‘The Forgotten Four’

A first look at an important upcoming documentary on the men who broke the pro football color barrier for good

By
Emily Kaplan
· More from Emily·

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.

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5 comments
Darren Hancock
Darren Hancock

I thought Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the first African-Americans to break the NFL color barrier.


IrwinFletcher1
IrwinFletcher1

forgotten can mean one just wasn't shared the rich history of early African American athletes, of course we all know the same names of the celebrated ones but I'm anxious to learn about some that are not talked about as much...really glad they did this

blffan4
blffan4

Documentary looks great! Can't wait to watch and hear this largely ignored story.


rskins09
rskins09

Marion Motley  was  way before my time but just looking at the film clips one could tell  he was a great HOF FB  and some say , GM and scouts , a tad better than Jim Brown ....Think half the players who played for the Browns in the late 1940's, 1950's are in the HOF ..Looking forward to this  documentary ...

DRyan
DRyan

good stuff, but I would hardly call Marion Motley 'forgotten'

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