NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - As we continue our celebration of Black History month, we take a closer look at Nashville and the role the city played with the Negro League. Nashville has a rich tradition for those players who were not allowed to play in the Major League. So, we went to Nashville Historian David Ewing for a walk down memory lane.
"When we talk about baseball in Nashville and baseball in Tennessee, it has a rich history."
"Not only did we have a minor league team called the Nashville Vols, we had a Negro League team that was started 100 years ago called the Nashville Elite Giants," Ewing said. "And the wonderful thing about the Elite Giants is it provided a place for talented African American baseball players to play."
Players such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Jackie Robinson came through town. And the man who started the Negro League club here in Nashville was Tom Wilson.
"He owned the club. He started the club and built the stadium too. Sadly, the stadium is no longer. It was the first place where we had night baseball because he had lights before Sulpher Dell had lights." So, he was ahead of his time. Way forward of his time, Ewing told me.
Ewing also said the stands were full of black fans, but a segregated crowd would often watch Negro League games. As he took me by the place where the old home plate used to be in the old stadium.
"So this is the old home plate. Right here. From Sulpher Dell." So, all of the greats from the Negro League stood right here. From Jackie Robinson to Hank Aaron. You know everybody played. Junior Gilliam. You played right here."
Nashville natives like Henry Kimbro and Bruce Petway were well-known stars during that time. But one of the most incredible local talents went by the name Turkey.
"Turkey Stearns was one of the best players that ever played here for the Nashville Elite Giants. He was inducted into Cooperstown in the year 2000." Said Ewing. "Most people think he was truly just above and beyond anyone during that time. Sadly, he never made it to the major league because it was still segregated, but it's nice that they've honored him in this very important spot."
Ewing told me having the team here in Nashville gave the city an economic boost. Especially in the black communities.
"When you think about all the people who played here and what it meant for the city and the people growing up, this was big," Ewing said. "And where people could come to see baseball games here too. It was segregated, but it was good entertainment. This was a great American story when you think about it. It started 100 years ago, and that Nashville was a part of that too."
Ewing believes the talent in the Negro League was unmatched. We mentioned that Turkey Stearns was the only Nashville native in Baseball's Hall of Fame. Ewing believes another local player may join him in the future, Nashville's own Mookie Betts.