Earliest known plantation baseball game film discovered

April 5, 2013

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Margie Compton

Margie Compton

Media Archives Archivist

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Athens, Ga. - A 26-second film of a game played by African-American employees at Pebble Hill Plantation, circa 1919, may be the earliest moving images of baseball filmed in Georgia.

The 28 mm home movie, part of the Pebble Hill Plantation Film Collection (circa 1917-circa 1976), was donated last year to the University of Georgia Libraries' Walter J. Brown Media Archives, the only public institution in Georgia devoted entirely to preserving unique moving images and sound from the state. Pebble Hill, a hunting plantation located just outside Thomasville, was bought in 1896 by Howard Melville Hanna of Cleveland, Ohio, as a winter home. In 1901, he gave the property to his daughter, Kate Hanna Ireland, and her children, Livingston and Elizabeth "Pansy" Ireland. Pebble Hill's trustees donated the family's films to the Media Archives to preserve their unique scenes of the family and property.

"It is believed to be the only existing moving image of a baseball game between teams made up of African-American employees on Southern hunting plantations. The precise date of the film is unknown, but based on photographs of Pebble Hill teams and from other films wound on the reel with this film, it appears to have been made around 1919," said Margaret Compton, moving image archivist at UGA. The opposing team in the game is from Chinquapin Plantation, also situated just outside Thomasville.

According to James "Jack" Hadley, co-author of "African-American Life on the Southern Hunting Plantation," many plantations in south Georgia and north Florida had baseball teams made up of the African-American plantation employees. Hadley grew up at Pebble Hill and now operates the Jack Hadley Black History Museum in Thomasville.

In researching the footage, archivists and baseball scholars were contacted to determine if other plantation baseball team game films exist and no one knew of any, Compton said.

"It is an extraordinary piece of footage and I wish we had known about it 20 years ago, when we were making ‘Baseball,'" said Lynn Novick, directing/producing partner of Ken Burns at Florentine Films, which made the landmark 1994 documentary. "In all the research we did seeking early film of the game, we never came across footage from the 1910s or 1920s of African Americans playing organized ball."

Warren Bicknell III, president of the Pebble Hill Foundation, says, "We are astonished at how many unique images have come out of the Ireland family's home movies. Of course, we are proud to know that Pebble Hill is contributing such unique images to the story of Georgia in the 20th century."

Ruta Abolins, director of the Brown Archives, was excited to see the footage and hopes it encourages others to think about what moving images may be in their home collections. "We are thrilled that this particular aspect of Pebble Hill's life is represented in the collection. We have dedicated some of our funds to preserve it to digital files and to a new negative and new print on long-lasting polyester film so future generations can see it. I hope that this film will spur people with early home movies to bring them out of their cans and boxes and have a film archivist examine them. "

For information about the Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection, see http://www.libs.uga.edu/media/.

For more information on Pebble Hill Plantation, see www.pebblehill.com.

For information on the Jack Hadley Black History Museum in Thomasville, see http://www.jackhadleyblackhistorymuseum.com/.

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