Let Them Play
Segregated Charleston, SC, 1955: There are 62 official Little League programs in South Carolina — all but one of the leagues is composed entirely of white players. The Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars, an all-black team, is formed in the hopes of playing in the state’s annual Little League Tournament. What should have been a time of enjoyment, however, turns sour when all of the other leagues refuse to play against them and even pull out of the program. As the only remaining Little League team in the state, Cannon Street was named state winner by default, giving the boys a legitimate spot in the Little League Baseball World Series held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. While the Cannon Street team is invited to the game as guests, they are not allowed to participate since they have not officially “played” and won their state’s tournament. Let Them Play takes its name from the chant shouted by the spectators who attended the World Series final. Author Margot Theis Raven recounts the inspiring tales of the Cannon Street All-Stars as they arrived in Williamsport, PA and never got the chance to play for the title thanks to the bigotry and ignorance of the South Carolina teams. Winning by forfeit, the Cannon Streeters were subsequently not allowed to participate in Williamsburg because they had not “played” their way into the tournament. Let Them Play is an important civil rights story in American history with an even more important message about equality and tolerance. It’s a tale of humanity against the backdrop of America’s favorite pastime that’s sure to please fans of the sport and mankind. This summer will mark the 50th year since the fans’ shouts of Let Them Play fell on deaf ears and 14 boys learned a cruel lesson in backwards politics and prejudice. This book can help teach us a new lesson and assure something like this never happens again.
Chris Ellison received his formal art training at the Harris School of Art in Franklin, Tennessee, and then later at the Portfolio Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He has illustrated both children’s picture books and adult historical fiction for nearly 20 years. Chris has illustrated several books for Sleeping Bear Press including M is for Mom: A Child’s Alphabet; The Lucky Star, Rudy Rides the Rails, Pappy’s Handkerchief, a 2007 Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year. His first book with Sleeping Bear Press, Let Them Play, was named a 2006 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. Chris lives in Petal, Mississippi, with his wife, Lesley, and two young sons.
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published August 1st 2005 by Sleeping Bear Press (first published June 1st 2005)
ISBN 1585362603 (ISBN13: 9781585362608)
NYSRA Suggested Reading List–Primary, Short-listed, 2008
Nebraska Library Golden Sower Award Shortlist Finalist: Primary K-3, Runner-up, 2008
SIBA Children’s Book Award Finalist, Runner-up, 2007
Storytelling Award–Pre-Adolescent Category, Winner, 2007
William Allen White Children’s Book Award Finalist: Grades 3-5, Runner-up, 2007
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People List, Short-listed, 2006
CCBC Choices–Historical People, Places and Events Category Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the University of Wisconsin, School of Education, Winner, 2006
Skipping Stones Magazine Honor Award Multicultural and International Awareness category, Winner, 2006
Independent Publisher’s Ten Outstanding Books of the Year List–Honorable Mention in the Most Inspirational to Youth Category, Runner-up, 2006
Carter G. Woodson Book Award–Elementary Level, Winner, 2006
Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award Finalist, Runner-up, 2006
CANNON STREET ALL STARS AT THE LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES
WILLIAMSPORT, PA – 1955
COACH BEN SINGLETON ENCOURAGING THE TEAM IN THE DORM AT WILLIAMSPORT, PA – 1955
LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES 1955, WILLIAMSPORT, PA, WHERE THE CANNON ST. YMCA ALL-STAR TEAM WAS REFUSED A CHANCE TO PLAY
PENNSYLVANIA TEAM HEADS FOR LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES WITH POLICE ESCORT AFTER ITS REGIONAL WIN
THE PENNSYLVANIA TEAM (top right) THAT WON THE 1955 LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES WHEN THE ALL-BLACK CANNON STREET TEAM WASN’T ALLOWED TO PLAY DUE TO RACE. HOWEVER, THE IRONY CAN BE SEEN IN THE TOP RIGHT PHOTO.
