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The Birmingham Giants: A Team From the Past


efore the Birmingham Black Barons took the field for the first time in 1920, the city’s first black professional team had already made a name for itself, the Birmingham Giants.

Founded in 1904 by C. I. Taylor, the team featured players from Southern black colleges. Taylor, who managed the team and played second base, moved the Giants to Indiana as the West Baden Sprudels in 1910.

During his time as a player-manager in West Baden, Taylor is reported to have corrected an umpire who ruled him safe when he tried to steal second, kicking up a cloud of dust. He announced to the crowd that he was an honest man, declared himself "out", and returned to the dug-out.

In 1914 Taylor moved the team again, partnering with the American Brewing Company to form the Indianapolis ABCs. As manager he helped the ABCs become a powerhouse team, defeating Rube Foster’s high-powered Chicago American Giants by winning four straight games in their 1916 championship series.

The team’s roster was depleted by America’s entrance into World War I. As an owner, Taylor helped Foster create the first Negro National League in 1920 and served as its vice-president. During the 1922 league meetings in Chicago, Taylor fell ill and eventually died of pneumonia at home at the age of 47.

After his death Taylor’s widow Olivia took over 75% of his stake in the ABCs while his brother Ben held the remaining 25% and managed the team. The club, facing stiff competition for players from the Eastern Colored League, folded in 1926.

Taylor, whose full name was Charles Isham Taylor, is buried at Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery. He has been nominated as a candidate to join his brother Ben in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The sixth of 13 children born to a Methodist minister in South Carolina, Taylor and his brothers, Johnny, Jim, and Ben all played in the loosely-organized Negro leagues of the late 19th century.

Manager C. I. Taylor

Manager C. I. Taylor

He served with the all-black 10th US Cavalry Regiment in the Philippines during the Spanish- American War. Afterwards, he attended Clark College in Atlanta and made a name for himself as a talented second baseman for the college’s undefeated 1900 team.

The Birmingham Black Barons played professional baseball for Birmingham in the Negro Leagues from 1920 to 1960 when the major leagues successfully integrated. They alternated home stands with the Birmingham Barons in West End’s Rickwood Field, usually drawing larger crowds and equal press.

Drawing largely from a successful ACIPCO Industrial League team, the Black Barons were organized in 1920 for the inaugural season of Rube Foster’s Negro Southern League. They played in that league for three years before making the leap to the larger Negro National League. They were unable to keep their position due to irregularities with the team finances and returned to the Southern League for three more years.

For the next decade or so they alternated leagues before being bought by Memphis funeral home director Tom Hays. They returned to the National League for good in 1940. Early in the decade the team was sold again to Abraham Saperstein who also owned the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. In 1943 they won their first of three pennants. Starting in 1945, they became full members of the Negro National League and enjoyed great success, winning their third pennant in 1948 and losing three World Series to the Homestead Grays, with whom they developed a notable rivalry. As the Major Leagues started signing talented African Americans, the Black Barons helped form a new Negro American League which played four seasons from 1956 to 1960 before folding. The Black Barons played their last game in 1960.


Close Encounter With a Meteor

Rattles Some Jeffco Residents

—by: Jim Bennett


hen Chicken Little said the sky is falling, he may have been on to something.

While not as famous as the 8.5 pound meteor that hit a lady sleeping on her couch in Sylacauga in 1954, the Birmingham metro area had its own brush with a space rock as recently as last fall.

Twitter users reported seeing a streak across the sky in the early evening on September 9, 2013 from locations including Pelham, North Jefferson County, Cullman and Irondale. The Vestavia Hills Fire Department responded to four reports of a loud boom that was heard in the Shades Crest Road area.

Some concert-goers attending the Mumford & Sons concert at the Oak Mountain Amphitheater reported seeing the light streak across the sky.

The meteor appeared at 8:18 p.m. CDT over Alabama, traveling at about 76,000 mph. It exploded 25 miles above Woodstock, Alabama, located about 30 miles from Birmingham.

