“On this night of August 23, 1934, we hit a home run, not just for Bunny, but for people everywhere.” – Richard Andersen.
As President Mary-Beth Cooper and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno work together to create a stronger alliance between the college and the community, Springfield College School of Human Services professor, Richard Andersen, joins the team with his newly published children’s book, “A Home Run for Bunny.” The book tells the phenomenal story of Ernest “Bunny” Taliaferro and his American Legion baseball team, reigning from here in Springfield, Mass., and also features illustrations by Gerald Purnell, which will be on display in the William Blizard Art Gallery from now through February 20.
After having written and published 28 books, Andersen took on the surprisingly challenging task of writing a children’s book that shines light on the true story of a young, talented African American athlete who was forced to face discrimination and racism in the south. In 1934, 13 years before the popular Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers and 29 years before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, 15-year-old Bunny Taliaferro and his American Legion Post 21 baseball team became heroes.
The boys won the New England baseball championship, and the next step was to head down to the Eastern Regionals in Gastonia, N.C. Instead of being welcomed by cheering fans and supportive onlookers, 2,000 angry protestors awaited them at the field, and tournament organizers gave them an ultimatum: they could either stay and play the tournament without Bunny or pack up and forfeit the rest of their games. Without giving it a second thought, captain Anthony King acknowledged Bunny as their teammate and made his choice not to play without him. The rest of the young men made the unanimous decision to honor the rights of their teammate and bused back to Springfield, where they were met by a much larger crowd that offered up praise and congratulations for the integrity they displayed.
Although this story is little known compared to the invention of basketball and other historical facts about this city, it is just as important because it gives recognition to young people who stood up to bullying in an amazing way. When asked about the significant message of the story, Andersen stated, “Bunny doesn’t have a voice. He doesn’t have a say in any of these things…The only voice he has is his bat, and when he gets up at that batting practice and hits six home runs on six pitches, this is an extraordinary event for anyone to do. He does it at 15.”
Andersen feels that youth everywhere should be able to hear and read about others their age who possessed so much courage and wanted to make a change.
In fact, he met with the city of Springfield’s school board and they have agreed to purchase 68 copies of the children’s book, to be dispersed throughout the public elementary schools and hopefully integrated into their curriculum by next September.
While this book is labeled for anyone age six and up, one reviewer says that if an adult reads the book, they’re not going to be disappointed. “A Home Run for Bunny” can be found on sale at the Springfield Historical Museum, Olive Tree Books N Voices on Hancock Street, and the local Barnes & Noble. For those who are interested in gaining more knowledge about the American Legion Post 21 team, Andersen has also written a novel, to be published in April, which will feature cover art by another Springfield College staff member, Dix McComas, and will also be distributed to the junior high and high school libraries.
To celebrate the publishing of the children’s book and the efforts of both Springfield College and the city, there will be a special reception in the William Blizard Arts Gallery, located on the second floor of Blake Hall, on February 9 from 12 to 4 p.m. Students are encouraged to stop by and take a look at the artwork from the book, alongside the illustrator and lone surviving team member, captain Tony King. Andersen would greatly appreciate high attendance, but also makes note that, “It’s not so much the people who come that I’m so interested in; it’s how they feel when they leave.”
Taking action and sparking change are some of the main things we do here at Springfield College. After the many pieces of work he has done in previous years, Andersen feels that this particular one “has become more of a mission.”
As Mayor Sarno says, “There’s pride in this story, and there’s also hope that things can get better.”
Though we cannot all be Bunny Taliaferro, we can continue supporting one another and hitting metaphorical home runs for Springfield.