By Glen Mason and Leonard Colvin
New Journal & Guide Book Review
Photo journalist A.B. Whitfield has documented the impact Historically African-American Colleges and Universities had on the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.
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Whitfield’s brilliantly researched and artistically shot table top tome is a rare gem.
Nowhere can anyone find these rare historical athletic moments without the benefit of the visual limits of year books, and the occasional news photos by The Journal and Guide’s Southall Bass, or columns and coverage written by the third oldest African-American sports editor Lem Graves, columnist and sports writer Cal Jacob, Virginian-Pilot’s Correspondent Malverse Nicholson to the Ledger-Star’s columnist and sports writer Glen Mason, who broke the story about the CIAA’s first full time commissioner Bob Moorman.
In detail from sepia, black and white to color, Whitfield captures a story in each frame. Every photo is literally worth the proverbial thousand words. When mass media wasn’t there, there was student photographer Whitfield. Then college photographer Whitfield then NBA photographer Whitfield.
“This book is a labor of love. It’s forty-four years in the making,” said Whitfield. “Little did I know at the time that I was visually recording little known athletic history. I am truly blessed.”
Unlike most sports photographers and/or photo-journalists, Whitfield shot that history from inside out. He captured a lot of first.
“There were many firsts” in the CIAA, wrote Leon Kerry in the book’s foreword. Kerry, the sports marketing and branding expert, was the second commissioner of the modern era. It was Kerry that asked the NBA photographer to treat the CIAA like he was covering the NBA.
A hall of fame athlete himself, Whitfield’s photos capture the passion of athletic achievement. Its history. Rare, visual narrative history. His photographic style rendered the internal quest of an athlete to compete against the best of their times. “Whit” renders their competitive zeal, an amalgamation of self discipline, perseverance and their “blessed,” God given, talent.
A.B. Whitfield was a highly respected scholar-athlete at Portsmouth, Va.’s historic I.C. Norcom High School from the nurturing village of Truxton. Whitfield starred in football, wrestling and track and field. At 6-5, he could have easily played power forward in basketball had he wanted to. He was all Virginia Inter-Scholastic Association (VIA) in football and wrestling. State champion in track and field. In college, in the CIAA, he was, “a beast,” said another Norcom alum.
“Argyle was my homeboy. He lived in Truxton,” said Johnny Morris, a legendary hall of famer himself who hit 127 points for Norcom in a Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Association regulation game. Morris later starred at Norfolk State. He later coached the Kellam High School girls basketball team to the first Virginia High School League’s state basketball championship.
“When we were growing up I saw him at play Norcom,” said Morris. “I remember him most as a wrestler. I think he was an all CIAA heavyweight champion. Great athlete!”
Whitfield played football for Coastal Virginia hall of fame high school coach Horace Savage, starring on I.C. Norcom’s championship team in 1961.
The Greyhounds defeated arch rival Booker T. Washington 6-0 in muddy, rain-slick game led by “arch-rival” Booker T. Washington’s quarterback Cornell Gordon, “a devastating, illusive, creative option quarterback” who later starred at North Carolina A & T and the 1969 Super Bowl New York Jets. Whitfield’s teammates were practically an apprentice professional team with Big John Baker (New York Giants, Montreal Alouettes), the late Norcom coach Joe Langston (All-Canadian Football League, Alouettes, Norfolk Neptunes), Bob Ealey, Horace Dancy and Lesley Hardy. Argyle is a VIA (the old Virginia Interscholastic Association) state champion gold medalist in discus, and played on the CIAA high school division state championship football team. A collegiate All-CIAA athlete himself, he set the Vikings pass receiving record when he and Dallas Cowboy hall of famer Jethro Pugh were roommates at Elizabeth City State University.
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