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Prize-Time Viewing

January 21, 1987

"Eyes on the Prize," a PBS chronicle of the civil rights movement, captures the individual acts of courage by leaders as well as ordinary people, black and white, who helped to force this nation toward democracy for all. The six-part series, which airs Wednesdays, beginning at 9 o'clock tonight on KCET-TV in Los Angeles and KPBS-TV in San Diego, will be rewarding viewing.

Told through old news films and recent interviews, it is in part the story of a mother who bravely spoke out when her son, Emmett Till, 14 and from Chicago, violated the rules for survival in rural Mississippi. His casual remark to a white woman cost him his life. It is in part the story of the courage of the teen-ager's uncle, who broke another rule and testified at the murder trial.

It is much more. When the program focuses on the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, it tells of a 26-year-old minister new to that city, Martin Luther King Jr. The black women who determinedly walked seven or eight miles to work and the white women who defiantly provided rides during the boycott also tell their stories.

Rich in history and anecdote, the series covers the violent desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock and of the University of Mississippi, the March on Selma, the signing of the Voting Rights Act and other milestones during the painful era from 1954 through 1965.

It provides a lesson for young Americans on what it took--sit-ins, freedom rides, attacks, jailings and federal intervention--to make it possible for black people today to sit anywhere on a public bus, get a hamburger at any public place or go to any public movie theater. It provides a balm for older black Americans who bitterly question whether the pain, terror or hardship was worth it when they fought segregation day after day by walking to work or by walking to a school that had been reserved for whites. It is also a balm for white Americans who endured ridicule or worse for their support.

"Eyes on the Prize" is a reminder of how things were, not so long ago. It is also a reminder that individuals must continue to act courageously to perfect this nation's guarantee of equality.

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