The founding members of the Black Stuntmen’s Association (BSA) were honored with the NAACP President’s Award at the 43rd annual NAACP Image Awards that aired live on Friday, Feb. 17 on NBC.
“I am proud to honor the men and women of the Black Stuntmen’s Association with the NAACP President’s Award,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “The efforts of these pioneers helped to chip away at the racial barriers that divided not only stuntmen, but the entire entertainment/media industry.”
The President’s Award recognizes special achievements of those who have exhibited distinguished public service. Past honorees include boxer Muhammad Ali, actress Ruby Dee, President Bill Clinton and TV anchorwoman Soledad O’Brien.
Launched in 1967, the BSA was forged to fight the exclusion of Black stuntmen from Hollywood films. Prior to the organization’s founding, White performers wore painted-on dark complexion to perform stunts for Black actors.
“It was racism, pure and simple,” Willie Harris, one of the first members of the organization told reporters during an interview in 2009, according to BlackAmericaWeb. “They didn’t want to pay us the same price or give us the same protection they were giving White stuntmen, and a lot of guys were getting hurt.”
The BSA protested risky and racist practices and filed lawsuits against several major movie studios to ensure equal opportunity for stuntmen of all races.
The organization went on to redefine the profession and appeared in classic films such as Dirty Harry, Uptown Saturday Night, I Spy and Buck and the Preacher.
To commemorate their body of work, the Smithsonian Institute is planning to curate an exhibit featuring the Black Stuntmen’s Association in Washington, D.C.