Charlotte storyteller Steve Crump releases new documentary about Muhammad Ali

The 28-minute film, set to air Friday on Bounce TV, looks back at the boxer's gold-medal victory in the 1960 Olympics.

In the 40-plus years that Steve Crump has worked as a broadcast journalist, he’s interviewed and documented the lives of hundreds of influential people, from the late Congressman John Lewis to Franklin McCain and the Greensboro Four. 

Much of that video footage eventually found its way onto his cutting-room floor. Lately, however, Crump has been working to recycle some of those unused clips to create new documentaries. One, about the 60th anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s gold medal win in the 1960 Summer Olympics, will air this Friday at 8 p.m. on Bounce TV [See channel listings].

Like Ali, Crump is a native of Louisville, Kentucky. He said he created this latest documentary — “Diamond Anniversary of a Gold Medal Moment” — using some previously unseen footage from more than 20 interviews he conducted while producing a 2007 documentary about the heavyweight boxing legend, who died in 2016. That earlier documentary was titled “Louisville’s Own Ali.”

Although Crump was only three years old when Ali won his gold medal, he said the significance of the 1960 event signaled to America that Ali was on his way up, and that he was going to take his people with him. 

“Seeing somebody who looks like you front and center who’s fearless, not only in a sport, but fearless in taking on issues, just gave so many people a voice,” he said. “He validated the arguments and concerns that happened to be expressed by those who were disenfranchised on a much bigger stage.”

A front-row seat to history

The new documentary runs close to 30 minutes and includes interviews from former Kentucky State Senator Georgia Davis Powers, Franklin McCain, John Lewis, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Olympian Mary T. Meagher Plant and other Louisville community leaders and journalists. 

Crump said he decided to go through and repurpose some of his old clips because the Covid-19 pandemic, and his well-documented battle with colon cancer, limited his ability to get new footage.

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In addition to interviews, some of the previously unseen footage includes Ali’s grave, funeral, a placard at the Presbyterian Community Center in Louisville and a mural, he said.

Crump said he hopes that people who watch the documentary will come away with a better understanding of Ali’s greatness, how he transcended sports to advance the causes of humanity. 

“He gave us an amazing front-row seat to history,” he said. “When you’re a part of something, and/or somebody, that has had such an impact, that’s very important. And he’s one of us, and we’ll always be one of him.”

Crump said the documentary initially was meant to coincide with the 2020 Summer Olympics, scheduled for Tokyo, but the games got delayed until 2021 because of the pandemic.

Still, Crump predicts that Ali’s achievement, along with the 1960 Olympic achievements of other legendary Black athletes, such as Wilma Rudolph and Rafer Johnson, will be discussed at length when the games are held.  

Never stop

With four decades of interviews behind him, Crump said the years have given him perspective — and a greater appreciation for the art of long-form storytelling.

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“Substantively, you can do pieces that have more of an impact than, you know, who shot Jim at the corner liquor store, or, gee, there’s a cat stuck up in a tree,” he said. “By doing those kinds of (long-form) projects, you realize that you can have a greater impact upon your community as well as the people and the viewers that you serve.”

As for his legacy, Crump said he still has work to do.

“I think you never stop,” he said. “To me, it has never been about the money or prestige and those kinds of things. It’s never been about the veneer of it, if you will. But I think in some regards, there’s always quest.”

Crump recalled a time he spent at the home of John Hope Franklin, the Black historian who died in Durham in 2009, at age 94 — a man Crump described as “a storyteller’s storyteller.”

“Even though he was in life’s sunset years, he never stopped,” Crump remembered. “And I think that that’s kind of the goal. That’s kind of the way that you look at things.”

Humility aside, the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina recently asked Crump to donate his papers and films to create the Steve and Cathy Wilson Crump Collection.

Crump said he hopes that scholars and students can use the collection for research. 

“It’s flattering that somebody thinks enough of your work to want to include it in their catalog,” Crump said. 

Cathy Crump is a graduate of USC and has several family members who attended the university. 

“I was really happy that both she and her family could be honored in that way,” he said. “For me, it’s quite a thrill. I’m very honored that they asked.”

During his long career, most of which was spent in Charlotte at WBTV, Crump covered a host of historic events and people, including Rock Hill’s Friendship Nine, the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the Orangeburg Massacre, and the removal of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House. He also has interview a host of national and international civil and human rights leaders, including Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

“It seemed like a good fit,” Crump said of his decision to donate his papers and films to the university. “And it seemed like, based on the material, that there could be individuals and institutions that could benefit from these kinds of stories.”

Jonathan Limehouse
Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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1 Comment

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  1. Steve Crump’s personal story of his battle with cancer is also helping all to keep moving.
    His documentaries are special and the honor of being held at a major university is well deserved.
    We continue to rise.

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