Eyes on the Prize: Awakenings (1954-1956)

About This Episode

"When people saw what had happened to my son, men stood up who had never stood up before." - Mamie Till Bradley, Emmett Till's mother

Emmett Till, an African American teen from Chicago, is visiting relatives in Mississippi when he makes a fatal mistake - he whistles at a white woman, breaking the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South. Three days later, two white men drag him from bed and brutally murder him. Despite national outrage and the testimony of eyewitnesses including Emmett's uncle Moses Wright, Mississippi finds the accused not guilty. Safe from being tried twice for the same crime, the men later confess to the crime, describing details of the lynching. Till's death and his killers' acquittal help ignite the civil rights movement.

"...people wanted to continue that boycott. They had been touched by the persecution, the humiliation...they voted for it unanimously..." - Jo Ann Robinson, boycott organizer

After Emmett Till's murder, civil rights activist Rosa Parks is arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest inspires black leaders to mount a one-day bus boycott with 40,000 people. The success of the event leads to a year-long boycott led by 26-year-old Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. During the time, the bus company suffers economically, bombs are thrown at organizers' homes, and the white Citizens Council and the Ku Klux Klan hold rallies. At last, a Supreme Court decision integrates the buses; thousands of black riders are on the buses again...sitting where they please.

The award-winning documentary series Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today.