selected this year. The Peabodys differ from other industry awards because they are given solely on the basis of merit, rather than within designated categories.
"We feel that "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" provides a unique and meaningful view from which to examine the civil rights movement as well as current efforts toward racial justice and we are extremely honored to have the Peabody Awards commend it," say SRC Executive Director Wendy Johnson.
"Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" in 26 half-hour programs, portrays the civil rights movement for what it truly was the work of everyday people who were the foot soldiers of resistance and social change. It goes beyond the headlines and to the streets, living rooms, courts, and church basements to present the stories of unknown black and white heroes whose acts of conscience and courage remain largely untold.
Going behind the scenes in five southern cities that represent the breadth of experiences and strategies that made up the movement, it relies on the words of the men and women who watched, made, and sometimes tried to stop one of America's most powerful social movements. Their riveting first-person narratives are interwoven through rare archival recordings, period music and narratives. "The Peabody Award for "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" honors the thousands of women and men who stood together to challenge America," says Producer George King, "Their example inspires us and reminds us of the work to be done."
In addition to receiving the Peabody Award, a National Federation of Community Broadcasters' Golden Reel Award, and an Oral History Association 1997 Nonprint Media Award, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" has also received an overwhelming public response through email and telephone calls. Hundreds of email responses have been sent to the series' website, from Portland, Chicago, and Cincinnati among others, as well as from cities across the South. Many of these listeners, after praising the series and requesting copies, have expressed their desire to "get involved," extending the Council's network of supporters across the country.
The Southern Regional Council, founded in 1919 in response to race riots, has been the South's most vital interracial organization working to eliminate racial discrimination. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the SRC continues to promote racial justice, protect democratic rights, and broaden civic participation in the southern United States.
From the Journal of Multimedia History, Volume 3 (2000)
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? An Audio History of the Civil Rights Movement in Five Southern Communities and the Music of Those Times. Vertamae Grosvenor, narrator; George King, writer and producer; Worth Long and Randall Williams, senior producers. Southern Regional Council, Atlanta, 1997. Distributed by Public Radio International (PRI)
Over a decade ago Henry Hampton's Eyes on the Prize, the six-hour series on the civil rights movement, set the standard for television documentaries. Eyes on the Prize vividly charted the course of the civil rights movement from the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi to the battle of Selma, Alabama ten years later. The series won so much acclaim that Hampton easily secured funding to produce eight additional one-hour episodes on the history of the civil rights movement. In Will the Circle Be Unbroken? the Southern Regional Council set out to do for radio what Eyes on the Prize did for television. Making use of hundreds of oral histories, taped interviews and memorable musical clips, the producers of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? succeed in meeting their ambitious goal. Like Eyes on the Prize, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (which originally aired on public radio stations) won instantaneous praise from reviewers. Without a doubt it will serve as a model for other radio productions in years to come. In many ways, the two series tell the same story. Both chronicle the battle to desegregate schools, white resistance to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the rise of nonviolent direct-action protest, the emergence of Martin Luther King Jr. as a national leader, and the broad-based effort to overcome Jim Crow in Mississippi—the bulwark of white supremacy.
In some instances, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? uses audio portions of the interviews utilized by the producers of Eyes on the Prize. While the latter has the advantage of riveting visual material, the producers of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? draw on the recollections of men and women steeped in a tradition of story telling, many of whom deliver "chillingly vivid" descriptions of the past, to borrow the words of one New York Times writer.
In contrast, by explicitly linking the civil rights movement to struggles that took place in five particular communities, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? clarifies the most important lesson of the civil rights years, namely, that it was ordinary people who united to forge a mass movement committed to overcoming the deeply entrenched caste system that was the American way of life. By examining the civil rights movement from a community perspective, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? also shows, to borrow Robert Norrell's words, that "the narrative line" of the civil rights movement was "exceedingly long, exhaustively crooked, and extensively smudged."
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? consists of thirteen hours of oral (and aural) history divided into twenty-six parts. (Each part begins with the song that gave the series its title, which people will find themselves singing even weeks after they have listened to the series.) It focuses on the development of the civil rights movement in five particular communities and their environs: Columbia, South Carolina; Montgomery, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; Jackson, Mississippi; and Atlanta, Georgia. Each community study explores a different theme, with some overlap.
The episodes on Montgomery, Alabama, retell the story of the Montgomery bus boycott. Sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks, the boycott lasted for nearly a year and signaled a new stage in the civil rights movement. Much like Eyes on the Prize, Will the Circle Be Unbroken discusses the emergence of Martin Luther King Jr. as a national leader following the role he played in Montgomery. Various figures—from E.D. Nixon, local leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, whom Parks first called first upon her arrest, to Rev. Ralph Abernathy, minister at another Montgomery church—reflect on King's power while reminding listeners of the broad-based nature of the movement in Montgomery.
The episodes on Atlanta, Georgia, center on the city's unique history. Wanting to build and maintain a reputation as a progressive community, white and black leaders steered Atlanta on a relatively peaceful and less confrontational course than that experienced by many other southern communities. To understand fully how Atlanta was able to avoid violent confrontation, the producers dig deep into the city's past, particularly the emergence of a politically active black middle class in the early decades of the twentieth century. By doing so, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? reinforces a view increasingly accepted by scholars, that the civil rights movement did not begin in the 1950s, but rather was part of a long history of black struggle.
While focusing on five communities, the producers take a number of detours, some of which are interesting and memorable. One show, on the shooting of students at Jackson State University in 1970, for example, leaves listeners wondering why the Kent State shootings received so much more attention in the mainstream media than those at Jackson State. In turn, this prompts one to consider the persistence of racism in the criminal justice system and media coverage of crime. The segment on the rise of black political power in Atlanta, similarly, leaves the listener with a concrete sense of one of the main achievements of the civil rights movement, black political power, and the limitations that black leaders in urban areas face due to white flight to suburbia and deindustrialization. Too often, however, these detours are episodic and lack depth. Nearly every discussion of the legacy of the movement is disjointed. The detour into the history of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and "Freedom Summer" (1964), is rushed and moves away from the community-based focus of the rest of the program. Likewise, the segment on Montgomery after the bus boycott is thin.
Without a doubt, the existence of solid secondary sources and oral histories has shaped the final product. Where the producers could draw on works such as Richard Kluger's masterful examination of the battle to desegregate public education, Simple Justice, and oral histories of lesser-known civil rights activists, such as Rev. Albert DeLaine and Modjeska Simkins, the results are wonderful. Where scholarly studies and oral sources are few, the results are less fulfilling. On the whole, however, teachers of all grade levels could make fruitful use of the series; libraries would be well advised to add it to their audio-visual collections. In Will the Circle Be Unbroken? the Southern Regional Council has produced a tremulously impressive program that should be heard both by those familiar and unfamiliar with the history of the civil rights movement.
Peter B. Levy
York College, York, PA
The Southern Regional Council (SRC), founded in 1919 to combat racial injustice, established the Lillian Smith Book Awards in 1966 to recognize writing which extends the legacy of the outspoken writer who challenged all Americans on issues of social and racial justice.
Since 2004 the awards have been presented by SRC in a partnership with the University of Georgia Libraries, whose Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses a historic collection of Lillian Smith's letters and manuscripts. Since 2007 this partnership has also included Georgia Center for the Book, and the awards ceremony is now presented on the Sunday of the Labor Day Weekend as part of the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia. Excerpts from the 2008 AND 2009 awards ceremonies may be viewed through the links on this page and through the Video Bar. The 2011 awards ceremony will be held at the DeKalb County Courthouse on Sunday, September 4th.