Remembering the Negro baseball League's early beginnings in Nashville 100 years later

Posted at 8:42 PM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 12:02:10-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Negro Baseball League, Dr. Harriet Kimbro-Hamilton of Nashville shows us how Nashville played a major part in leading the way for America’s Game.

When you see her scrapbook for yourself, you would think you were taking a trip through time, and in so many ways, you are.

What surprises most people, is knowing there was ever a time Hamilton knew very little about the man she calls dad - Henry Kimbro. When she was a teenager, a family friend explained how Henry, was a great baseball player.

“I said, well who are you talking about? Can’t be my dad. He never said anything about it,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton asked her dad who almost dismissed the question by answering simply, “yeah, I played a little.”

It was more than a little. In fact, Henry Kimbro was one of the all-time greats. Officially, records with Negro League Baseball will show Kimbro played between 1937-1950.

He traveled the country as all great players did, with stops at the Columbus Elite Giants, Washington Elite Giants, Baltimore Elite Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Homestead Grays and New York Black Yankees.

Of course, long before the league was established in 1920, Kimbro was already playing games across Nashville.

At one point, the love of the game and his soon-to-be wife took him to Cuba. Where, if you ask around, players who remember say fans chanted Kimbro's name, when he stepped up to the plate.

The scrapbook is loaded with press clippings and pictures from those days, as well as memories of the segregation that helped create a league of their own.

“It let me know that he really took pride in knowing that he was part of something very special here, and they all knew that. That they were part of something very special, that would be appreciated in the future,” said Hamilton.

It was Hamilton’s mother who charged her with carrying on her father’s legacy through these photos and these stories.

“When I began to research it, it went far beyond my father,” said Hamilton.

She would learn how as early as 1870, Nashville had black baseball clubs like the Baltimore Elite Giants. She would also learn how a man named Tom Wilson helped to start the Negro Southern League. Just shortly after the Negro Baseball League.

She learned so much about the teams, players and personalities from Nashville over the years it was only a matter of time before she got a nickname of her own.

Almost every phone call would begin the same way.

“I would have to say, hey this is Little Kimbro.’ Never Harriet. Never Hamilton,” she explained.

Before long, her book practically began writing itself. The title of course, “Daddy’s Scrapbook.” A memoir for the man she thought she knew and those who history should never forget.

On one of the last pages, Henry is seen giving his last wave to the fans in Baltimore where he played several years of Negro League ball. Hamilton calls it her favorite photo because on that day she was joined by her own son.

“Which was very, very important for him to see. To know that his grandfather was a part of something very special,” said Hamilton.

In March, Hamilton and others helped lead the way for the names of 16 Negro League pioneers who made their homes in Nashville, to be commemorated with a plaque.

The plaque now joins two other Nashville landmarks. Junior Gilliam Way across from where the Nashville Sounds play, is named after the great Negro League and Major League all-star. Gilliam played for the Baltimore Elite Giants between 1946-1950, where he made three all-star appearances. Later going on to win National League Rookie of the Year for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

One final landmark can be found at Tom Wilson Park, named after the aforementioned man with the plan. The marker located on 2nd Avenue South pays tribute to the field where teams like the Nashville Elite Giants played back in 1929.