Civil rights motion activist to debate award-winning documentary

Judy Richardson is both a maker and a recorder of history.

In the 1960s she was actively involved in the civil rights movement in the south and was instrumental in creating the award-winning 14-part PBS documentary series “Eyes on the Prize” in the 1980s, which she was a co-producer.

She will participate in a public virtual chat on Friday about her experience and the television series with Hasan Jeffries of the History Department at Ohio State University. It is part of the Center for Historical Research’s “1619 and Beyond: Explorations in Atlantic Slavery and its American Legacy” program.

The 1619 and Beyond program, which began in the 2019-20 academic year, was inspired by the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in colonial North America.

“But we didn’t want it to be all about the past, we wanted it to be about connections between the past and the present,” Jeffries said.

John Brooke, director of the center, said some of the most dramatic presentations of the series are coming up. Following Richardson’s lecture, this includes a discussion on “Policing Black America” ​​on February 5th and “The Black Athlete: Politics and Protest in the Age of Black Lives” on March 5th.

Jeffries, who teaches an African American History through Film class this semester, said it was a blessing to have Richardson talk about “what is still the gold standard of civil rights films – and how to make it.”

Judy Richardson co-produced the award-winning 14-part PBS documentary series

Richardson, 76, joined the movement when she received a scholarship as a freshman at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1962 and 1963. She and her friends took buses to Maryland to work with the grassroots movement.

“Then I start getting arrested and going to jail and I’m in jail on the weekends and late for class on Monday,” she said, speaking on the phone from her home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

From there, she was invited to work at the National Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) headquarters in Atlanta, and she never looked back – or went back to Swarthmore.

While working with the movement, Richardson realized the importance of documenting what was going on. She kept a diary, parts of which are included in a co-edited book, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts of Women in SNCC.

Her time there also taught her the importance of visual evidence.

“Danny Lyon, the SNCC employee photographer, would photograph the police brutality. Danny was our proof that this is happening, just as cell phone video is now for social media folks, ”said Richardson.

That emphasis on evidence traveled with her to “Eyes on the Prize”.

“Henry Hampton, the producer, said we couldn’t do replicas of events. We had to use recent footage. Everything we said in the narrative, everything we covered, had to be scientifically validated on the back of the script. “

Richardson is now working closely with the SNCC Legacy Project, keeping records of the past and present of black activism.

“It really helps to have cell phones, but I’m worried people won’t keep the footage,” she said. “The Legacy Project is working on archiving with these younger activists. We tell them, ‘You all need to archive your material so you can control the narration.”

Even when working with younger activists, she has no plans to sit back and watch.

“The people I know who are part of the SNCC Legacy Project are all in their 70s and 80s, but no one sits around knitting baby shoes,” she said. “I often say I will not be passing the baton on. I’ll run with you – with that baton – until I can’t run anymore. Then you can take it from me and move on. “

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At a glance

A free webinar with Judy Richardson will take place on Friday at 4:30 p.m. To register, go to

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