EKU Alum Honored for Career Achievements

Published on July 13, 2022

North Carolina Humanities has selected Eastern Kentucky University alum Steve Crump to receive the 2022 John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities. Crump is being honored for his lifelong dedication to creative documentary storytelling and truthful, in-depth news reporting. Crump graduated from EKU in 1980. 

This award recognizes individuals whose achievements and contributions have strengthened the educational, cultural and civic life of North Carolinians. The award has been given since 1990 and is named for its first recipient and a founding member of North Carolina Humanities, the late Dr. John Tyler Caldwell.

A broadcaster living in Charlotte, Crump has been a reporter at WBTV for nearly four decades. But it is his passion for documentary filmmaking – largely for public broadcasting – that distinguishes him from his peers and stands as a body of work defining the evolution of racial boundaries in Charlotte and the South. Nine Crump documentaries have gone into national distribution to PBS stations.

Of his 30+ films, eight have won regional Emmys and have covered topics ranging from Martin Luther King Jr.'s last days, to lunch counter sit-ins in the Carolinas, to the perils of Dorothy Counts, who was taunted and spat upon by a white crowd on the first day of school in 1957 when she integrated Charlotte’s Harding High School. Over the years, Crump has interviewed a constellation of notables – ranging from Desmond Tutu to Pete Seeger to Angelina Jolie – for his documentaries. His first films grew out of a 1993 WBTV assignment to Somalia to cover famine relief missions. 

One 1996 documentary was the poignant "Souls of Passage," which traced the trade route from the slave dungeons of the African coast to the cotton fields of the Carolinas. After the Africa productions, he went on to explore issues as diverse as bebop music, the development of the banjo, black World War II heroes and 19th century black jockeys, all produced on his own time and shoestring budgets.

Many of Crump’s productions have captured the last living memories of key Civil Rights figures, their final perspectives memorialized in video before their deaths. Now viewed as vital to the region’s historical record, his specials are part of the permanent collections at both UNC Charlotte and the University of South Carolina. 

Crump, a Louisville native, has roots that run deep into the bluegrass. He grew up in Louisville's industrial Smoketown district, two blocks from the Louisville Slugger factory and three blocks over from the gym where Muhammad Ali learned to box.

A great-great-grandson of slaves, he credits his storytelling skills to listening at the kitchen table of his childhood home, where three generations of family wove rich tales of their lives. Antebellum reminisces of agrarian life in Kentucky’s Bourbon Belt were still crisp in family lore, and through Crump, they still are.

Crump was the recipient of 2013’s Martin Luther King Jr. Medallion, which honors a Charlotte citizen who has worked to promote racial equality and social justice. He also is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. Crump and his wife Cathy live in north Charlotte.