The Negro National League (NNL) was one of the several Negro leagues which were established during the period in the United States in which organized baseball was segregated. Led by Rube Foster, owner and manager of the Chicago American Giants, the NNL was established on February 13, 1920 by a coalition of team owners at a meeting in a Kansas City YMCA.
The new league was the first African American baseball circuit to achieve stability and last more than one season. At first the league operated mainly in midwestern cities, ranging from Kansas City in the west to Pittsburgh in the east; in 1924 it expanded into the south, adding franchises in Birmingham and Memphis.
The two most important east coast clubs, the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania, and the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, were affiliated with the NNL as associate clubs from 1920 to 1922, but did not compete for the championship. In 1923 they and four other eastern teams formed the Eastern Colored League (ECL) and raided the NNL for many of its top players, including John Henry Lloyd, Biz Mackey, George Scales, George Carr, and Clint Thomas, and signing Oscar Charleston, and Reuben Currie in 1924. The war between the two leagues came to an end in 1924, when they agreed to respect each other’s contracts and arranged for the Colored World Series between their champions.
The NNL survived controversies over umpiring, scheduling, and what some perceived as league president Rube Foster’s disproportionate influence and favoritism toward his own team. It also outlasted Foster’s decline into mental illness in 1926, and its eastern rival, the ECL, which folded in early 1928. The NNL finally fell apart in 1931 under the economic stress of the Great Depression.
The Negro American League, founded in 1937 and including several of the same teams that played in the original Negro National League, would eventually carry on as the western circuit of Black baseball. A separate Negro National League was organized in 1933, but eventually became concentrated on the east coast. To distinguish between the two unrelated leagues, they are usually referred to as the first Negro National League (or NNL I) and the second Negro National League (or NNL II).