The 26-second film clip captures employees of the Pebble Hill Plantation near Thomasville playing ball.
The footage appears to have been shot around 1919, based on photographs of Pebble Hill teams and other films on the reel, University of Georgia archives experts say.
The 28-millimeter film shows a batter in one scene, and infield and outfield players in another. At one point, the camera pans to the first base line, where a small group of children watch as spectators. The Pebble Hill athletes are playing a team from Chinquapin Plantation, also near Thomasville, researchers said.
“We haven’t seen anything else like it,” said Margaret Compton, moving image archivist at UGA.
The film was donated to the University of Georgia Libraries’ Walter J. Brown Media Archives.
“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,” Compton said in a statement announcing the film’s discovery.
Lynn Novick, directing/producing partner of Ken Burns at Florentine Films, which produced Burns’ acclaimed 1994 documentary, “Baseball,” said she wishes they’d known about it when their movie was made.
“It is an extraordinary piece of footage, and I wish we had known about it 20 years ago, when we were making ‘Baseball,’” Novick said in a statement. “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.”
It’s not known for certain who filmed the game, but researchers believe it was shot by Howard Melville Hanna Sr. of Cleveland, Ohio. Hanna had purchased the property in 1896 as a winter home.
Researchers know that Hanna got a Pathéscope camera as a Christmas present in 1915, Compton said. The belief is that he used it to film the baseball game, though it’s possible someone else was operating the camera, she said.
Compton said she hopes the film will prompt others to review their old home movies and consider that they might have historical value. Compton said she and her staff often get calls from the public when old pictures and films are found.
“Anything that documents early Georgia, as early as we can get it, is marvelous,” Compton said.
The university is also interested in obtaining early UGA campus and Athens footage. The earliest campus footage in UGA’s collection is from 1931 and it isn’t very long, she said. The earliest Athens footage is also from the 1930s, but isn’t in great condition. The next-earliest footage of Athens is from 1947, she said.
“We just never know what’s going to turn up,” she said. “It really is like archaeology.”