Negro League Southern Museum The Negro Southern League Museum (NSLM) in Birmingham, Jefferson County, highlights and interprets the role of that city, county, the state of Alabama, and the Negro Southern League in professional baseball. Focusing on the famed Birmingham Black Barons, NSLM showcases important moments in national baseball history from the city’s first industrial leagues to the integration of the sport, after which the Negro League gradually ceased operation. The museum opened in August 2015 and is located next to Regions Field and Railroad Park in the Parkside District. It is the largest museum dedicated to African American sports in the country.
Active from 1920 to the early 1960s, the Negro Southern League was the organizational body for southern African American baseball teams and served as a route for many players to enter the larger Negro American League and Negro National League. The cities of Birmingham and Montgomery, Montgomery County, fielded two of NSLM’s initial teams, the Birmingham Black Barons and the Montgomery Grey Sox, respectively. Alabama baseball greats such as Willie Mays, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and George “Mule” Suttles played in the league, with Mays and Paige going on to careers in Major League Baseball and enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Given Alabama’s importance to southern black baseball, noted baseball researcher Layton Revel envisioned a museum in Birmingham to showcase the history of African American baseball. Revel, a physician by profession, had previously founded the Center for Negro Baseball League Research in Carrollton, Texas, in 1995 with the intention of documenting Negro League players and collecting original Negro League artifacts. Construction on the more than 15,000 square-foot NSLM facility began in June 2014. The two-story building opened on August 28, 2015, and was funded with $3.6 million in city funds.
Negro Southern League Stadiums Display NSLM exhibits tell the history of the Negro Southern League (NSL) as well as that of black Alabamians in baseball after the sport was racially integrated. Revel loaned a portion of his extensive collection to the NSLM, including a Satchel Paige uniform, Charles Wilbur “Bullet Joe” Rogan’s pitching jacket, Louis Santop’s bat, known as “Big Bertha,” the McCallister Trophy, and a player’s contract from the Cuban Stars, a professional team in the Negro League that consisted of Cuban players. Among the facility’s main attractions are the Rickwood Field exhibit, a wall of 1,500 signed baseballs, the Satchel Paige hologram, and a display that highlights Auburn University star Vincent “Bo” Jackson‘s celebrated baseball career. (Jackson had played for the Birmingham Barons, as had Frank Thomas, Reggie Jackson, and even basketball great Michael Jordan.) Most tours are self-guided, but the museum offers also offers guided tours on Tuesday when they have extended hours. The museum also allows visitors to reserve tours with a museum director.
Birmingham Black Barons Exhibit As part of its community outreach efforts, the museum celebrates “Jackie Robinson Day” on April 15 with food and special activities. This day is celebrated throughout Major League Baseball as the day Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball and integrated the league in 1947. The NSLM offers several programs designed to attract new and repeat visitors as well as address Birmingham community issues. The Pitch Talk is a forum at which guest lecturers speak on baseball history as well as the history of Birmingham. The Curator’s Day Out program brings NSLM speakers and artifacts to local businesses and institutions in a one-hour presentation to provide a sense of the museum experience in an alternate setting. Finally, the museum has engaged on the “Say Hey Kid” Community Tour in which it collaborates with other Birmingham institutions to educate the public on baseball history.
The NSLM is also a research center devoted to preserving African American baseball history. In addition to Revel, the research center and museum are supported by the expertise of University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Larry Powell, who authored The Black Barons of Birmingham (2009), and freelance writer William Plott who authored The Negro Southern League: A Baseball History, 1920-1951 (2015). With this research team, the NSLM hopes to promote more discussion about baseball history and provide a resource to other researchers interested in entering the field.
Besides its use as a museum, the NSLM is available to rent for events. Its showroom in the exhibit space allows guests to host events surrounded by museum displays. The Left-Field Promenade is a private outdoor area beside Regions Park and overlooking Railroad Park. The museum also allows professional photo-shoots, television commercials, and filmmakers to use its property as a backdrop. The facility features a restaurant and has a gift shop.
Fullerton, Christopher D. Every Other Sunday: The Story of the Birmingham Black Barons. Birmingham, Ala.: R. Boozer Press, 1999.
Holway, John. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History. Fern Park, Ill.: Hastings, 2001.
Plott, William J. The Negro Southern League: A Baseball History, 1920-1951. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Incorporated, 2015.
Powell, Larry. Black Barons of Birmingham: The South’s Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Incorporated, 2009.