By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Students at the William N. DeBerry Elementary School received a double-dose of history on Feb. 11 as part of Black History Month.
Gov. Deval Patrick not only discussed one aspect of black history by reading the new book “A Home Run for Bunny” to third graders, but was also the black history person of the day in the fifth grade class.
The governor read and discussed the book, written by Springfield College professor Richard Anderson, which tells how in 1934 the American Legion baseball team from Springfield sacrificed an opportunity to advance to the national championships rather than allow their star player Ernest “Bunny” Taliaferro and sole African-American team member to be subjected to racist Jim Crow laws in Gastonia, North Carolina where the team was to play.
Patrick paused frequently during his reading to talk with the students, asking them questions and answering theirs. He also discussed the story with a surviving member of the team, its captain Anthony King of Holyoke.
The governor told the children he realized this story seems like “ancient history,” but explained that many of the law that prohibited the freedoms of African-Americans were still in effect in southern states when he was their age.
He recalled how his family had to be aware of such law when they visited his grandparents in Kentucky.
Patrick said to the class, “There has been a lot of change, a lot of progress in fairness.”
Patrick also visited a first grade class and then a fifth grade class where his status as the first African-American governor of Massachusetts was discussed.
“We consider it an honor and privilege for the governor to share in the pride we feel as a community in celebrating the stance a group of our young people took in support of equality during a very difficult and painful time in our nation’s history,” School Superintendent Daniel Warwick said. “For our students to hear that story as told by the first African-American governor of our Commonwealth makes it even more powerful and meaningful.”