Listeners Respond to Will The Circle Be Unbroken?

Introduction by Barry E. Lee

Vol. 20, No. 2, 1998 pp. 26-28

"Without a doubt, this was the most impressive radio program I've ever heard," writes a listener from Fort Myers, Florida, about the Southern Regional Council's radio series Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Other listeners have commented on Will The Circle Be Unbroken? as a well-crafted and valuable oral history. Produced by George King, the series, which premiered in the spring of 1997 and was rebroadcast in 1998 on Public Radio International, highlights the contributions of ordinary people to the Civil Rights Movement in five Southern cities-Atlanta, Columbia, Jackson, Little Rock, and Montgomery-along with the music of the times. More than any other initiative sponsored by Council in the last twenty years, Will The Circle Be Unbroken? has generated an incredible flood of positive response and professional accolades in the field of radio broadcasting.

The tremendous effort that it took to produce the series and to get it broadcast on over 250 stations in thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia resulted in several prestigious awards. Among them are the 1997 Peabody Award, administered by the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters' Golden Reel Award, and the 1997 Nonprint Media Award for Outstanding use of oral history by The Oral History Association.

But perhaps as significant has been the more than one-thousand email responses from those who heard portions of the series. Reading through the responses makes the power of radio undeniably evident. For many listeners, the voices and the music bring back a flood of memories. For others the series makes them feel personally connected to an important historical era. Not surprisingly, numerous listeners felt motivated to take personal responsibility for the current state of race relations and to work toward multiracial understanding and cooperation. And still others see the series as the most powerful and effective teaching tool they have encountered.

You can visit the Circle's web site at http://unbrokencircle.org. Tapes and CDs will be available in the fall.

Here are a few samples of the email responses received since first aired.

To: info@unbrokencircle.org

Subject: Unbroken Circle radio series

Congratulations on having produced a fantastic radio program series. We are fortunate to hear it and it has moved us to tears. How good it is that you have done this, and that people, particularly us white folks, are hearing these stories that we're sure are mostly unknown to mainstream America (and need to be known!). We are grateful for your work and proud of it.

If there is any way to purchase tapes of this, please let us know. Any kind of support we can offer, including membership in Southern Regional Council, please advise. We heard your program on Friday evenings, WQCS (88.9) out of Indian River Community College, Fort Pierce, Florida.

C. D. & S. G.

Melbourne, Florida

Subject: Your Civil Rights Series

I've really enjoyed the programs in this series. As I listen to the various interviews, I can see these people, the places, and the events unfolding. I live in Little Rock, I lived in Columbia, SC and Baton Rouge, LA. I met Rev. T.J. Jemmison. I met Mrs. Daisy Bates, here, in Little Rock. I remember the slaying of Dr. King: I was living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. at the time. The racial tension and riots were intense in that city. I am so glad you did these interviews before more of these Civil Rights activists have passed on.

You really tell the story of this Human Rights struggle very well. I can see this program taken further with the addition of visuals (videos,


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snapshots, slides, etc). It would make a great TV documentary or perhaps a college tele-course.

After this series finishes on NPR/PRI, where will it go? I'd like to suggest that it become a part of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. It would add a great deal to what is already a fine display. Together, your audio and their audios, videos, displays, etc. could really explain well what happened during those times. It could become a very powerful, impressionable exhibit for all.

Subject: a bit more fan mail

I consider myself a public radio junkie. I like to think that this gives me pretty high standards. I just want to tell you that your show is one of the finest and most inspiring things I have ever listened to. History books, interviews with famous people-all excellent sources of information-simply do not have the power that these average, everyday heros have as they tell their stories.

I would be very interested in getting copies of the series to share with others not so fortunate to have heard it 'live.'

Thank you for your work,

A. S.

Subject: NPR series

What a wonderful series! It is poignant beyond belief. I am 48 years old, and consider myself a strong liberal and civil rights advocate. However, I had no idea what really went on. There is not enough affirmative action in the world to make up for the indignities that most African Americans faced. Thank you for helping to further educate the public. White Americans just don't have a clue, and that is partially why the outcome of the OJ trial was such an eyeopener.

Thank you again.

A. R. Elk Grove Village, Illinois

Subject: thank you

To the folks at Unbroken Circle:

I would just like to thank you for the incredible program that you have created on the Civil Rights movement. I sit rapt, listening to the voices of the times, the music, and the soothing and articulate narration of Vertamae Grosvenor. This documentary series is the most moving and informative I have ever heard. You all have done a spectacular job. I look forward to purchasing the audio cassettes of the series when they become available. I'll keep checking the website for more info.

