How I Identified The Earliest Surviving Film Footage of African American Baseball Players

Clip from a home movie of a baseball game between African American employees of the Pebble Hill and Chinquapin Plantations, Georgia, 1919?” Pebble Hill Plantation Collection, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia

In 2011, we received a donation of films from Pebble Hill Plantation in Thomasville, Georgia, spanning from 1916 into the 1970s. Pebble Hill was the winter hunting retreat for the Hanna family of Cleveland, Ohio, prominent industrialists and politicians. 

One of the most important segments of all the films in the collection was 26 seconds of 28mm film showing Pebble Hill’s black baseball team playing Chinquapin Plantation’s black baseball team sometime in the 1910s or 1920s. We knew right away that this was unique footage and would be of interest to many people, so once the collection was more fully processed and the film preserved to a new substrate and digitized, we began to publicize it. An article in the New York Times on April 30, 2013, gave us worldwide publicity. 

The head of the Negro Leagues Museum then speculated that this might be the earliest footage of African Americans playing baseball. I presented the footage and spoke at the 2014 Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. My co-presenter on the panel was professor Leslie Heaphy of Kent State University, the editor of the journal Black Ball: New Research in African American Baseball History. She encouraged me to write up the story of the film and my research into dating it more precisely (to find out if it really was the earliest surviving black baseball footage) for her journal, which I was finally able to do in 2018, and volume 10 of that journal is now out with my article.

Describing my research into the film involved more than just telling my general knowledge about film after 20 years of working in a film archives. I had to document how and where I learned about the history of 28mm film, Pathéscope cameras and projectors, home movies, Pebble Hill, the baseball team, and South Georgia baseball in general. I combed Pebble Hill’s private archives, browsed books on the local history of the county, contacted colleagues at the Jack Hadley Black History Museum and the Thomasville History Center, looked into the accounts of other South Georgia plantations, explored Hanna family history in Ohio, and peppered the staff of Pebble Hill with many questions. 

Very helpfully, the Pebble Hill archives also contain Pansy Hanna Ireland Poe’s diary covering the years in question, 1915-1925, though the handwriting is challenging to read. I even needed weather reports from newspapers and climatological websites that could tell me what the weather was like at certain times of the year. Finally, I required obituaries, mentions of the hospital, and social event data.

Thankfully, the Digital Library of Georgia had already digitized many newspapers from the region (full-text searchable!). This work saved me many hours of peering at and being made dizzy and cross-eyed from reading small-print newspapers of the nineteen-teens on microfilm readers. 

The newspapers gave me a sense of what was important in the area between 1915 and 1925, visitors to the town, what the weather was like, what townsfolk were doing. To provide context to the story of this film, I was looking for any mention of regional hunting plantations, baseball teams, or games, a general sense of baseball in the area, what other teams existed, and mentions of African American ballplayers. 

One of my favorite issues of the digitized Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprise is from May 1, 1913, several days ahead of the town’s opening day of the baseball season. Almost every page in that issue contains notices from businesses in town letting everyone know that on May 5, opening day, they’d be “Closed. Gone to baseball game. Will open immediately after game.” 

The Daily times-enterprise. (Thomasville, Ga.) 1889-1925, May 01, 1913, Page 1, courtesy of Georgia Historic Newspapers

As William Warren Rogers stated in his books on Thomas County, baseball was an obsession in Thomasville. I could see that it really was a baseball-mad town. This helps explain why local plantations had baseball teams, though I have also been disappointed to see that black plantation team results of those years are rarely mentioned. Some non-plantation black team games are mentioned, though not nearly as much detail as white town teams.

I will always be looking for more information from South Georgia that will illuminate stories from Pebble Hill, and the DLG is one of my best sources.

Margaret Compton
Film Archivist
Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection


New Digital Collections Available from Piedmont College Library

The Digital Library of Georgia (DLG) is pleased to announce the launch of two new collections from our partners at Piedmont College Library: the May Ivie Valise Collection and the Johnny Mize Collection. The collections are available thanks in part to the DLG’s 2017 Competitive Digitization grant program, a funding opportunity intended to broaden DLG partner participation for statewide historic digitization projects.

The May Ivie Valise collection, available at, contains correspondence, printed programs, military documents, and a composition book belonging to May Ivie, an alumna of Piedmont College from the 1940s.

The Johnny Mize Collection, available at includes baseball memorabilia, including gloves, bats, autographed baseballs, uniforms, and photographs collected by Johnny Mize, a native of Demorest, Georgia, and major league baseball player who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981. Nicknamed “The Big Cat” and “Big Jawn,” Mize was a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Giants, and the New York Yankees. He was a ten-time All-Star whose record included 359 home runs with a batting average of .312 over a career that spanned from 1936 to 1953. He won four National League home run titles, five World Series titles, a batting title, and three RBI crowns. He also hit three home runs in one game more times than any other National League player at the time of his retirement.

For both of these collections, DLG staff provided training and support for the creation and enhancement of descriptive metadata records by establishing best practices that helped Piedmont College Library staff prepare metadata records that meet standards for inclusion in the DLG and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). DLG staff also provided advice about the creation and management of digital collections by assisting with the setup of Piedmont’s digital asset management system.

Bob Glass, Dean of Libraries and College Librarian at Piedmont College Library notes: “Piedmont College Library is so grateful for all the advice, training, and encouragement we received through our DLG Subgrant. We needed help learning about metadata creation and working with our digital library platform, CONTENTdm. Nicole Lawrence was a great coach as she helped us bring our collections online!”

About Piedmont College Library

Piedmont College Library supports Piedmont College’s academic programs and research by facilitating information access and satisfying the instructional needs of all members of the College community, wherever they are located. The Libraries currently house more than 100,000 volumes and provide access to more than 56,400 online journals, magazines, newspapers, and legal resources and to more than 420,000 ebooks. Visit the Library at

About the Digital Library of Georgia

Based at the University of Georgia Libraries, the Digital Library of Georgia is a GALILEO initiative that collaborates with Georgia’s libraries, archives, museums and other institutions of education and culture to provide access to key information resources on Georgia history, culture and life. This primary mission is accomplished through the ongoing development, maintenance and preservation of digital collections and online digital library resources. DLG also serves as Georgia’s service hub for the Digital Public Library of America and as the home of the Georgia Newspaper Project, the state’s historic newspaper microfilming project.