"Objects of this size hit the Earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis, but this one happened near Birmingham, which is a fairly decently sized city and lot of people saw it," Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, told Reuters.

Scientists calculated the meteor’s orbit and determined that it came from an unknown comet. It exploded so low in Earth’s atmosphere that it triggered a sonic boom.

Unlike the Sylacauga meteor 57 years earlier, no one was hurt.

The Sylacauga incident was the first modern instance of a meteorite striking a person in the U.S. as it ripped through the roof of a house and into a living room, bounced off a radio, and struck a woman on the hip. The victim, Mrs. Elizabeth Hodges, was sleeping on a couch at the time of impact. The

Meteor September 9, 2013

A baseball-size meteor, which was traveling about 76,000 mph, broke apart 25 miles above Woodstock on September 9, 2013. The explosion caused a bright streak of light and a sonic boom.

space rock was a sulfide meteorite measuring seven inches in length. Mrs. Hodges was not permanently injured but suffered a nasty bruise along her hip and leg.

That meteor is currently on display at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Alabama.

Some claim the popular Guy Lombardo hit, "Stars Fell on Alabama" refers to the Hodges Meteorite, but the meteorite strike occurred in 1954, twenty years after Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish penned the tune in 1934. What the song actually refers to was a spectacular occurrence of the Leonid meteor shower that had been observed in Alabama in November of 1833, "the night the stars fell." As reported by the Florence Gazette: "There were thousands of luminous bodies shooting across the firmament in every direction. There was little wind and not a trace of clouds, and the meteors succeeded each other in quick succession."

The sky, literally filled with fireworks, included specks of debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle, often as small as grains of sand, that briefly streak across the sky as they burn up in the atmosphere.


Recent History Center Acquisitions

Jefferson theatre 1903

Jefferson Theatre – 1903

Recently a souvenir booklet of Birmingham photos was donated anonymously. R. J. Boyett, photographer, and L. P. Hill published the booklet in 1903. In the 45 page booklet is perhaps one of the earliest photographs of the Jefferson Theatre. Built on the 1700 block of 2nd Avenue North in 1900, the theatre was named for actor Joe Jefferson, known for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle.

In its 43 year run, the Jefferson Theatre was the site of many memorable events, competing eventually with the Lyric Theatre (1913) for top vaudeville acts. In 1914, Jane Addams helped launch the Alabama Equal Suffrage campaign for women’s voting rights from its stage. In 1923, Sergei Rachmaninoff , the Russian composer, made a dramatic appearance. The theatre briefly became the Erlanger Theatre then was torn down in 1946, the lot soon to be used for an expansion of the Phoenix building.

demolition of the Jefferson Theatre

Work begins on the demolition of the Jefferson Theatre

new office at 1807 3rd Avenue N0. from the collection

Bring any items of historical interest to our new office at 1807 3rd Avenue N0.

Vulcan bronze statue

This miniature bronze statue (4.5 inches tall) of Vulcan was donated by James R. Lowery. The History Center currently has 131 items of Vulcan artifacts in its collection, including photographs, postcards, souvenirs, and other memorabilia.


Thomas Peters and Birmingham’s First Million Dollar Deal

—By: Tom Badham


ajor Thomas Peters was one of the very first to believe in Birmingham. Born in Wake County, North Carolina, October 23, 1812, his family moved to Henry County in west Tennessee. Earning his living in the Memphis area, he worked his way up in business as a river man, trader, cotton broker and railroad contractor. He stood six feet two inches tall, slim, erect and vigorous with an aquiline nose, high cheek bones and jet black hair. He looked like an Indian.

During the 1850’s he was building levees on the Mississippi River. At age 39 when the Civil War began, he was contractor working with Sam Tate on the construction of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad.

He was appointed chief quartermaster with the rank of major in the Army of the Mississippi by Tennessee Governor Isham Harris who knew him well. By 1864 he was assigned to the Selma Arsenal as quartermaster for the Confederate Western Army, shipping cannon and munitions all over the Confederacy.