THE WINNING TEAM WASN’T ALL-WHITE! ONE MEMBER OF THE TEAM WAS BLACK.
Get into the sporting mood
Author: Lee Littlewood
Copley News Service;
“Let Them Play” by Margot Theis Raven; illustrated by Chris Ellison; Sleeping Bear Press; 32 pages
Set in segregated South Carolina during America’s early civil rights history, Raven’s gorgeous picture book is the story of an all-black boys’ team on the road to the 1955 Little League World Series.
Young readers will be amazed at the level of adult prejudice shown by the white teams who pulled out of the tournament rather than play against the Cannon Street All-Stars. They’ll also identify with and pull for the young boys, whose baseball prowess definitely earned them a spot to strut their stuff.
Happily, the team was invited as guests – because of the boycott. Unhappily, they were not allowed to officially play – though they do warm up on the field, as the crowd of 5,000 chants “Let them play!” over and over again.
A heartwarming look at the determination and resiliency of a group of children, “Let Them Play” is a keeper.
Copyright 2005 Copley News Service
PLACE THIS IN EVERY SCHOOL, August 11, 2005
As a white man born only one year before this travesty of “sportsmanship” took place I cannot begin to tell people how important it is that this story be told not just to my generation who grew up in the begiinings of the civil rights, no the HUMAN rights, movements, but even more important, to the children of today. What could easily become an “oh poor us” story is not. It is a story of a wonderful bunch of kids who just wanted to play. “Let Them Play” is something you won’t soon forget. Read it, give one to a kid and put one in a school library!
Let Them Play, February 16, 2009
Margot Theis Raven hit a home run with this book. This is a true story about the 1955 Little League Tournament. Raven does an excellent job depicting how segregated the game was back then. Every child should read this book or have this book read to them so they can understand what discrimination is and how it makes people feel. This book reminds us how far we have come as a country and we should be greatful to live with the freedoms we have in today’s society.
PICTURE PERFECT FALL BRINGS A TREASURY OF NEW PICTURE BOOKS FOR KIDS OF ALL AGES
Author: KIM BOATMAN,
I coached a Little League team this spring that counted off warm-up exercises in at least five languages, because it was fun to celebrate our diversity. We were of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Latino, Dutch and assorted European heritage. We counted a girl among our number and a woman (myself) as our head coach. Looking at our team picture after reading ”Let Them Play” is a measure of how far we traveled and of how important it is to remember the journey.
Author Margot Theis Raven documents a small but significant slice of civil rights history, when racist white adults pulled their Little League teams rather than face a team of black all-stars from South Carolina. The Cannon Street All-Stars earned a spot in the 1955 Little League World Series because of the boycott by the whites but were allowed to attend solely as spectators because they hadn’t won a tournament to get there.
Raven tells the story simply and well. Chris Ellison’s subtle details lend realism: A mother in a maid’s uniform leans on a white porch railing watching a young boy, wearing jeans and a clean white T-shirt, batting with a simple stick. The catcher uses only his hands. The Cannon Street team wears the baggy flannel uniforms of the day.
The YMCA coaches meeting around a desk wear the short-sleeve dress shirts emblematic of the ’50s South. Particularly poignant is the painting at book’s end of a group of older men carrying a 1955 South Carolina State Champions banner. As Raven explains, the team was invited back to the 2002 Little League World Series, where Norman Robinson, a catcher on the ’55 team, borrowed a bat and launched a pitch over the fence.
“Margot Theis Raven’s stirring story recounts an episode from history that underscores the unfairness and injustice of racism, and illuminates the joy of triumph and change.”
–CCBC Choices 2006
Let them Play
It was the summer of 1955 and many of the boys living in Charleston’s Upper Westside dreamed of being able to play in the Cannon Street Baseball Little League. This league was special because it was the only Little League that was all black. Of course Cannon Street teams could not play the other Little League teams because white and black teams were not supposed to play one another. In that time white and black people lived “separate but equal” lives. There was a feeling of unrest in the air though, a feeling that change had to come soon, and that this division between black and white could not last forever.
