Two years before America desegregated its military, one year before Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut, four young men broke the color barrier in professional football. Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Bill Willis signed NFL and AAFC contracts in 1946. Their stories are courageous and riveting, yet largely glossed over in the narrative of race in America. “Forgotten Four,” an Epix documentary premiering September 23, delves in.
“Totally forgotten, totally ignored,” says executive producer Ross Greenburg. “America will be fascinated and entertained by this slice of our country’s history that has never been told.”
There are myriad reasons for this (some political, some social), all explained in the documentary, Greenburg says. “Forgotten Four” relies heavily on interviews with historians, football luminaries—Don Shula, for example, was a teammate of Motley and Willis—and family members of the four pioneers.
Motley and Willis boasted Hall of Fame careers; injuries cut Washington’s career after three seasons while Strode only played in 1946, and made a bigger name for himself in Hollywood, most notably alongside Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. “Hearing from their family members, I think, we finally can give [Washington and Stode] their just due,” Greenburg says.
Below is a first look at the trailer.
For more: Read Seahawks QB Russell Wilson on the history of race in the NFL from our NFL 95 project. FULL STORY.