Judy Richardson, Documentary Film Producer and Veteran Civil Rights Activist to Make Presentation at Blair-Caldwell Library
by Annette Walker
Judy Richardson considers her 30 years as a documentary film producer an extension of her work in the Civil Rights Movement.
She was an early member of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), founded in 1960 by Ella Baker, Julian Bond and John Lewis among others. SNCC was one of the principal organizations of the Civil Rights Movement and helped organize the sit-ins, freedom rides, the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and voter registration drives.
"SNCC not only influenced me personally, but it influenced my life's work," Richardson said. Almost everything with which she has been involved since 1960 related to social justice, the African-American struggle in particular.
A native of Tarrytown, New York, located north of New York City, she received a full scholarship to the prestigious Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Inspired by the African-American struggle that had emerged in the South, Richardson spent some weekends during her freshman year in Maryland assisting with desegregation projects. Within a short time she joined SNCC and worked in various locations including Alabama where Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) was part of the team.
In 1965 Richardson joined Julian Bond's campaign for the Georgia House of Representatives. He and seven others won seats in the Georgia Legislature, making them the first African-Americans since Reconstruction.
In 1968 Richardson and other former SNCC workers established the Drum & Spear bookstore in Washington, D.C. For a time it was the largest African-American bookstore in the United States. Drum & Spear also organized a publishing house and Richardson served as an editor of children's books. Later she directed a study of racism in children's books for Howard University's School of Education.
In the early 1980s she was in New York City as Communications Director at the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice and worked with Executive Director Rev. Ben Chavis.
She had already teamed up with Henry Hampton, founding Director of Blackside Productions. She became educational director and senior producer, and their early work eventually transitioned into Blackside's acclaimed 14-hour series "Eyes on the Prize", debuting on PBS in 1986. It was nominated for an Academy Award
A sequel "Eyes On The Prize II” also was broadcast on PBS.
Continuing her passion for preserving the African-American experience, Richardson co-produced Blackside's 1994 documentary, "Malcolm X: Make It Plain" which was broadcast on PBS' American Experience series. She was also the producer of "Scarred Justice", which explores the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre of Black students on a South Carolina campus. This film was screened at the NAACP’s 100th Anniversary Conference.
Her other documentaries have been broadcast on the History Channel as well as the PBS network. This includes the videos for the National Park Services’ “Little Rock Nine Historic Site”.
Most recently, Richardson is a co-editor of the book "Hands On The Freedom Plow: The Personal Testimonies of Women in SNCC". The book was released last year.
Richardson is the recipient of an Image Award for Vision and Excellence from Women in Film and Video.
There is a concept that underlies all of Richardson's work. "I want to focus upon the history, culture and politics of the African-American community in a way that viewers understand it's never just about one person. What we call the Civil Rights Movement comes from grassroots men and women. They were not just the troops; they were the leaders," she said.
"At the local level there was lots of Fannie Lou Hamers and Fred Shuttleworths. And the Civil Rights Movement was not just Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.," she continued. "In any oppressed community there is always resistance. And any film that I do will reflect that. And it is important that young people understand that."
Editor’s Note: Judy Richardson will make a presentation featuring excerpts from her films and videos on Saturday, November 19, 1:00 pm at the Blair-Caldwell Library, 2401 Welton St.