What's the Springfield trip all about?
A recent article in the Springfield MA daily paper, The Republican, explains very well the history of the 1934 racial incident in Gastonia that is at the root of this effort:
"The name 'Gastonia' has been anathema to Greater Springfield residents ever since a 1934 incident at an American Legion sectional [baseball] tournament. When Gastonia officials, hosts of the tournament, found that Springfield had an African-American player-pitcher/outfielder Bunny Taliaferro – the Post 21 players were told that he would not be allowed on the field, in the team hotel or at the table of a pre-tournament banquet.
In a stand for brotherhood and against racism, Post 21's players – 15- and 16-year olds – voted to withdraw from the tournament, giving up a chance to win a national championship. Their stand against racial segregation came 13 years before Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers broke major league baseball's color line."
When Gastonia Mayor John Bridgeman learned of the incident from the author of a children's book on the incident, Richard Andersen, a professor at Springfield College, he wrote Springfield's mayor, Domenic Sarno, a poignant letter of apology. That unsolicited, heartfelt expression of regret led to an exchange of communications, invitations, and new friendships that will culminate on Father's Day weekend, June 19-21 when Springfield will host Gastonia's current American Legion team in a ceremonial game intended to symbolically heal the wounds of the 1934 incident, establish a new relationship between the two cities, and demonstrate the power of tolerance and goodwill. Mayor Sarno said of Gastonia's decision to visit Springfield, "It's not only an opportunity for renewal on the baseball field, it's an opportunity for a teaching moment regarding civil rights." Gastonia city officials wholeheartedly agree.
At the invitation of Springfield officials, a team of American Legion players and several City officials will travel to Springfield, home of the nation's Basketball Hall of Fame, on Father's Day weekend, June 19-21 to participate in Springfield's "Bring It Home" celebration, an annual event honoring the city's sports history. Part of the city's traditional celebration is an American Legion baseball game. Springfield officials have asked that Gastonia's American Legion team participate in that game in honor of the two cities' efforts to make amends for the 1934 incident and to honor the 1934 American Legion team of teenagers from Springfield who took a stand for civil rights. The last surviving member of that 1934 team, 97-year-old Tony King, will be guest of honor at the game and will throw out the first pitch. The Springfield American Legion team has also accepted an invitation to play in Gastonia next spring.
What's needed to make the trip happen?
While the City is willing to advance funds for the trip, the City Council is hesitant to use taxpayer funds to pay for the trip. Accordingly, Council members are soliciting private donations to fund the effort. Total estimated cost for travel, lodging, and meals for the 18-member team and three coaches is: $15,000. The Mayor will pay his own expenses and any city officials or staff expenses will be handled through routine City travel budgets. A GoFundMe.com site is being established to assist in raising funds for the trip. Any excess funds will be used to assist in the Springfield team's visit to Gastonia next year.
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