Negro League Baseball has rich history in Nashville

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Honoring Black History

Nashville, Tenn. (WKRN)- Baseball is often referred to as America’s pastime for how it’s played a vital role in our history. Its roots also run deep in Nashville’s history.

“The Sulphur Dell footprint was between 3rd and 4th,” said baseball historian, Skip Nipper. “The new ballpark is between 3rd and 5th which is twice the footprint.”

First Horizon Park used to be Sulphur Dell – one of the most historic baseball stadiums in America. It’s now home of the Nashville Sounds. Nipper has been exploring the history of the game in Nashville for years.

He said, “They turned the ballpark around after 1926, and they built the steel and concrete grandstand with bleachers. It sat about 7,600 fans.”

The city’s minor league team was the Nashville Vols. However, that wasn’t the only ball being played in Music City. “The Negro Leagues were very strong, especially within the African-American community,” said Nipper.

Local businessman Tom Wilson created the Nashville Standard Giants in 1921, and ten years later his team gained entry into the Negro National League changing their name to the Elite Giants.

“The Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, the Nashville Elite Giants played here. If they weren’t playing a league game, then they were barnstorming so they might come in and play a team they weren’t even scheduled to play,” added Nipper.

Fans could catch a game in town almost every night of the week. But, attending a game was different based on the color of your skin due to segregation in the South.

Nipper said, “The thing about Black baseball being played in Nashville, white fans were always welcomed, and it wasn’t really the same in white baseball. If you look at a lot of the advertisements for the Negro League games it will say special section for white fans.”

Everyone came to see the talent. From Willie Mays to Jackie Robinson, Sulphur Dell hosted players that went on to have a major impact at the highest level.

Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron, made his professional debut here. He played with the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns.

“He was coming to Nashville to play in his first regular season game with the Clowns,” said Nipper. “He came back with the Clowns at the end of the season to win a championship. The fans loved him.”

Nashville natives also made names for themselves like Jim Gilliam. “We have Jim Gilliam Way in front of First Horizon Park. I’ve read where he actually honed his baseball skills old Sulphur Dell.”

Butch McCord, Sidney Bunch, Turkey Stearnes and Henry Kimbro were also home-grown talent who stepped up to the plate – forever connecting the city of Nashville and its rich Negro League Baseball history.

Up close look at Negro League memorabilia from Kimbro’s family

“They have taken great care of being sure that they can be proud of the African-American history that took place here,” said Nipper.

Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969, but First Horizon Park still has a tribute on display for all to see.

Read more about Negro League Baseball in Tennessee here.

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