It was decided that an all-star team would be formed which would then, it was hoped, go to compete against the other Little League all-star teams. Why, if they won the regional tournament in Rome, Georgia, the Cannon Street All-Stars might even end up in the Little League World Series.
Soon the whole community was working towards this goal. The boys trained and played, the parents raised money, and they all hoped. Then the families heard that the state Little League director was not going to allow the Cannon Street All-Stars to play against white teams. He made such a fuss that the All-Stars where soon “the team nobody would play.” Coach Benjamin “Sink” Singleton wasn’t ready to give up quite yet though.
This bitter sweet account of the trials and hopes of a baseball team which was not allowed to play in a segregated America is sure to touch the hearts of readers and give them a real sense of how deep the deprivations of racism went. It is hard to imagine today that there was a time when a group of boys were not allowed to play baseball because of the color of their skin. Though this was not a battle that the Cannon Street All-Stars were able to win, they did manage to convince the crowds at the Little League World Series that they were a team which deserved to play.
Beautifully written, this is a picture book full of poignancy. It gives the reader a sense of history and a deeper understanding of what it was like to be the victim of racism. It also captures the love that many did and still do have for baseball, that quintessential American game.
Carter G. Woodson Book Award and Honor Winners
National Council for the Social Studies established the Carter G. Woodson Book Awards for the most distinguished social science books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States. First presented in 1974, this award is intended to “encourage the writing, publishing, and dissemination of outstanding social studies books for young readers that treat topics related to ethnic minorities and race relations sensitively and accurately.” Books relating to ethnic minorities and the authors of such books rarely receive the recognition they merit from professional organizations. By sponsoring the Carter G. Woodson Awards, the National Council for the Social Studies gives wide recognition to and directly stimulates authors and publishers.
2006 Elementary Level Award Winner
Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Chris Ellison
(Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, MI)
Stories recall struggles of blacks
Author: FRAN HAWK; Special to The Post and Courier
‘Let Them Play” by Margot Theis Raven is a book for readers to celebrate every month, especially Black History Month. This true story is compelling for children everywhere, but especially in Charleston where some of the events took place.
Raven recounts the hopes and disappointments of the Cannon Street All-Stars, an all-black Little League team in 1955. Prejudice doomed these talented, enthusiastic boys to misery and unfair treatment.
The story is compelling even in outline, but Raven raises it to a literary art form. Her first sentence proves my point: “Most folks say it was Coach Ben Singleton who pulled the all-star dreams from the sky over Harmon Field and sprinkled them in the eyes of 14 boys the summer of 1955.” And: “… That summer, like blue crabs tucked deep in the mud banks of Charleston’s marsh creeks, parents, neighbors and coaches tried to keep the dark troubles and deep worries of the times from the Westside boys who just wanted to play baseball.”
The illustrations by Chris Ellison are also works of art that beautifully augment the story. Even kindergartners will understand the gist of this book, but I recommend it for first-graders and beyond.
“This School is Not White – A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement” by Doreen Rappaport is another new and wonderful book documenting the struggles of blacks. On Sept. 3, 1965, Mae Bertha and Matthew Carter put their seven children on the bus to attend the formerly all-white school in Drew, Miss. The children were going “off to war in a shiny yellow school bus … armed only with love.”
The parents endured gunfire, loss of home and jobs and death threats. For five years, the children endured “angry faces and raised fists and the spitballs at their heads and the kicking at their heels … name-calling and mocking laughter. … Ignoring it, but never getting used to it.”
This is a story of ignorance and prejudice. It’s also a story of incredible determination and the love and strength of a family. The book closes with “The Carter Family History” that shows all eight children graduated from high school, seven graduated from college and two earned advanced degrees.
Again, kindergartners would grasp the basics, but first grade would be a good place to start with this book.
Children of all colors need to hear these stories and reflect on the correlations between prejudice and peace. For both, it works to think globally and act locally.