Athens, Ga. – As a film archivist with the University of Georgia, Margaret Compton came across the oldest-known moving images of African-Americans playing baseball. Now she’s hoping others will join her in the search for earlier films.
The 26-second home movie of a baseball game played by African-American employees at Pebble Hill Plantation near Thomasville was screened recently at the 26th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. Compton presented her research into the film for the symposium’s panel, “Searching for the Holy Grail,” focusing on how she determined the 28 mm film dates from around 1919 from a variety of clues in the home movie collection as well as historic materials at Pebble Hill.
“To date, we have not heard of any earlier film footage of blacks playing baseball, nor have we heard of any other existing plantation employees’ baseball games on film, but we are always hoping to find more,” Compton said. “Showing the film at the Cooperstown Symposium helps spread the word to scholars and enthusiasts who can join in the search.”
The film is part of the Pebble Hill Plantation Film Collection in the UGA Libraries Walter J. Brown Media Archives.
“This is a remarkable piece of film,” said Jim Gates, library director at the Hall of Fame and co-organizer of the Symposium, “and it generated quite a bit of discussion among the symposium participants.”
Also on the symposium’s panel was Leslie Heaphy, a history professor at Kent State University and one of the pre-eminent scholars of Negro Leagues baseball. She discussed what kinds of evidence, history and ephemera of black baseball that scholars are seeking.
“There is still so much of the story of black baseball to be found and examined for what it can tell us about baseball, African-American culture and American society,” Heaphy said. “The footage from Pebble Hill shows us that we should not give up on finding other documents and materials that are still out there, waiting to be discovered.”
The Cooperstown Symposium, co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, examines the impact of baseball on American culture from interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary perspectives. Every year, it brings together scholars at the hall to discuss a variety of aspects of the game.
“The Cooperstown Symposium offers a unique platform for scholars to present their research before other baseball history experts,” Gates said. “We are very pleased that Ms. Compton was able to participate in the event and to share her work on the discovery of and investigation into the Pebble Hill Plantation baseball home movie.”
Wallace Goodman, director of Pebble Hill Plantation, said he’s glad the film is being used in scholarly pursuits by UGA and in the broader historic research community.
“The mission of Pebble Hill Foundation is to preserve the history of the land, the family and the employees at Pebble Hill Plantation,” he said. “By screening the film at the symposium, researchers can see the quality and breadth of the lifestyle at Pebble Hill Plantation.”
Pebble Hill, a hunting plantation located just outside Thomasville was purchased 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 Elisabeth “Pansy” Ireland. The Pebble Hill Foundation’s trustees donated the family’s films to the Brown Media Archives in order to preserve their unique scenes of the family and property.
The Brown Media Archives is the third largest such repository in the country and the only public institution in Georgia devoted entirely to moving image and audio preservation for the state. For information about the Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, see http://www.libs.uga.edu/media/.
For information about the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual symposium, see http://baseballhall.org/symposium. For more information on Pebble Hill Plantation, see www.pebblehill.com. To view the home movie online, see http://www.libs.uga.edu/media/collections/homemovies/pebblehill.html.