Knoxville Giants’ history to be featured at new baseball stadium

The Knoxville Giants (Photo: Beck Cultural Exchanger Center)

The history of baseball weaves through the city starting in 1896 and includes the Knoxville Giants, a team that will be honored and remembered as part of the development of a new stadium on the edge of the Old City.

WBIR Channel 10 aired a video and story package about the Knoxville Giants of the Negro Southern League and the team’s history. The Giants played in Knoxville from 1920 to 1932 at Booker T. Washington Park and won a league title in the team’s first season.

With the country’s national pastime segregated – a stain on the sport that was lifted when Jackie Robinson took the field at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 – the Negro Southern League (NSL) was formed and consisted of eight teams: Atlanta Black Crackers, Birmingham Black Barons, Jacksonville Stars, Montgomery Grey Sox, Nashville White Sox, New Orleans Caulfield Ads, Pensacola Giants and Knoxville Giants.

The well-researched story by WBIR can be read HERE.

Excerpt: When a game took them on the road, the team piled into two or three cars, slept in houses or hotels and ate meals with the opposing team.

Their earnings came from whatever was left after expenses were paid.

“Two dollars, three dollars, sometimes four, sometimes nothing. We wasn’t playing it for money; we just played it because we liked it,” said Ernest Waters, a former Knoxville Giants pitcher.

Despite the Giants’ prowess and popularity on and off the diamond, major league dreams were still more than a decade away for Black players.

“We didn’t have a chance to get in the big league. I didn’t know of any Black people that was in the big league at that time,” (Knoxville Giants pitcher Leroy) Bowerman said. “There weren’t no better players than we were back then. We were ‘bout the best players that I knew of back then. There wasn’t no way.”

The history of the Knoxville Giants will be included in the development of the new stadium, which will be located about two miles away from the old Booker T. Washington Park in East Knoxville. GEM Community Development Group, the private development partner to Boyd Sports, established a cultural and historical advisory committee led by Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

The committee is charged with advising the development team on being intentional about capturing the rich Black history and culture of the location of the project, as well as reflecting the multi-racial history of baseball in the community.

Artist rendering of new stadium.

Kesler is quoted in the WBIR story: “The Knoxville Giants are critical to our history because they set the tone and the pace for our community to say, ‘There are great ballplayers, there are great people here who want to play the game and who are good at the game.’ I want us to remember the Giants as a team who came together, who believed in what they could do, who worked very hard, and set the tone from the very first year right out the gate, that Knoxville has some extraordinary people, and we are a force to be reckoned with.”

History as it actually happened matters. And the new stadium will ensure the Knoxville Giants are remembered.

Decades before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier, Black athletes started the Negro Leagues, and Knoxville’s team was swinging for the fences. This documentary follows one of the Negro Southern League’s original eight teams and inaugural champion: The Knoxville Giants. (Credit: WBIR)