Thanks again for this important series, as we can all use a little reminder of our history to renew our dedication to the struggle for justice.

Inspired,

D. P.

Subject: amazing series

Just wanted to thank you all for this extraordinary documentary! The range of interviews, the music, the historical research, the footage, the editing, the moments captured, the ability of the interviewers to garner such open interviews-all outstanding.

Again, public radio producing something that commercial radio could never justify to its advertising mavens.

How do I get tapes of the series? I'm working with an elementary school in a very low-income neighborhood in Washington, DC, and would love to use this series in the classroom.

Thanks again for this masterpiece!

J. F.,

Clean Water Action

Subject: Thanks for series

I want to congratulate you on such an excellent series. I have caught several segments in the last few weeks and they are outstandingly well done.

Most importantly, I want you to know that you have opened my eyes and my mind to a deeper understanding of the whole experience of Blacks in America. For all the racial rhetoric I've heard in my 31 years, nothing else has so directly confronted me with the historical facts and experiences of American Blacks. Ironically and unfortunately, most rhetoric from civil rights leaders today has been a hinderance rather than a help to my right understanding of the racial issues we confront. But the truth you present in simple, personal accounts is the most powerful tool to foster real racial understanding, especially for people like me, too young to have experienced it firsthand. Thank you.

M.K.


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Subject: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

Your series, Will The Circle Be Unbroken? is without a doubt the finest documentary I've ever heard. I have been riveted by every episode I've been able to catch, which unfortunately has not been all of them.

I was wondering if (i) you could provide me a list of the titles of each episode and (ii) indicate if the series is available on cassette or CD ROM.

Thank you for this program. You've raised the bar that all documentaries on the civil rights movement will have to measure up against.

S. K.

Chicago, Illinois

Subject: Your marvelous series!

I was a SNCC worker in southwest Georgia, 1963-5, and Atlanta, 1966. It was a life-changing experience for me, a rare opportunity to have an impact on history. Your series is superb. The mix of oral history, narrative by the incomparable Vertamae Grosvenor, and the civil rights songs and pop music of the time is very effective. While some productions on the civil rights movement are either just plain inaccurate or just don't convey the feel of it, your series makes me feel as I did while I was part of it.

I also appreciate the substantial focus on SNCC, which is often slighted in favor of the "hero" interpretation of history, which I hear your programs contradicting. The movement was indeed made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things with great faith and courage.You know, back in 1961-2-3, victory was not at all assured. We knew at the time that we could end up on the losing side, or it could have taken decades to do what we did in three or four years. If it had not been for the bravery and sacrifice of many people who never had their names in the news or the history books, we "outside agitators" would have been vulnerable to anything the Klan and White Citizens Council had to dish out.

Anyway, congratulations for an excellent job. As a member of the board of the Mt. Zion Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum (yes, it's a mouthful), I would like to obtain a set of the tapes for our collection. Do you have a special rate for organizations like ours (non-profit 501(C)3)? Our objective is not so much to commemorate a time in history but to inspire the kids of today to do extraordinary things in their own way. Thanks again.

Subject: PBS Radio

I am 30 years old. I am white. I am a father of 4.5 children. I am a janitor. I find the galantry of the ordinary person who sacrificed and succeeded in the movements of civil rights awe inspiring. Listening to their stories I find their courage for overcoming inspiring. It is my hope that with them in my thoughts I may overcome and succeed. I applaud you for bringing their stories to all.

C. L.

Edmonds, Washington

Subject: Kudos

After listening to "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" on WAMU tonight, I resolved to do what I've intended to do since the first episode: to write to thank you for a stunning series, and to offer my congratulations for radio at its best.

We are, I think, doubly blessed to have this series: it's radio at its best *and* history at its best and most vibrant. How wonderful that folks in generations not yet born will be able to hear the voices of those who gave so much!

Again, deepest thanks.

J. H.

Subject: Radio Series

I am just done listening to today's broadcast of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?. Your series is exceptionally informative, entertaining and emotionally charged. As a french national who arrived in the United States 5 years ago, it is important that I understand your racial history. My parents are originally from Martinique. Having been raised near the Swiss border, I have never experienced any form of racism while growing up. My American experience is slightly different. This is why your program is important to me. Have you, or are you thinking about publishing a book based on this program? What about the musical part? Could you tell me where I could buy some of the music you are using?

P.S.: The commentator is very good

S. M.L. B.