Before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, the Negro leagues provided the only arena for aspiring African-American players to showcase their talents on a wider scale.
That arena was created on Feb. 13, 1920, with the establishment of the Negro National League (NNL), the first black professional baseball league, at a YMCA in Kansas City, Mo. Andrew "Rube" Foster, considered the best African-American pitcher of the 1900s, was the driving force behind the league's organization, and served as its president.
With member teams in the South and Midwest, the NNL successfully operated until 1931, and as a result of his leadership role in the early years, Foster came to be known as "the father of black baseball."
Consisting of eight teams—the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Giants and Cuban Stars—the NNL was the first African-American baseball circuit to achieve stability and last more than one season.
Initially, the NNL mainly operated in Midwestern cities, ranging from Kansas City to Pittsburgh. In 1924, the league expanded into the south, adding franchises in Birmingham and Memphis.
Three years after the NNL's formation, the Eastern Colored League (ECL) was founded, and in 1924, the very first Negro World Series was played between the ECL and NNL champions.
The ECL collapsed in the spring of 1928, but its member teams reemerged in 1929 as the American Negro League (ANL).
Under the economic stress of the Great Depression, the NNL collapsed in 1931.
A new NNL was organized in 1933, eventually becoming concentrated on the East Coast.
Four years later, the Negro American League (NAL) was founded, which included several of the same teams that played in the original NNL. The NAL carried on as the western circuit of black baseball.
The second incarnation of the NNL lasted until 1948, the year following the integration of Major League Baseball. Its surviving teams merged into the NAL, operating as the last black major professional baseball league until 1960.
Over the course of four decades, the Negro leagues would be the launching point for the legendary MLB careers of prominent African-American players such as Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson.
More than 50 years after his death, Foster finally gained recognition for his immeasurable achievements, most notably establishing the first formal Negro League, when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.