Keith Carmack contemplates one question as he finishes a documentary, five years in the making – “What drives a man to be daring?”
His film is about Pete Hill, a Negro League baseball player who is one of the greatest to ever play the game. John Preston “Pete” Hill is one of four men in the 4,000-hitter club – along with Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Ichiro Suzuki.
Although an elite baseball player, few people know his name.
The majority of his career took place before anyone started collecting statistics on Negro League players. He was all but forgotten until Dr. Jeremy Crock rattled some cages, and the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an article about the possible disturbance of Pete Hill’s remains.
The article presumed that Pete Hill was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery and may have been dug up in order to resell the burial plot.
Upon reading this article, Keith felt a fire in his gut.
He knew that Pete Hill did not deserve to be buried in an unmarked grave only to be dug up and thrown aside. After all, any man deserves more than that.
He started digging deeper and found that Pete Hill had been inducted into the Hall of Fame under the wrong name. No one attended his induction ceremony because the records were wrong. And his real name was not Joseph, it was John.
Keith started to see the story take shape.
Pete Hill was buried in an unmarked grave and possibly dug up. The name on his Hall of Fame plaque was wrong, and his legacy was forgotten. A first-generation freedman, he had risen to become one of the best at something Americans highly regard, and his own family didn’t even know he existed.
Keith felt he had no choice. He was compelled to do something, so he did.
Prior to diving into Pete Hill’s story of injustice, Keith was a guitar player in a band and worked a mid-level job at the Board of Trade.
He was not a filmmaker. Hell, he didn’t even own a camera. But that was all about to change.
He maxed out his credit cards, buying all the equipment he needed to shoot and edit video.
Keith started scheduling interviews. He would drive through the night and sleep in his car to get the footage he needed. Unrested, he would turn around and drive back to his day job on Monday morning.
This is not “normal” behavior. Keith was risking his financial stability, neglecting his social life, and pushing himself physically and mentally to do something he was not trained to do.
There was no guarantee he would succeed. He could fail and be stuck with nothing but debt and memories.
But that’s part of what makes an artist: the drive to create in spite of the risk.
Keith’s motivation was partly because he wanted the experience of creating this documentary, but mainly because he knew that Pete Hill deserved it.
It didn’t matter that Keith wasn’t a film major or baseball historian. He wanted Pete Hill’s story told. So he told it.
He gained the skills he needed along the way. He learned through trial and error, and after five years he has become a competent filmmaker.
His previous experience as a musician, and the time he spent at Columbia College studying sound engineering has given him the skills to create and record the music for the documentary.
A one-man studio, Keith has worked tirelessly to bring Pete Hill’s story to light and he is nearly there.
This idea has changed his life. When he started filming the documentary, he worked at the Board of Trade. Now, he is a freelance videographer and a part of the artist collective, 44 Flood.
No more day job, just art.
Keith used $20,000 of his own money to tell Pete Hill’s story before he started a Kickstarter to help with the final production costs. At times, he ate rice for meals so he could afford to keep the project going.
Some people don’t understand the crowd-funding movement and look at it as a welfare program, but it’s becoming more than just a channel for donations.
Part of Kickstarter’s model is that you give back to those that donate, based on their investments. If an artist creates something and asks their audience to help out, the artist sends them gifts related to the project. Depending on how much a person donates, the final product can be one of the gifts.
Essentially, people are pre-ordering the product.
This is changing the way artists do business. Ten years ago, Keith would have made this movie completely on his own dime. Once completed, he would put the film into festivals with the hope that some big shot with deep pockets would buy it.
But through Kickstarter, he has funded the last leg of the project and has a platform to market and distribute it.
If anyone wants to watch the documentary and keep Pete Hill’s legacy alive, all they have to do is go to his Kickstarter and donate. The documentary will be shipped to them, or they can download it.
This is not charity. It’s business. Straight from the artist to the audience, no middleman needed.
We live in a culture that says you should live your dream, but make your dream a practical one.
Are you a painter? Then become a graphic designer. There is money in that.
Are you a writer? Then become an English teacher. There is stability in that.
Do you want to make a difference? Then become a social worker. There is a need for that.
Or you can put it all on the line and design your life according to your own vision. That is what Keith Carmack did. And that is what Pete Hill did.
Pete Hill’s parents were slaves. He was born into a time and place that said he couldn’t live his dream. And yet, he played professional baseball for 26 years.
For the black community, that time is remembered as being a period of struggle and despair, but it must have been a joy to watch Pete Hill play ball. That is Pete Hill’s legacy. He brought joy and excitement to his community by doing something great.
The injustice that has befallen Pete Hill posthumously is being corrected due to the work of people like Keith Carmack. It may seem like a stretch to compare the two men, but both have defined history by living out their dream.
And just like everybody that lives out their dream, they had to take a big risk to get there.