The Southern Association was a higher-level minor league in American organized baseball from 1901 through 1961. For most of its existence, the Southern Association was two steps below the Major Leagues; it was graded Class A (1902–1935), Class A1 (1936–1945) and Class AA (1946–1961). Although the SA was known as the Southern League through 1919, today's Double-A Southern League is not descended from the Southern Association; the modern SL came into existence in 1964 as the successor to the original South Atlantic ("Sally") League.
A stable, eight-team loop, the Southern Association's member teams typically included the Atlanta Crackers, Birmingham Barons, Chattanooga Lookouts, Little Rock Travelers, Memphis Chicks, Nashville Vols, and New Orleans Pelicans. Either the Knoxville Smokies, Mobile Bears, or Shreveport Sports typically comprised the eighth club.
After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1946 with the Montreal Royals of the International League, the Southern Association adhered to the Jim Crow segregation laws of the time and only once permitted an African-American to play in the circuit: Nat Peeples of the 1954 Atlanta Crackers, the only black player in the league's history. On April 9-10, 1954, Peeples played in two road games in Mobile, and went hitless in four at bats. He was demoted to the already-integrated, Single-A Jacksonville Braves before the Crackers played a home game.
The Southern Association then played the rest of its history, through the end of 1961, as a racially segregated league. As a result, its Major-League parent clubs were forced to field all-white teams during the 1950s, a period when African-Americans and Latin-American players of African descent were beginning to dominate Major League Baseball. By the end of the 1950s, the SA also was boycotted by civil rights leaders.
Disbanded in 1961
In its last three years, the Southern Association was plagued by frequent franchise shifts. Little Rock (after 1958) and New Orleans (after 1959) were forced to move, as was Memphis (after 1960, when its ballpark was destroyed in a fire). The league finally ceased operation after the 1961 season.
Member cities slowly began to join remaining leagues, which were racially integrated. The Atlanta club moved up to the AAA International League in 1962, with Little Rock following suit (as the renamed Arkansas Travelers) in 1963. Macon, a longtime member of the Sally League, returned to that circuit in 1962. After a one-year hiatus, Nashville and Chattanooga joined the Sally League in 1963; Birmingham and Mobile would field teams in the Southern League, and Memphis and Shreveport would enter the Texas League (and Arkansas/Little Rock would settle there), later during the 1960s.
- Atlanta Crackers 1902–1961
- Birmingham Barons 1901–1961 — at times known as the Iron Barons
- Chattanooga Lookouts 1901–1943; 1944–1961
- Knoxville Smokies 1931–1944
- Little Rock Travelers 1901–1909; 1915–1958; 1960–1961
- Macon Peaches 1961
- Memphis Chicks 1901–1960 — at times known as the Chickasaws or Egyptians
- Mobile Bears 1908–1931; 1944–1961 — known as Marines (1931)
- Montgomery Rebels 1903–1914; 1943; 1956 — at times known as the Black Sox, Senators, Climbers and Billikens
- Nashville Vols 1901–1961
- New Orleans Pelicans 1901–1959
- Selma Christians 1901
- Shreveport Sports 1901–1907; 1959–1961 — at times known as the Giants and Pirates
The Nashville Vols captured the most league championships, with 15 titles over the Association's 61 years of existence — dominating the league with six straight championships from 1939–1944. The Atlanta Crackers, termed by some the "New York Yankees of the minors," won the SA crown 13 times, and almost annually finished near the top of the standings. The Birmingham Barons and New Orleans Pelicans each won ten championships, counting the Pelicans' first-place standing during the war-shortened 1918 season. On the other hand, the Chattanooga Lookouts, charter members of the SA, won only one title — with that coming during the Southern Association's final, 1961 campaign.
- Johnson, Lloyd; Wolff, Miles, eds. (1997). The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (2nd ed.). Durham, N.C.: Baseball America. ISBN 978-0-9637189-8-3.