Collection Summary

The Black Champions Interviews collection contains 32 raw footage interviews conducted for the 1986 documentary Black Champions, chronicling the lives and accomplishments of Black athletes throughout the 20th century with a focus on their fight against discrimination and racial barriers in American athletics. The interviews, filmed by documentarian William Miles’s company Miles Educational Film Productions, Inc., include discussions with Black athletes, representing baseball, football, basketball, boxing, track and field, and other sports as well as sports journalists and coaches.

The 18 hours of footage in the interviews provide oral histories of individual careers as well as descriptions of life in Black America and the intersection of sports and civil rights throughout the 20th century. Interviewees in the collection include tennis players Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson; basketball players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earl Monroe, and Oscar Robertson; football star Jim Brown; track and field athletes Alice Coachman-Davis, the first Black woman to win a gold medal in the high jump at the 1948 Olympic Games, Olympic decathalon gold medalist Rafer Johnson, and Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph; boxers Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Patterson, and Archie Moore; journalist Les Matthews, one of the few Black sportswriters during his 40 year career at Amsterdam News in Harlem; basketball coach John Thompson; golfer Lee Elder; baseball player and activist Curt Flood who paved the way for free agency in Major League Baseball; and William Julius “Judy” Johnson, who played and managed in the Negro Leagues in the 1920s and 1930s, and later became a Major League scout.

Collection Background

The Black Champions interviews were filmed by documentarian William Miles for the 1986 documentary of the same name. An Emmy Award winner, Academy Award nominee, and inductee into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Miles, whose work focused on the culture and achievements of Black Americans, is credited with paving the way for later Black documentarians including Henry Hampton and Spike Lee. Washington University in St. Louis Film & Media Archive acquired the Miles Collection in 2005. The Black Champions interviews were digitized and reassembled by the Washington University Libraries thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), and the interviews were contributed to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting in 2022.