Eyes on the Prize: Back to the Movement (1979-mid 80s)

About This Episode

"My child is dead, they beat him to death like a dog." — Eula McDuffie, murder victim's mother

Simmering racial problems in Miami finally explode. In December 1979, police kill African American veteran, Arthur McDuffie, claiming he died from injuries sustained from a high-speed chase. A cover-up is revealed: McDuffie was beaten to death. Despite the evidence, the police officers are cleared of all charges by an all-white jury. Shocked and infuriated black residents begin rioting; three days later, 17 people are dead and over 1000 have been arrested. President Jimmy Carter asks the community to take action before the government supplies funds to rebuild from the nearly $100 million in damage. The African American residents and McDuffie's family never obtain justice.

"We were told by the legislators, 'Your people don't vote.'...Which was the truth...And we took that as a lead to organize public aid recipients to vote." — Nancy Jefferson, Chicago community activist

After Ronald Reagan wins the presidency in 1980, he cuts programs for the poor, alarming activists working against poverty. In Chicago, black voters elect Jane Byrne, the city's first woman mayor, who becomes a source of disappointment. Public housing complex Cabrini Green, where 14,000 people live, is plagued by unemployment and crime. Byrne moves in for three weeks as a gesture of support, alienating residents seeking representation at the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). When Byrne appoints three white people to the CHA, the community is further angered...

"I felt like I was a part of something...I was a small person in the corner, wouldn't get the big headlines, but I made it happen." — Rosie Mars, African American voter

African American activists resolve to elect the city's first black mayor. To entice Congressman Harold Washington to run, they set a goal of registering 50,000 voters; they double that number, thanks to speeches by leaders like Jesse Jackson. Despite trailing Jayne Byrne, Washington wins the primary, and the election, backed by a large black voter turnout. Jackson concludes that the only way to change the major political parties' disregard for black voters' concerns is for more African Americans to run for national office, leading to his candidacy in two presidential elections. Though his bids fail, he has more impact than anticipated; in the words of professor Roger Wilkins, it expanded "the idea in the heads and spirits of Americans of who could aspire to be president."

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.