Lamb: New Charleston baseball book highlights poison of racism

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Former College of Charleston professor Chris Lamb has a new book, “stolen dreamswhich explores the 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars and how their bid to play championship Little League baseball became mired in a civil rights war. The following essay is adapted from the first two pages of the book.

Gus Holt; Photo provided.

I met Gus Holt in Charleston, South Carolina in 2012 while teaching journalism at the College of Charleston. Historian Steve Hoffius, a mutual friend, told me about the 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars and suggested I write their history. I had never heard of the team. Steve introduced me to Gus. Gus and I then met at the college library. He came to meet us with several files full of research. Gus and I have met probably a dozen times over the years and he almost always brought research with him.

I received my doctorate. over 25 years ago, and I was a university professor longer than that. Gus, who had a high school diploma, was a better researcher than many people with PhDs. He was fearless – as a researcher and as a man, whether he challenged bigotry in the East Cooper recreation department, held meetings for the Cannon Street All Stars, urged journalists to tell the story of the team, revive Little League baseball in Charleston or struggle. with the overwhelming health problems of his loved ones or the health problems that ultimately cost his own life.

This [book] is the story of the 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars. But it’s really Gus’s story, even if he didn’t live to see the book’s publication. Gus brought the story to life and made it into something that transcended the saga of 11 and 12 year olds who were denied the chance to play baseball because of the color of their skin. Gus understood what I finally understood myself: the Cannon Street All-Stars are part of a much bigger story about how racial bigotry has poisoned the people of Charleston and so many others since the arrival of the first slave ship.

People continue to suffer and die hourly from the poison of bigotry as much of white America denies the existence of this virulent virus. This virus is particularly toxic in children because it takes away their dreams, as Langston Hughes wrote in his poem “Harlem – A Dream Deferred”.

I initially told Gus that I wasn’t interested in writing the book. I was working on other books. I would soon be leaving Charleston to take a job at Indiana University–Purdue University in Indianapolis. There would be so many other things that would eat away at my time. But when I got to Indianapolis, I couldn’t get the story out of my head.

Lamb; Photo provided

Every time my wife, son and I went to see my in-laws in Charleston, I went to the Avery Research Center, which includes archives of the black experience in Charleston, and the South Carolina room of the Charleston County Public Library, where I reviewed newspaper articles from 1955 on Cannon Street All-Stars. I often met Gus, who kept asking me questions. If I didn’t know the answer or answered incorrectly, he looked at me in disbelief. I finally got to the point where I could answer his questions, and his gaze turned into a smile as he said, “You get it.”

Gus knew more about the history of Cannon Street than anyone, even though he didn’t play for the team. When I first asked him how he got involved in the story, he said “by divine inspiration”. He encountered racism when he coached a team in a league run by the City of Charleston Recreation Department. While investigating the history of the recreation department, he discovered the Cannon Street All-Stars and began digging up history, buried under 40 years of neglect. Gus became an honorary member of the team. He put me in touch with John Rivers, the team’s shortstop, who became a successful architect in Georgia. This book could not have been written without John’s memories of growing up in Charleston, playing for the Cannon Street Little League, being on the All-Star team, and then being refused play in games. because white teams refused to play against a black team, even though the Cannon Street team deserved to play in the tournament just as much as any of the white teams.

Chris Lamb, chair of the Department of Journalism and Public Relations at Indiana University at Indianapolis, is the editor, author or co-author of 12 books, including I’ll be sober in the morning, a humorous collection of political bashing and comeback illustrated by City Paper’s Steve Stegelin. His new book, now available online, is titled Stolen Dreams: The Cannon Street All-Stars of 1955 and Little League Baseball’s Civil War.


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