EDITOR’S NOTE: Former College of Charleston professor Chris Lamb has a new book, “Stolen Dreams,” which explores the 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars and how their attempt to play Little League championship baseball got mired in a civil rights war. The following essay is adapted from the book’s first two pages.
I met Gus Holt in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2012, when I was 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 story. I had never heard of the team. Steve introduced me to Gus. Gus and I then met at the college’s library. He came to our meeting with several folders full of research. Gus and I probably met a dozen times over the years and he almost always brought research with him.
I received my Ph.D. more than 25 years ago, and I’ve been a college professor longer than that. Gus, who had a high school diploma, was a better researcher than a lot of people with Ph.Ds. He was intrepid – as a researcher and as a man, whether he was challenging bigotry in the East Cooper Recreation Department, organizing reunions for the Cannon Street All Stars, urging reporters to tell the team story, reviving Little League baseball in Charleston, or struggling with the overwhelming health issues of loved ones or the health issues that eventually took his own life.
This [book] is the story of the 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars. But it is really Gus’s story, even though he didn’t live to see the publication of the book. Gus brought the story back to life and willed it into something that transcended the saga of 11- and 12-year-olds being 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 larger story of how racial bigotry poisoned the people of Charleston and so many others since the arrival of the first slave ship.
People continue to suffer and die every hour of the poison of bigotry because much of white America denies the existence of this virulent virus. This virus is particularly toxic among children because it takes away their dreams, as Langston Hughes wrote about in his poem, “Harlem – A Dream Deferred.”
I initially told Gus I wasn’t interested in writing the book. I was working on other books. I would be leaving Charleston soon to take a job at Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis. There would be so many other things gnawing at my time. But when I got to Indianapolis, I couldn’t get the story out of my head.
Whenever 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 to the South Carolina room of the Charleston County Public Library, where I looked at 1955 newspaper articles about Cannon Street All-Stars. I often met with Gus, who kept asking me questions. If I didn’t know the answer or if I answered incorrectly, he would stare at me in disbelief. I finally got to the point when I could answer his questions, and his stare turned to a smile as he said, “You got it.”
Gus knew more about the Cannon Street story than anyone else, even though he didn’t play for the team. When I first asked him about how he became involved with the story, he said,”through divine inspiration.” He ran into racism when he coached a team in a league run by the City of Charleston Recreation Department. As he investigated the history of the recreation department, he learned about the Cannon Street All-Stars and began unearthing the story, buried under 40 years of neglect. Gus became an honorary member of the team. He put me in contact with John Rivers, the team 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, making the All-Star team, and then being denied playing in games because white teams refused to play a Black team, even though the Cannon Street team was every bit as deserving to play in the tournament as any of the white teams.
Chris Lamb, chair of the Department of Journalism and Public Relations at Indiana University-Indianapolis, is editor, author or coauthor of 12 books, including I’ll Be Sober in the Morning, a humorous compendium of putdowns and political comebacks illustrated by the City Paper’s Steve Stegelin. His new book, now available online, is titled Stolen Dreams: the 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars and Little League Baseball’s Civil War.