Designed by renowned African American architect and contractor, Herbert A. DeCosta, the one-story brick building and barrel-vaulted gymnasium at 61 Cannon Street were built in 1950 to house the Cannon Street YMCA.[1] The organization was founded in 1866 during a time when African American communities nationwide began establishing autonomous YMCAs as “educational and spiritual oases” where members could recreate and share ideas freely.[2] After renting temporary spaces for decades, bids were opened for the organization’s first permanent home in 1948. At the time of construction, the Cannon Street YMCA operated as one of the few organizations in the country led by an all African-American board of directors.[3]

The Cannon Street YMCA is perhaps most well-known for its association with the Cannon Street All-Stars, an African American Little League baseball team that became the focus of a civil rights controversy in the 1950s.[4] In 1953, South Carolina’s first African American youth baseball league was chartered in Charleston through the YMCA. The next year, the team registered as the Cannon Street All-Stars to compete in the 1955 citywide, white-only Little League tournament. Upon the All-Stars’ registration, all white teams withdrew in protest. [5]  

As a result, the All-Stars won both the local and state tournament by forfeit, leading to the formation of the white, segregated Little Boys League, later Dixie League, with bylaws that prohibited African American participation. Amid the controversy, the All-Stars state championship title was deemed unofficial by Little League leadership and the team was prevented from playing for either the regional or national title. Due to public outcry and the efforts of Charleston’s African American community, the All-Stars were invited as official guests to view the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA—transportation for which was provided by civil rights activist Esau Jenkins.[6]

Before the championship game between two northern teams (one of which was an integrated team), the All-Stars were granted a brief practice session and introduced on the field. In response, the crowd began chanting, “Let them play!” to no avail.[7] The Cannon Street All-Stars’ courage and resolve in response to discrimination helped integrate the game of baseball in the South. In 2002, surviving members of the 1955 All-Stars traveled back to Williamsport, PA where the title of “1955 South Carolina State Champions” was officially bestowed upon the team.

[1] Debra L. Morgan, “A Historic Architectural Resources Survey of the Dereef Court and Park Area Charleston, South Carolina,” December 2017. https://www.charleston-sc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/21306/Dereef-Park-Survey-Report?bidId=.
[2] “A Brief History of the YMCA and African American Communities.” University Libraries. University of Minnesota. Accessed October 17, 2019. https://www.lib.umn.edu/ymca/guide-afam-history.
[3] Morgan
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Our Story.” 1955 Cannon Street Y.M.C.A. All-Stars. Accessed June 6, 2019. http://1955cannonstreetallstars.weebly.com/our-story.html; Warren Koon, “State’s Little League Tourney Race Question Resolved as White Teams Plan to Withdraw – Negro Team May Get Title Recognition.” The Charleston Evening Post. July 7, 1955.
[6] “1955 Cannon Street YMCA All – Stars.” South Carolina African American History Calendar. South Carolina Department of Education. Accessed October 17, 2019. https://scafricanamerican.com/honorees/1955-cannon-street-ymca-all-stars/
[7] Buck Godfrey, The Team Nobody Would Play, 37 -41; “Cannon St. Nine Watches Finals at Williamsport.” The Charleston Evening Post. August 27, 1955, Final City Edition, sec. A pg. 5; “Cannon St. Little Leaguers Shove Off.” The News and Courier. August 25, 1955, sec. A pg. 6.

Cannon Street All-Stars

61 Cannon Street

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Survey: A Historic Architectural Resources Survey of the Dereef Court and Park Area, Charleston, South Carolina

Journal Article: The Little League Champions Benched by Jim Crow in 1955: Resistance and Reform after Brown v. Board of Education

Journal article: “Let Them Play!”: The Cannon Street All-Stars and the 1955 Little League World Series

Children’s book: Let Them Play

Article: The 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars - right from the source

News coverage: 1955 Cannon Street All Stars

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