Little League Baseball was born in Williamsport in 1939, and the town began hosting the Little League World Series in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson won baseball's first Rookie of the Year award. There had been black players in each Little League World Series, but never an all-black team. When the Cannon Street All-Stars visited Carl Stotz Field in street clothes while the North Shore team from San Diego was taking batting practice, the Californians were distracted. "Who's your home run hitter?" one of them asked.
"Here he is," Jackson said, raising his hand. Just then a baseball got loose in the leftfield corner. Jackson picked it up and fired a dart to the catcher.
"Everyone on the field just stopped," Maurice Singleton says. "People in the stands wouldn't stop staring at Allen. Players on the other teams seemed almost afraid of us."
In the stands children asked Cannon Street players for autographs. "People kept bringing us food," Major recalls. "They said 'Don't worry, it's paid for.' "Before one of the games Cannon Street's All-Stars were introduced by the public address announcer, and as the boys stood to acknowledge the cheers, they heard a chant: "Let them play! Let them play!"
It was the endorsement the team had been aching to hear. What began as unorganized yelling expanded to a roar. "Let them play! Let them play!"
"I remember it as if it were this morning," Rivers says.
Given bats and gloves that day, says Maurice Singleton, "we could have beaten the New York Yankees. They had Mickey Mantle. But we had Leroy Major and Allen Jackson."
The Cannon Street grownups had planned to persuade the Little League Board to allow their team to play—if not for the national title, then in at least one game. In one final appeal, Cannon Street YMCA director Robert Morrison met privately with McGovern, arguing that the children should have been given the chance at least to attempt to get to Williamsport. But McGovern was not persuaded.
Ben Singleton, his usual grin gone, fought back tears as he broke the news on the bus ride back to the Lycoming College dormitories. "We were devastated," Bailey says. "Why not let us play because of the injustice of others? The knockout punch is that we will never know how far we could have gone."
"I'll tell you why those people shouted 'Let them play!' " Vermort Brown says. "They were mad. They thought we were going to play too." Players phoned home crying.