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The Knoxville Giants: The Negro Southern League in the Scruffy City

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.

Elizabeth Sims, William Winnett

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Published: 10:13 AM EDT May 11, 2022
Updated: 11:01 AM EDT May 16, 2022

Out of the shadows of the Civil War arose America's favorite pastime in East Tennessee. From the farm leagues to the Tennessee Smokies, baseball ingrained itself in Knoxville’s history, and 100 years ago, a team of Black men stepped up to the plate in an East Knoxville ballpark and became champions. 

“There were five teams mentioned from the Knoxville area. One of them was a colored team, the Knoxville Eagles,” said Mark Aubrey, a baseball researcher. “From that, there’s been baseball off and on, both professional and industrial leagues, but there were also Negro teams. They weren’t part of a league. They were mostly independent teams, and they would play other colored teams.”