Like many other Southerners, Peters lost his personal fortune and property, was penniless and deeply in debt after the war. He stayed in Selma for three years, but made his way to his good friend Baylis Earle Grace’s farm near Oxmoor in Jefferson County. He and Grace prospected all over the area exploring the great untapped mineral wealth, mainly iron ore. He knew that it would take immense amounts of outside capital and investment to develop the area.

He then set out on his life-long quest to bring that investment to the area. While he had no money, he had an excellent reputation for honesty and profitable business dealings in the Memphis area. Now 46 years old, he began a letter writing campaign to all of his friends and business acquaintances that had investment capital.

Col. Tom Peters (Armes)

Col. Tom Peters (Armes)

His first success was with Sam Tate. Ethel Armes wrote that Sam Tate, Jr. related that his father received so many letters from the major about the wonders of Jefferson County that he finally came down, "just to find out if Peters was lying or drunk or else had gone clean crazy."

It was Tate’s ultimate purchase of thousands of acres of mineral lands that led him to get involved with the teetering South & North Railroad. If the rails weren’t extended from Calera to Decatur, his investment would have been worthless. Two other railroad men pestered by Peters were Milton H. Smith of the L&N Railroad and James W. Sloss, president of the Tennessee & Alabama Central Railroad.

The news was beginning to spread. Jefferson County was a huge mineral storehouse. Brooklyn investor Mark L. Potter read Peters’ letter and came down to see the area and bought most of the southern end of Red Mountain. Truman H. Aldrich was urged to investigate the area. Kentucky iron master Daniel Hillman, Jr. and Pennsylvania iron master David Thomas as well as William D. "Pig Iron" Kelly came down at the urging of Peters and Henry F. DeBardeleben. They all bought thousands of acres of mineral lands. This was before Birmingham even existed!

When the L&N came into the district buying up the South & North Railroad, Peters was made the land agent for the L&N selling the thousands of acres of land alongside the railroad right of ways that the state deeded to the L&N. He was largely responsible for getting a colony of German emigrants to settle in Cullman County, then a mostly empty wilderness, forming the town of Cullman. That post also came with a free railroad pass so he could travel anywhere to talk to investors about Birmingham and north Alabama.     (Continued Below)

Great Southern Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky, 1883

Great Southern Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky, 1883.

(Continued)   In 1882, nine years after Birmingham was founded, Peters engineered the first million dollar transaction in the area. DeBardeleben, then sole owner of the Pratt Coal and Coke Company, thought he might have tuberculosis and wanted to sell out and retire to a dryer climate out west. Peters came to DeBardeleben and asked what his price would be. DeBardeleben, knowing that Peters wasn’t a wealthy man, didn’t think Peters had a chance of buying his company. But DeBardeleben thought a bit and said he would take a million dollars for his stock in the company. Peters then asked if he could buy a six month purchase option on the stock for $10,000. DeBardeleben agreed and to DeBardeleben’s surprise, Peters came up with the $10,000.

Then Peters brought forward his old Memphis friend and horse trader, Enoch Ensley. Ensley was still smarting over the fact that he had been frozen out of the deal which created the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. Soon Ensley was the proud owner of the largest and greatest producing coal mine in the district as well as thousands of acres of mineral rights. It must have been a pretty good deal. Six months later, when DeBardeleben decided his lungs were OK after all, he offered Ensley $2 million dollars for the property.

On September 9, 1883, at the age of 72, Major Peters died while representing the Birmingham district at the Louisville, Kentucky Exposition. He had been married twice, but only had one child, Meta Peters Henley, who married the first mayor of Birmingham, Robert H. Henley. Both died before he passed away. All three are buried side by side at Oak Hill Cemetery. At that time his surviving relatives were his grandson, Thomas Peters Henley and his niece, Mary Irion McElderry of Talladega.

Vanal TV ad 1954

Birmingham News, February, 1954.




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