John Rivers, left, and Herbert Jenkins played on the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars Little League baseball team | Provided

Events are planned this week in Charleston to honor the 14 members of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars Little League baseball team that was denied the chance to play in the Little League World Series because of racial segregation.

That denial led to a civil war in Little League Baseball when hundreds of white teams left the league to join the segregated Dixie Youth Baseball League.

Of the injustice endured by the CSAS, Riverdogs co-owner Michsel Veck said: “It was a tremendous microcosm of all that was wrong in the world.”

On Sunday, at 4:45 p.m., three of the eight surviving members of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars (CSAS) will be honored at the Charleston RiverDogs baseball game during the team’s Larry Dobby Day Celebration. The RiverDogs will wear Jerseys to honor the CSAS.

Larry Dobby Day is the team’s annual celebration to honor Larry Dobby, a Camden, S.C. native and the second black man to break the color barrier in professional baseball in 1947. Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the American Baseball League. Dobby followed Robinson, taking the field for the then-Cleveland Indians, now called the Cleveland Guardians.

Mike Veck is the son of Bill Veck, the former Cleveland Indians owner, who hired Dobby in 1947.

“Jazz and baseball were responsible for us entering the 20th century in terms of our morals,” Veck said. “I’ve always been really proud to be involved in baseball, one of the first things to really blaze the way, and admittedly years and years too late. But Dobby was the “every-man” of that operation, and the Cannon Street YMCA represented the same thing.” 

“None of us will ever really know what it’s like to be Jackie Robinson,” he said. “It’s like imagining you’re Bob Dylan. But everyone can identify with being No. 2, and so there’s great identity in Larry Dobby.”

The Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars’ story is told in Chris Lamb’s recently released book, Stolen Dreams: The 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars and Little League Baseball’s Civil War. Lamb is chair of the Department of Journalism and Public Relations at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

In the book, the team’s shortstop John Isaac Rivers, 79, recounts the moment in Williamsport, Pa., when he and his teammates were turned away and how it was difficult for him to comprehend the hatred and fear directed at them. “We were invited to the Little League World Series, but we couldn’t play,” said Rivers, who now divides his time between Ecuador and Atlanta. “When the crowd started to yell ‘let them play’ it was hard to comprehend.”

Rivers is one of eight members of the team still living. The other surviving members are: John Bailey, Washington, D.C.; Vermont Brown and Leroy Major, Charleston; Allen Jackson, New York; and David Middleton, Norman Robinson and William Godfrey, Atlanta. Rivers, Middleton and Major are scheduled to attend the events this week.

Relatives of the team’s coaching staff will also attend the RiverDogs game. Lee Bennet Jr. will represent his father, the late Lee Bennett Sr., and Kristinia Singleton will represent her grandfather, the late Ben Singleton, head coach of the 1955 team. Her father, the late Maurice Singleton, played on the team. Tony Burke will represent his father, the late Walter Burke, an assistant coach.

The team’s story led to The Cannon Street All-Stars Foundation, a non-profit that provides baseball equipment, professional training, baseball education and skill development to the youth in underserved African American communities.

Events scheduled this week to honor the Cannon Street All-Stars are:

  • Thursday, June 9, 5:30 p.m., Lamb, CSAS players, Charleston County Public Library, Calhoun Street.
  • Friday, June 10, 9 a.m. to noon, baseball clinic, Harmon Field, book reading “Let Them Play,” Harmon Field Community Center. “Let Them Play” is an award-winning 2002 children’s book by Margo Ravin.
  • Saturday, June 11, noon, Lamb, CSAS players, Emanuel AME Church, Calhoun Street.
  • Saturday, June 11, 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., book signing, Lamb, Blue Bicycle Books, 420 King St.
  • Sunday, June 12, 11 a.m. to noon, Lamb, CSAS players, Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St.
  • Monday, June 13, 5:30 p.m., Lamb, CSAS players, Grace Episcopal Church, 98 Wentworth St.

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