Judy Richardson

National History Day is honored to have Judy Richardson as the 2019 National Contest Welcome Ceremony speaker on June 9, 2019. A documentary filmmaker, educator, and lifelong civil rights activist, Ms. Richardson has lived history. From her work on staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s, to her academic, editorial and documentary contributions today, Judy Richardson has committed her life to the civil rights movement and its legacy. We look forward to her Welcome Ceremony remarks as we gather to consider this year’s National History Day theme, “Triumph & Tragedy in History.”

Please take the time to learn more about Judy Richardson and her work below.

1963, Atlanta. A sit-in of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at the Toddle House restaurant. Judy Richardson, seated center, holds a newspaper and looks toward the camera. Photo credit: Danny Lyon

Ella Baker, civil rights organizer and SNCC mentor, at Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) rally at Democratic National Convention (Atlantic City, August 10,1964)
Photo credit: George Ballis/Take Stock

Local Mississippi leader Amzie Moore (second from right) with SNCC organizers Bob Moses, Julian Bond, Curtis Hayes, Hollis Watkins, and local leader E.W. Steptoe (Mississippi, 1963)

Judy Richardson
Biography provided by Ms. Richardson

Judy Richardson’s Civil Rights Movement experiences have influenced her throughout her life, from her work in film -- including the 14-hour PBS series Eyes on the Prize -- to her work in education.

In the summer of 2018, she was director (with her Duke University counterpart) of a three-week NEH teacher institute, focused on the grassroots southern movement, held at Duke University. She is the interviewer and consultant for the National Park Service’s forthcoming orientation video for its Selma-to-Montgomery historic site; and story editor for a documentary on Pauli Murray.

She was on the staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South, from 1963 to 1966: in SNCC’s national office in Atlanta; in Mississippi during “Freedom Summer”; in Southwest Georgia; and in Lowndes County, Alabama. In 1965 she left SNCC’s Lowndes County project to become the office manager for the successful, first campaign of Julian Bond (then SNCC’s Press Director, later Chair of the NAACP) for the Georgia House of Representatives. She also organized a residential “freedom school” that brought together young people from civil rights struggles in both the North and South to talk about common concerns and strategies.

In 1968 Ms. Richardson and a number of former SNCC workers organized Drum & Spear Bookstore in Washington, D.C. The bookstore opened one month after the rebellions that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. That bookstore soon became the largest African American bookstore in the country. A publishing house followed, with offices in Washington and Tanzania, East Africa; she became its children’s editor.

In the 1970’s Ms. Richardson was involved in several independent projects, including directing a study of racism in “Black” children’s books for the Howard University School of Education. She was also Director of the Black Student Fund, a scholarship agency for African-American students attending independent schools in the Washington, D.C. area.

In 1978 she began her first stint with Blackside, Inc., and entered the world of film. She worked on all fourteen hours of Blackside’s seminal PBS series, Eyes on the Prize (winner of an Academy Award nomination, six Emmys, the highest broadcast journalism awards, and many others). She was Series Associate Producer for the second series, content advisor and researcher for the first series, and Education Director for the full 14-hour series.

Also for Blackside, Ms. Richardson co-produced the 2-1/2 hour documentary, Malcolm X: Make It Plain in 1994, which aired nationally on PBS’ “The American Experience,” winning both an Emmy and a Peabody Award; and Hopes on the Horizon on African liberation movements.

In 1982 Ms. Richardson returned to New York (having been born and raised in Tarrytown, N.Y.) and began her work with the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice. As its Director of Information she coordinated public information campaigns and research for the organization, including anti-police brutality campaigns in New York City and two Freedom Rides from New York to the Alabama Black Belt to counter intimidation of Black voters during a crucial statewide election. She also wrote the Commission’s weekly commentary.

In 2001 she became a Senior Producer with Northern Light Productions (Boston). With Bestor Cram, the company’s founder, she produced/directed the one-hour PBS documentary Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968, about the killings of three Black student demonstrators on the campus of South Carolina State College, an HBCU in Orangeburg, SC. The film was broadcast nationally on PBS and was the only film shown at the NAACP’s 100th anniversary conference. She also produced all the videos for the National Park Service’s “Little Rock 9” Visitor Center, focused on the 1957 school desegregation struggle there, and co-produced the orientation film for the site.

Her other Northern Light productions included Slave Catchers, Slave Resisters, a two-hour special for the History Channel on the slave policing system and slave resistance; two videos for the New-York Historical Society’s “Slavery in New York” exhibit; and From Slavery to Freedom, an overview of the history of slavery in the U.S. for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati). She also wrote and produced A Fragile Freedom: African American Historic Sites, a one-hour documentary for The History Channel; and museum orientation films for the Paul Laurence Dunbar historic site (Dayton) and the Museum of African American History (Boston).

She and five other female SNCC activists co-edited Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC. Published by the University of Illinois Press, the anthology includes the memoirs of 52 courageous women on the front lines of the 1960’s Southern Civil Rights Movement.

She is also on the board of the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP). SLP is currently involved in a number of projects related to SNCC’s work and legacy. These include continuing discussions with activists from the Movement for Black Lives and a four-year collaboration with Duke University on an on-going website (snccdigital.org) about SNCC’s voting rights and other social justice organizing work, including short videos of today’s young activists connecting SNCC’s organizing legacy to their own experiences. Her work with the website project included residencies at Duke as a visiting scholar.

Ms. Richardson has authored numerous academic articles, and lectures nationally about the Movement, its history and values, and its relevance to issues we face today. Since 1990 she has also conducted professional development workshops for teachers on the Civil Rights Movement, using selections from Eyes on the Prize and other Movement-related films.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate by Swarthmore College, was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brown University, and held a Distinguished Guest Residency in Film at Connecticut College.