Henry Hampton, 58, filmmaker who produced 'Eyes on the Prize'

November 24, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES

Henry Hampton, 58, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker whose series "Eyes on the Prize" was hailed by many critics as the definitive look at the nation's early struggle over civil rights, died Sunday in Boston.

Mr. Hampton had the bone marrow disease myelodysplasia, which arose from a treatment for lung cancer. He had surgery last week to repair a hematoma in his brain, said his nephew, Jacob ben-David Zimmerman.

A lifelong chronicler of the poor and the disenfranchised, Mr. Hampton began his career in 1963 as a spokesman for the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, a strong voice in the civil-rights movement.

His true moment of revelation would come two years later, during the "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, Ala. The event, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., degenerated into violence when police beat some 600 marchers trying to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge, a moment Mr. Hampton would later credit as inspiring him to undertake "Eyes on the Prize."

Mr. Hampton, who suffered from polio as a teen-ager and walked with a limp, was near the back of the march and watched the violence flare ahead of him.

Mr. Hampton returned to Boston and in 1968 founded Blackside Inc., a film company whose mission was to explore "democracy, diversity, culture and civil society."

The company produced more than 60 documentaries and films.

In 1976, Mr. Hampton undertook his most ambitious project, a six-hour survey of the civil-rights movement that would eventually be televised by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1987.

Beginning with the lynching of a 14-year-old Mississippi boy in 1954 and continuing through to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he and his crew wove together narration, newsreels and interviews into a series that explored the nation's first steps in the direction of racial equality.

"Eyes on the Prize" would win four Emmy awards and the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Mr. Hampton was born in St. Louis, where his father was a surgeon at the city's black hospital and his mother was a homemaker. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Washington University in St. Louis.

He is survived by two sisters.

Pub Date: 11/24/98

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