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Grant Provides Funds to Digitize Interviews from ‘Black Champions’

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has awarded a grant of $27,228 to Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive to fund the project “Level Playing Field: Digitizing and Disseminating William Miles’ Black Champions Interviews.”

The yearlong grant will allow the Libraries to digitize interviews filmed for Miles’ three-part documentary series, which aired on public television in 1986. Portions of the interviews used in the final programs will be reassembled with those that were not included, so that unrestricted, complete access copies can be delivered via the web. The project will make available, for the first time, 32 complete interviews, totaling 18 hours of content. In addition to digitization, the project includes the creation of athlete biographies and the enhancement of metadata records.

Interview subjects for the documentary series include former St. Louis Cardinal Curt Flood, Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph and football player and film star Jim Brown. Covering sports from the early years of the 20th century through the 1980s, the interviews shed light on a range of significant topics, including Negro League baseball; treatment of African American athletes before and during desegregation; international competitions such as the Olympic Games and many other noteworthy subjects.

“Since these complete interviews go well beyond what was previously available in the original broadcast, researchers will be able to discover fresh perspectives related to a number of social and cultural topics, all from the viewpoint of those groundbreaking athletes who lived through the immense racial and cultural shifts of the 20th century,” says Brian Woodman, curator of the Film & Media Archive. “We are particularly excited that these interviews include not only famous ‘household name’ athletes, but also lesser-known athletes who were important participants in history, but whose voices often have been neglected.”

An Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee, Miles (1931-2013) was an accomplished African American documentary filmmaker whose films focused on the cultural experiences and achievements of African Americans in such diverse realms as the military, the space program, sports and New York neighborhood life. His works include I Remember Harlem (1981), a comprehensive look at the New York borough’s diverse history; Men of Bronze (1977), the definitive story of the black American soldiers in World War I known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”; and many others. The Washington University Libraries acquired the William Miles Collection in 2005 from the filmmaker. Materials in the collection include interviews, stock footage, manuscripts, correspondence, and photographs.

The Washington University Libraries were one of 14 institutions selected for a grant that provides public access to historical records. The National Archives grants program is carried out through the NHPRC.

For more information, contact the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections at (314) 935-5495 or